Meet Max Corcoran!
Most of us know who Max Corcoran is – a former member of the O’Connor Event Team, and a constant reminder of what a Professional Groom is. I chatted with Max so that we could gain some insights into what it’s like at the highest level of Grooming – the Olympics, WEG, constant travel, famous employers. It should be said that even if you are not grooming for an international competitor, the job is the same!
Here we go!
How did you get a job as a Groom? What would you tell someone that wants to Groom?
My first job as a groom was with Bobby Costello when I was 12. I was riding and working off lessons at a barn in South Hamilton, MA that was less than 1 mile to Ledyard and was fascinated by eventing. Bobby grew up at same barn and was starting to do some teaching; he took me under his wing. I competed through training level borrowing horses from people where ever I could. I knew I wanted to be with horses at the highest level and was never going to get there riding, so this was the best way to keep them in my life.
Being a groom you need to be selfless, confident, patient, aware, flexible, and always ready to learn more. It is a lifestyle, not a job. the hours can be very long, but the rewards are very high. Sometimes its not the big competitions that are your favorite moments, its the quiet time at the barn that rock your heart.
When you first became a Groom, what things did you learn on the job, what skills did you already bring to the table?
I learned all the time as a groom. I was lucky enough to have been brought up by some good horseman (my family is NOT a horse family) so I understood many basics. Technology has changed so so much, but the tried and true basics never ever change.
Besides all of the big competitions, the Olympics, and WEG, how was your job on a daily basis?
My job was fabulous. I worked with some of the best riders, farriers, vets, physios, managers, etc and kept learning all the time. Days would start with regular barn chores – followed by Karen riding her horses in the morning so she could teach in the afternoon – grooming all the horses in the afternoon – then barn chores late afternoon. That was an ideal day – obviously you have to roll with the punches – they are horses and nothing is guaranteed to be the same!
What are the most valuable lessons that horses have taught you over the years? What about the lessons and wisdom from Karen and David?
Horses have taught me that like people, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and you need to capitalize on strengths and nurture the weaknesses. Horses are flight animals, and we need to respect that.
I was very lucky to be a part of the OCET for so many years. David and Karen are exceptional horsemen. Davis is passionate about natural horsemanship. The theory of pressure being what a horse responds to is so astute; when to apply pressure and when to release and what that pressure is – leg, hands, etc. You will never see a chain shank in the barn, you will never see a lounge line; they are tools that teach horses to ignore you. Patience and an open mind are critical.
The other lessons that OCET taught me was that we were a team – no one persons job was more important than the next; riders, owners, farriers, grooms, vets, working students, farm hands – everyone played a part of the team and the successes.
How do you think the horse industry as a whole can support Grooms?
The horse industry needs to respect and honor grooms. We are a dying breed. Many grooms now change jobs once or twice a year. A good groom is the backbone to any successful program; after all, if your horses are well and looked after, how do expect them to be at the top of their game everyday? Our job is to make sure when that rider gets on, all they worry about is riding.
What are your thoughts on employers that mis-classify employees, don’t have worker’s compensation insurance, have unsafe work places? What would you tell a Groom that is “stuck” in this situation?
There are many words I would like to use, but that would be stooping down to their level…. We are not “staff”; we are not “my girl”, we are not “them” – we have pride and dignity and feelings just like anyone else.
There are times when you need to look after you, because no one else will. It gets hard to leave sometime because we worry about what will happen to our horses if we leave; it is such a heart break, but ultimately, you still need to move on – there are other horses that need your care, and people that will treat you better.