There are plenty of five-figure classes at horse shows for riders to compete in, but a big money class for grooms? That’s nearly unheard of. That is, until last week at Desert Circuit IX in Thermal, California. That’s where 10 grooms competed for $25,000 in the Peninsula Beverly Hills Grooms’ Class.
Entries were determined by lottery, with tickets running at $20 apiece. Ticket sales went toward the prize pool, and MeadowGrove Farm and Alora Sporthorses spearheaded additional fundraising efforts. Ten grooms’ names were drawn, with a maximum of one groom per barn, to participate in the March 18 event.
Judges Gregory Wathelet and Hope Glynn presided over the class, providing commentary throughout on what they were looking for.
All the horses were beautifully turned out, they said, so the deciding factors came down to what grooms brought in their ring bags. Glynn and Wathelet gave extra credit for items that supported riders as well as horses, bumping one competitor up for bringing a phone charger, and another for bringing allergy medicine and lip balm. Glynn also said that she was impressed with those that brought paper schedules, as grooms relying on digital schedules on their phones could run into trouble if there were cell-connectivity problems.
The winner, Sammy Espinoza, got the edge because he included a liverpool with the equipment he brought for his mount, Katherine Huffstutler’s jumper Hanakine.
While he’s been in the industry for years, Espinoza has worked for Mark Kinsella of MK Equestrian in Temecula, California, for about nine months. He followed his girlfriend, fellow groom Iris van Abs, to Kinsella’s barn.
“He’s a really, really, really good worker; we’d be lost without him,” said Kinsella.
“The attention to detail is incredible,” he added. “No stone gets left unturned, which is kind of the motto I have with my guys. I put a lot of pressure on them all to perform pretty well. He goes above and beyond the call of duty to get everything done.”
All the participants left with at least $1,000, and Espinoza earned $5,000 for his win. Riders, trainers and support staff came out in droves from MK Equestrian and other barns to cheer for their favorite competitors, adding to a celebratory atmosphere to the class. Kinsella said it’s no surprise that everyone from his barn flocked to the grand prix ring to watch Espinoza compete.
“He’s very fun,” he said. “Always a smile on his face, always in good form, doesn’t let anything get to him. Work comes first, and he always lifts the spirit around the place.”