hoever said grooming was a dead-end job doesn't know Max Corcoran. From grooming to event organizing, and now, to governance, Max's career has developed over a lifetime of caring for the eventing world's top equine athletes.
Max is a firm believer that the profession of grooming is an integral part of the equine industry that needs attention. Recently appointed as the United States Eventing Association (USEA) President-Elect, it’s no surprise to know that Max will use her new role to promote increased education and emphasize the importance of horsemanship in the sport of eventing.
Max was handpicked for this role and credits her extensive competition, event organizing, and grooming experiences with shortlisting her for the position. She has spent decades on the ground taking care of the sport’s most successful four-legged athletes and assists in organizing some of the most prominent events in the U.S., including The Fork, Ocala Jockey Club, and The Event at Rebecca Farm.
“I’ve groomed at the highest level and have organized events. Because you wear so many hats, you see each side’s perspective. I’m actually the first groom that’s been in this position, I think,” Max says.
Max (far right) at the Ocala Jockey Club International Horse Trials with organizer Shelley Page and show jumping course designer Chris Barnard.
Max was first exposed to grooming as a teenager, when famed American eventer Robert Costello took her under his wing and brought her along to events with him. Following a stint working in finance after college, Max took a job working for the late Jim Stamets before becoming an integral member of the O’Connor Event Team grooming for eventing’s power couple, Karen and David O’Connor. What was supposed to be a short-term job culminated in an 11-year career (But she hasn’t hung up her brushes and braid bag — Max still grooms on a freelance basis).
Given her background and experience with boots on the ground in several facets of the sport, Max is ideally situated to make an impact as USEA President when her term begins in 2020. We caught up with Max to talk about her new responsibilities and what she hopes to achieve.
Make Horsemanship and Safety the Top Priority
Max has made it clear that she will bring a “horses first” approach to her new position as USEA President, explaining that her first step will be bringing awareness to the fact that there is a gap between horsemanship and safety in the sport. “People are always learning, and that’s the other thing, too — there is always new stuff that’s coming out and the awareness has got to be there so that we can figure out new ideas.”
Max is careful to define the difference between a coach and an instructor, which she believes is one of the crucial elements of bringing awareness to the disconnect between safety and horse welfare.
“I feel like coaches are people that encompass management of the horse, management of the rider, management of the competition. Whereas an instructor is someone that just teaches you a lesson. So the people that are riding, whether they’re amateurs or kids, don’t get the other part of it — the looking after your horse. They don’t get to hang around at the barn and be barn rats,” Max says.
Give Grooms the Recognition They Deserve
Max is passionate about passing on her knowledge of horsemanship and grooming. She’s a frequent speaker and clinician on the topics. It’s not just an avocation, it’s a detail-oriented career built on a deep-seated knowledge of horses. Max is heavily involved with the Professional Groom Training Certificate program offered through the Equine Management Training Center (EMTC), and she’s on a mission to increase visibility for grooms and highlight the need for grooming to become a recognized career via the certificate program.
"It’s more than grooming, brushing, making horses look pretty."
“[The program] teaches everything from nutrition to how to take a shoe off. They’ve got farriers that come in, they’ve got vets that come in — it’s more than grooming, brushing, making horses look pretty. The students are figuring out time management and everything else in between, so it’s a pretty comprehensive program. They’ve got classrooms and dormitories and they’re ready to go,” Max says. “People need to have pride and dignity in their job, and the program helps develop that.”
The brainchild of Sandy River Equestrian Center owner, Suzanne Martin Lacy, and head trainer and facility manager, Samantha Burton Henley, EMTC officially launched at their farm in Axton, Virginia, in 2016. Although Max helps build the curriculum, her biggest contribution to the program has been placing graduates into internships where they can further hone their skills. Part of Max’s agenda while serving as the USEA President will include encouraging riders to put their grooms into the program.
Max follows Karen O'Connor and Mandiba to the in-gate at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
“It seems like it would be a pretty good situation, if you had a kid that was really good and you wanted to train them and have them come back, you could pay for them to go off to this school for a couple of months, and they would come back and they would be educated,” Max says. “I wish they had that when I was a kid — I would have been at that thing with my ears pinned back.”
Look Out for the Little Guy
Each USEA President has left their own legacy; current USEA President, Carol Kozlowski, shifted the discipline’s focus on safety, making the United States one of the leading countries in the world for safety and frangible technology. While Max has made her platform clear, she is also committed to “looking out for the little guy.”
“It’s pretty easy to want to be in the upper-level tier, but it’s the adult amateurs and kids that are doing five or six competitions a year, at most. Those are the people that are buying you the tee-shirts that are sending you to Burghley.” She adds, “No one’s time is more valuable than another person’s.”
One of the best parts of Max’s new appointment thus far, she says, is getting to know the equestrian community better — and with her extensive background and warm, approachable personality, people are eager to share their ideas.
“Because I’m a groom and I’m so passionate about horsemanship, people get excited to tell me about their projects. They’ll come up and say, ‘This is what I’m doing, this is what I’m working on.’ [The role with USEA] is a bit of what I was expecting, and so far I’ve really enjoyed it,” Max says.
Max will officially make the transition from 2019 President Elect to 2020 President during the USEA Annual Meeting and Convention this December, and will subsequently serve a three-year term. Her passion for her platform and for the sport is palpable, and although Max may not have her agenda planned out just yet, it’s clear that we can expect great things.
Feature photo is Max Corcoran and Mr Medicott at the 2012 London Olympic Games. All photos by Shannon Brinkman.