Perfect Braids and Super Shine: How Courtney Carson Gets Doug Payne's Horses Ring Ready

Perfect Braids and Super Shine: How Courtney Carson Gets Doug Payne's Horses Ring Ready

Courtney Carson is the stable manager and traveling groom for DP Equestrian based in Aiken, South Carolina. This week, she’s supporting Doug Payne and the eight-year-old Dutch mare Starr Witness in Lima, Peru, where they are a member of the U.S. Eventing Team competing in the Pan American Games. We got the scoop on some of Courtney’s favorite products, her pet peeves, and how she stays motivated. What is your claim to fame as a groom (aka your personal trick of the trade)?
Courtney Carson: I’m really well-known for my braiding. I learned from Sam Burton. I worked for her at Sandy River Equestrian — that was my first working student job. She taught me how to sew in braids without having to tie any knots. I don’t French braid well but I’ve always had a knack for braiding horses. The key is you have to have those suckers tight. The tighter they are, the better they look. I’m also really OCD about rolling them evenly.

NF: What is a common horse care mistake you see that you would like corrected?
CC: People that ear twitch to clip bridle paths. That drives me up the wall. We’ve had horses where we had to break the bridle apart to put it on because you can’t pull it over their poll. There are so many other ways to get that done that doesn’t involve cranking their ear. Also when people are braiding and spray the Quic Braid in the first three braids, so it’s hitting the horse in the back of their ear. You’re already in their blind spot and now you’re attacking them with spray. Instead, spray it in your hands and then rub it in.

NF: If you were stuck on an island and you could only take five things with your top horse (Doug’s five-star event horse Vandiver) what would you take and why?
CC: Okay well I’m on an island so I won’t need a blanket …

  1. Soft peppermints
  2. EQyss Micro-Tek shampoo. It’s the only thing I can wash his legs with unless I want him to break out really badly.
  3. A hackamore — he loves his snack hacks.
  4. Alcohol spray mix: It’s 1-to-1 rubbing alcohol and witch hazel and two tablespoons of baby oil. It’s a good stain and dust remover, it’s soothing, anti-fungal, and brings out the shine. And it doesn’t dry their coats out. In the winter it’s great because I’m not going to bathe, so I just shake it up and spray it on. It’s really an all-in-one [skin treatment].
  5. A curry comb to groom him. He’s so shiny someone will see us from space and come rescue us.

NF: What is your biggest splurge item for horse care?
A good leather halter with a good name plate on it. I like all my horses in my barn to have that. You want to show them off. They should look the part the minute they walk off the trailer.

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“Quinn, you have to go really fast and jump all things to win” Him- ok. So proud of these two and Missy today. We now have a CIC3* champion along w/ 2 new 3* ponies 😍 Baby Quantum is also now a 2* pony and Gin is winning the Open Preliminary. Such a great group of horses and an amazing team. #QuinnfortheWin #KingQuinn #dreamteam #payneequestrian #CICIC #FEI #eventing #besthorses #toomanyhashtags #groomslife #bestowners @dpequestrian @lailabols and w/ the photo credit 😉 @jesshampf @teamannieeventing @liv.wall @centerlinefarm @cottonmeadowsfarm @robbie.peterson @catherinewinter_bulldoglover @horseware @five_star_tack @cwd_official @purina @hitairequestrian And of course @185pilot the best owner of the bunch. Without him I’d be much less entertained throughout life 😅

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NF: How important is routine when it comes to horse care?
You have to have a basic routine, but you have to be able to be flexible within that. You have your mental checklist every day — brush, curry, check legs, pick feet — past that it’s situational. For instance, if I had planned to give a horse a full bath with shampoo, but it’s super hot and he’s sweaty, maybe it’s better to sponge and scrape him to cool him down. Now his feet are wet and the last thing I want to do is put more moisture on them by giving him a full bath.

We’ve got the 411 on how to crush it as an international groom.

So you have to be flexible within the structure, but horses get into a routine and it will keep them about as level-headed as you can. I got asked when I went to Kentucky [Three-Day] what I do different and I try to keep it all the same. There I only have one horse instead of six or eight, so I actually have to leave him alone. It makes any of my big horses really anxious when I give them too much one-on-one time.

NF: What is your favorite grooming tool?
CC: I love the rubber curry, but my favorite thing is this mitt that Shires Equestrian makes — it’s woven on one side and microfiber on the other side. It’s not as abrasive as a curry but tough enough you can use it on their entire body and then buff on the microfiber side for good shine. That goes everywhere with me.

NF: What is your number one rule when it comes to ground manners?
You have to respect my personal space. Yes we love our horses and yes they’re athletes and spoiled, but at the end of the day, they are, on average, 1,000 to 1,200 pounds versus 100 to 200 pounds for a human. Yes, the horses are domesticated but they can be dangerous. I can love on you and scratch your face and ears, but as a general rule of thumb, they have to respect me as a human. They cannot run me over.

NF: Do you have any tricks for sensitive skin?
The alcohol mix I mentioned and apple cider vinegar — it’s great for hives. Dilute it in a bucket and sponge it on. Scrape it off but do not rinse it.

NF: What kind of supplements do you like?
Being in Aiken, South Carolina, we use Assure Guard Gold from Arenus. It’s a daily dose of SandClear. It doesn’t strip the stomach but doesn’t allow build up of sand in their gastrointestinal tract, so it reduces the risk of sand colic. We also give electrolytes for the heat.

Keep hooves healthy all summer long.

NF: What is your favorite treat to give the horses?

NF: What’s the most important item in your ring bag?
A good towel. Whenever you need to wipe off faces, legs, boots on a rider, run it through their tail. You can’t overuse a good towel.

NF: How do you stay balanced and motivated with a demanding job?
The time off you get in this job is few and far between. When you do get a chance to get away, you have to trust the people at home that you’ve trained them well enough to get along without you. If I take a day off I have to properly get away. You have to check out and decompress because then you come back more motivated. In a program where everyone is striving to be better, it helps the whole group stay motivated. As a barn manager you have to be a leader and be motivated and have to take the time for yourself. On my days off I pick activities that I can’t have my phone. I’ve gone back to using an iPod when I run and leave my phone at home.

NF: What is your personal motto for horse care?
Never stop learning. You’re going to talk to more vets, more farriers, other grooms. Horses will continue to teach you things. No one ever knows it all.

Read this next: Tricks of the Trade with Phillip Dutton’s Groom Emma Ford

Feature photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Written by Hossein Maleki

Having grown up on horseback, Leslie Threlkeld, Managing Editor at NOËLLE FLOYD, treasures her career in the equestrian industry as a writer, photographer, and eventing technical delegate. Leslie thrives on frequent travel but never tires of returning home to the serene mountains of North Carolina.