Groom Spotlight: Hailey Burlock Is Prepared For The Unexpected

Jan 17, 2023 - 8:00 AM

When Will and Katie Coleman insisted Hailey Burlock and her fellow groom Erin Jarboe attend the awards banquet at the 2022 U.S. Eventing Association Annual Meeting and Convention held in December in Savannah, Georgia, the two were thrilled. Will’s mount, Dondante, had earned the Caser Trophy as the Standlee USEA Horse of the Year for owners Team Rebecca LLC, and the grooms were honored to be included in the celebration. But when the women arrived, both noticed that everyone seemed to be acting a bit strangely toward them. In whispered voices, they asked each other what the reason could possibly be.

“And then the [Liz Cochran Memorial] Grooms Award comes around, and they announced our names,” Burlock remembered with a laugh. “We were ecstatic. It was a complete surprise—we had no idea. They did a very good job keeping it a secret. Will and Katie do a good job making sure we’re valued in our jobs, but it was still nice to be recognized in that way. It felt really special.”

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Hailey Burlock (left) and Erin Jarboe were awarded the Liz Cochran Memorial Grooms Award at the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting And Convention (Ga.). Kimberly Loushin Photo

For Burlock, 25, grooming for Will Coleman Equestrian for the past three years has been the fulfillment of a dream she never even envisioned as a young eventing enthusiast growing up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. While earning an impressive collection of passport stamps accompanying the WCE team to venues including Aachen (Germany), Luhmühlen (Germany) and most recently, the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championships in Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy, Burlock has learned to handle any challenge, from managing pre-export quarantine abroad to flying in the cargo hold with five-star horses.

“I feel very honored to be a part of Will’s team right now,” Burlock said. “I really enjoy my job so much.”

An Unintended Path

As a teenager, Burlock was introduced to eventing through trainer Zoe Erichsen-Meesters and immediately fell in love with the sport.

“I love that it’s not just one phase you have to be good at,” Burlock said. “It is the different aspects of putting it all together and the level of horse management required. It takes a lot in any discipline, but to be able to put those three phases together and really produce a good result on the day is quite extraordinary. And of course, I love cross-country.”

Through Erichsen-Meesters, Burlock leased former upper-level horse Fantasia and competed through Equine Canada’s training level, roughly equivalent to novice in the U.S. When Burlock finished high school, she pursued a degree in forestry at the Maritime College of Forest Technology with an eye to becoming a park ranger. But upon graduation, she accepted an opportunity to work for Canadian Olympic eventer Rob Stevenson, a position she held for two years before returning to school for more advanced studies.

“But I was really missing horses,” she said. “I had an urge to be a part of the high performance side of things, but the only way for me to be a part of the sport at a high level was to be a groom. I came later to the specific sport of eventing, and I couldn’t afford to do it on my own, like most grooms.

“Then a friend sent me the job posting for Will Coleman Equestrian,” she continued. “I had a phone interview with them, and I told Katie I just had to finish my exams. I was on a plane to Florida soon after that, and I have been with them ever since.”

Burlock believes that the intuitive understanding and connection she develops with each animal in her care is among the most rewarding aspects of the job.

“The love of the horses, being around them, and being such a huge part of their lives is why I want to do this every day,” she said. “It is important to really know and pay attention to what your horse is telling you. I feel like that’s easier to do once you’ve been with specific horses for a period of time, because you really do get to know them and what they need. You learn how to help them perform at their highest and best capabilities.”

As an example, Burlock shared that Will’s world championship partner Off The Record will only load backwards onto his shipping pallet when he needs to travel by plane.

“He knows exactly what he’s doing,” Burlock with a laugh. “You’d think he’d want to walk right on, but he just looks at you like, ‘I said I’m not doing that.’ And knowing him, he won’t. We have to take apart the divider and move everything over; he backs on, and we turn him around on the pallet. It is sort of a funny thing for a horse who has traveled so much!”

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Hailey Burlock has traveled the world with Will Coleman and Off The Record, including to the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championships in Italy. Shannon Brinkman Photography Photo

Burlock enjoys the challenge of caring for the horses in flight and notes that the experience has taught her to be prepared for anything.

“It’s a big process to get those horses over there and still have them be healthy and able to compete at the highest level,” she said. “They’re [in] these very large cargo planes, and there’s a ladder to go down and check on them. Depending on the horses you are with, and how long the flight is, you go down quite often to check on them and make sure they’re still doing well.

“If they’re not, you have to be able to make decisions and do what’s best for them,” she added. “It’s making sure you have all the things you might potentially need in your flight bags—especially if the flight gets delayed, which is very common on those big cargo flights. Being prepared is a huge thing.”

Burlock prioritizes preparation with the horses on the ground as well.

“I like to be extremely organized, planning ahead and being ready for not just the worst-case scenario, but any scenario,” she said. “If you are prepared at that level, and something bad does happen, you are ready, and you have the knowledge and skills to be able to address what has gone differently than what you expected.

“Having that mindset—being prepared in that way—is extremely helpful for me,” she added. “On a day-to-day basis, being proactive might be more work in that moment, but will make your life a lot easier in the long run.”

World Traveler

Burlock has played an integral behind-the-scenes role for WCE at several major international events, including Will and Off The Record’s historic win at Aachen in 2021 and their team silver medal-winning performance at the FEI Eventing World Championships. Though she admits she feels the pressure at these high-profile competitions, she’s also taken them as opportunities to learn from other top caliber grooms.

“At Aachen, it was a team event also, so that was my first time representing Team USA,” Burlock said. “There was so much to take in and learn, from how everyone else deals with their horses to how they do the everyday things differently. You learn little tips and tricks.

“It’s definitely a dream,” Burlock continued. “But when you are there, you are just doing your job. I get extremely focused, and there’s times you have to pick your head up a little bit and look around and realize where you are. It is a surreal feeling to go to these places. At the end of the weekend, once it’s all over, it is like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we just did that.’ But sometimes, it is hard to appreciate it all in the moment.”

The world championships organizing committee made a special effort to recognize grooms, portraying their names and images both on the big screen and online while their athletes were competing. Burlock notes that this gesture was deeply appreciated—but for Team USA, the grooms were equally grateful for the support of Chef d’Equipe Bobby Costello, USEF Eventing Elite Program and Team Facilitator Max Corcoran and Christina Vaughn, USEF director for eventing performance and program support, and other team supporters who checked in constantly and kept them supplied with snacks, food and water.

“That may seem like a very small thing, but when we’re so busy, and you’re in remote areas, it makes a world of difference for us,” Burlock said. “That whole group made it possible for everyone to do their jobs well, riders included.”

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Hailey Burlock with Off The Record at the 2022 Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L. Kimberly Loushin Photo

Burlock and Jarboe try to share the travel opportunities.

“We try to switch off as much as we can, taking turns,” Burlock said. “We have our certain horses, and that also affects it. For some of the bigger events, we’ll both go. It’s not always the most luxurious to stay home, but somebody’s got to do it, and we are so lucky to have such a great group of people that we never worry that things are not getting done right.”

Currently, the team at WCE is focused on preparing horses for the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L, with plans to compete at Rocking Horse (Florida), Ocala (Florida) and Carolina International (North Carolina) along the way. But if there’s one lesson Burlock has learned, it’s that horses have a way of changing the best laid plans.

“They all have their Plan A, B and C,” she said. “We just wait and see how they are feeling and doing and then do what is best for them.”

In the meantime, Burlock looks forward to the educational opportunities the Colemans offer to their team—she especially enjoys studying and applying the therapies utilized to keep their equine athletes in top form—and visits from her parents, Tami and Dana Burlock, who still live in New Brunswick.

“I’m an only child and quite close with my family, so I do get homesick, and I miss them,” Hailey said. “It is hard to be away from home. But they are supportive, and they are happy I’m doing something I love.”


Do you know an exceptional groom who deserves to be showcased in our Groom Spotlight section? If so, email kloushin@coth.com to tell us all about that person.

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