In the summer of 2017, about a year after Corey Gallais began grooming for Kara Chad at Eric Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable, Gallais picked up the phone to call his father, Bruno Gallais, and share sentimental news.
“I called my dad, and I said, ‘Dad, I’m so happy with Kara, and I think I’m going to stay a long time with her because we make a very good team,” said Corey, 25. No more than a week later, Corey received a phone call from Virginie Casterman, top groom for McLain Ward. The team at Castle Hill Farm in Brewster, New York, was short an employee, and Casterman extended a job offer to Corey.
“In my head, I was so confused,” Corey said. “In two days, I accepted the job because it’s McLain; it’s not the same game. McLain wants to win everything, all the time, every week. We go to the best shows; it’s the best opportunity for me, so I said, ‘Yes, of course, I’m going.’ ”
Three years into his tenure with Ward, and Corey is waist-deep in his first Olympic year at Castle Hill.
“For sure, the pressure is on, and we put everything on the outside to be the best for this year,” said Corey. “We want the best for McLain and for our team, so for sure, it’s a different year, and we can feel it.”
Years before Corey packed his bags and moved into an apartment on Ward’s Brewster property, he was just a kid from Normandy, France, who enjoyed horses above anything else.
Corey was introduced to horses through his stepdad Olivier Bouvet, who worked at the breeding farm Haras du Bois Margot. In his first encounter, Corey, then 13, was petrified.
“I started to feed them, and slowly, after a year, I was riding,” said Corey, who began taking lessons at the Centre Hippique du Brévedent Pony Club.
Corey dropped out of secondary school, and in 2009 he enrolled in the MFR de Vimoutiers, a specialized school with a focus on horses.
“Sitting on a chair all day for 12 hours was not for me,” said Corey. “I was very bored and not so happy to stay in the class all day. I was very shy. When I went to [MFR de Vimoutiers], that helped my confidence.
“At this school, sometimes we went riding, visited farms,” he added. “It was very interesting.”
Corey graduated with a Conduite et Gestion d’une Entreprise Hippique degree, a professional degree in managing an equine business.
“I knew I wanted to be a groom,” he said. “I cannot ride [professionally]—the pressure and everything is not for me.”
Corey, then 19, entered the workforce as the second groom for show jumper Nicolas Paillot. He helped ride Paillot’s horses and school horses for clients. In July of 2014, he made his first trip to Wellington, Florida.
“At school, when we were learning English, [the teacher] said, ‘Oh, it’s very important for your future,’ and I was always saying that it’s not true, that I’m going to stay in France; I don’t need to speak English,” said Corey. “But when I started school and went with Nicolas Paillot to Florida, I was speaking zero English, and it was very hard. [Not listening] to my school was my big regret.”
After 1 ½ years with Paillot, Corey landed a job at Torrey Pines in June of 2016. There he cared for his first grand prix horse, Gin Tonic VD Haagakkers.
“In the beginning, he was very nervous, and at the end, he was my best friend,” Corey said. “He was fourth in the [$86,000 Marshall & Sterling Insurance Grand Prix CSI2* during the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington], and we sold him the week after; it was very painful. We sold him to Wesley Newlands, and it was hard. I had him for almost a year, just me taking care of him. We did so many things together. For sure, that one is going to be in my heart forever.”
Last year, Corey ran into “Gin” while visiting a friend who stabled at the same farm.
“He saw me, and he was screaming in the barn,” said Corey. “I started crying; it was so painful.”
It was a tough lesson in getting too attached to his charges, but Corey also saw the positive side of the experience.
“I mean, it was good,” he added, “because he’s looking amazing.”
While Ward was carrying the pressure of a nation during the jump-off at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games in Mill Spring, North Carolina, his team at home sat glued to the television, screaming and crying as their rider jumped clear to earn Team USA gold.
“At home, he knows what he wants,” said Corey. “He likes when it’s very clean, when the bridles are perfect, but after that, he’s very friendly.
“With us, he’s family; he’s a different person outside,” added Corey. “He’s always laughing; he’s very human. He feels when we are a bit tired or sad.”
The WEG has been a hallmark moment of Corey’s time spent with Ward thus far. Another occurred when Ward and HH Gigi’s Girl won the 2018 $205,000 Longines FEI Toronto World Cup qualifier at the Royal Horse Show. “Gigi,” whom Corey looked after, has since been sold.
Corey’s most recent tear jerking-moment happened with the mare Noche De Ronda, whom Ward rode to win in the Feb. 9 $401,000 Fidelity Investments CSI5* Grand Prix at WEF.
“My belly was sick and tight, but when she won, I cried,” said Corey. “You give her a big hug, and McLain gave me a tap on my back and said, ‘Good job, Corey.’ You cannot expect more. It’s just an amazing feeling. Everyone is happy.”
Less than a week later, Ward and “Ronda” won the Feb. 14 $213,300 Longines Grand Prix at Deeridge Farm in Wellington.
“Ronda, I started to take care of her after [WEF 2019],” said Corey. “She has a lot of character, very mare-ish, but getting better. Last year, it was impossible to clip or spray her; she was very mad about it. Now, after a year, she’s all good about that. She loves food: fruits, candies, pizza, cookies—everything we are eating she wants to try. She doesn’t like being by herself in the paddock; she can get bored easily, but if someone stays with her, she’s the happiest animal.”
Corey sounds like a proud parent as he describes Ronda’s evolution from 1.35-meter classes to winning her first five-star, the $384,000 Gary Sinise Foundation Grand Prix CSI5*, at Tryon last October.
“Now, she wins two five-star grand prixs,” he said. “I love her so much. She’s a warrior. Nothing can stop her.”
In addition to the 11-year-old Oldenburg mare (Quintender 2—Ritschina Ratschione, Lovis Corinth), Corey cares for the 8-year-old geldings Mundill DS and Heavenly W. Corey rides Ronda on the flat, as well as HH Azur and Clinta.
“First feeling—you’re not very sure. You feel very small on them, but they are so much fun to ride,” said Corey. “They’re amazing.”
At Castle Hill, work begins at 7:30 a.m. Horses are fed, the barn is cleaned, and then the team meets in the office for breakfast.
“Sometimes we have cake, muffins. Sometimes McLain brings French croissants,” said Corey. “We take one hour and eat breakfast. We talk together like a family, and after we start to ready the horses for McLain. When McLain is done, we ready the horses for Lee [McKeever, Ward’s longtime groom], and if we have some horses to ride, we ride. We finish at 4 p.m.”
And like his boss, Corey has one goal in mind for the future.
“The Olympics,” he said. “I think for my family, for myself, for the team, I want to be proud and give my best and bring my mare to be the best and to win a medal. I want my dad to be proud, my mom to be proud. The Olympics, or maybe the next [Pan American Games] or the WEG. For sure, I think the Olympics is the dream of everyone.”