Nate Tucker’s superpower is time management, and his mad organizational skills have been keeping international dressage rider Ashley Holzer on schedule for the past five years. It’s a skill Tucker says is crucial for pros and amateurs alike.
“It’s knowing the numbers,” he said. “I give myself time slots of how long I need to get the horse ready and how long it will take to get to the ring. I always like to be there five minutes early.”
Before a show, Tucker always knows jog times, schooling times and ride times. He meets with Holzer at the beginning of every show week, and they make a plan for each horse.
“We time the warm up, how long it takes to walk to the warm-up and how long it takes to get all the wraps off to be in the ring at the exact show time,” he said. ”We tailor this plan for each horse; it’s timed down to the minute.”
Holzer values that skill among many of Tucker’s, saying that time management is hugely important for a top groom.
“One horse takes you 20 minutes to braid, and another takes 45 minutes,” she explained. “Time really is important, and he has a real talent for knowing how long things take to do. There’s no second chance.”
Tucker sets the timer on his phone to stay on track, then builds in a little wiggle room for the unexpected.
“I set the timer to braid, and then I leave them alone for 10 minutes to pee,” he said. “Then, I tack them up. And afterward, I need X amount of minutes for lasers and stuff like that.”
Organization is also vital to his success.
“Know where everything is, and have an organized tack box,” he advised.
He also organizes and stocks the backpack he takes with him to the warm-up arena.
“There is nothing worse than not knowing where it is in the bag,” he said. “If the horse nicks himself warming up, do you have cream to stop it from bleeding? Do you have an extra curb chain? Do you have a smaller spur? Extra gloves if it’s raining? Medicine or drinks for the rider? Vaseline? Extra elastics? Make sure you have a list.”
Tucker grooms Holzer’s FEI horses, including her longtime partner Havanna 145, the horse she rode in April’s FEI Dressage World Cup Finals in Leipzig, Germany; Valentine, her mount from last month’s Blue Hors FEI Dressage World Championship, and more up-and-comers in the FEI ranks, including Bliss, with whom Holzer competed in the small tour at CHIO Aachen (Germany) this summer.
Leading up to the world championship, Holzer and “Vali” earned their team selection by helping the Dutta Corp. U.S. Dressage Team secure silver at the FEI Nations Cup of the Netherlands CDIO5* in June.
“Rotterdam was such an amazing experience; the horse performed so well, and Ashley was so happy,” Tucker said. “She was just unreal, as usual, and the mare was super, so we were just so happy and so proud.
“We have a saying in the barn that if you’re not laughing, you’re doing something wrong,” he added. “We were actually behaving at that horse show because we had to be serious; we were on our best behavior.”
Not only does Tucker act as Holzer’s groom, but he’s also her barn manager—and that’s where his organizational skills really shine.
“I do her schedule, and there’s upwards of 20 horses a day that she has to either ride or teach,” he said. “Each horse also comes with their own owner and their own rider and grooms. So, managing her schedule during the [Wellington winter show] season is probably my biggest job.”
Holzer typically rides 10 to 12 horses daily, along with training for clients and students, including the Canadian dressage team.
“Her schedule is timed to the minute. She’s in the arena from 8 to 8:30 on one horse and the next horse is 8:30 to 9. And then at 9, she has to go over to the show to start warming somebody up at 9:15. I don’t know how she does it. I guess we eat a lot of lunch. We get an açai bowl almost every day. It’s our ongoing open reservation: We have açai coming in every day!”
Trying to help Holzer remember where she left her keys or phone is also one of Tucker’s tasks.
“Her phone mainly stays on me because it just disappears within a second. We got her these AirTags to put on her keys thinking that we would be able to track her keys, and then we figured out that in order for her to track her keys, she would also need to have the phone!”
He said the best part of his job is working with Holzer every day.
“We have a lot of fun, and we spend all day laughing; we get along extremely well, and if anything, she’s more like my second mom,” he said. “The best part is working with her and just being around somebody who has just so much poise and professionalism but can still also be a normal human and have fun. She’s an amazing rider but just also such an amazing human as well. She takes care of her people, and yeah, she’s very good to work for. Just, she does not like confrontation or conflict. So that’s kind of our joke is we kind of just avoid it at all costs.”
When asked what she likes about her groom, Holzer replied in her usual breezy manner.
“First of all, how do you get the lead shanks to look like this every night?” she asked while pointing to a perfectly tied up lead rope. “It’s pretty impressive. Also, he’s really tall so he’s excellent at putting the bonnet on.”
Then she turned serious: “Whether you’re ready to go to a horse show or you’re ready to school, it’s really important that your horse comes to you in a calm manner. And one thing that Nate is amazing about doing is he’s very calm when he’s grooming the horses. He’s very quiet with them, but he’s also incredibly observant.
“It’s really important to give that information to your rider,” she continued. “When he comes to the ring and says to me, ‘Listen, she was standing a little strangely or she didn’t really like me to put the magnetic blanket on,’ or ‘She’s in a good mood, she’s in a bad mood, she’s feeling a little cranky, she’s happy,’ I think that communication is a huge part of being a successful groom. For me, to have someone knowledgeable, observant and calm is important. I know he’s going to pick up on cues if they are not eating well, drinking well or peeing well.”
Holzer attributes her horses’ success to Tucker.
“I think that, as a rider, you are not the success you need to be unless you have a Nate in your life,” she said. “I can’t say enough about him. He’s more than a groom. He’s an amazing horse person, and his passion for his job shows. He loves the horses, and they know it.”
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