Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Groom Spotlight: Margo Thomas Brings A Varied Background To Caring For Laura Kraut’s Mounts

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Margo Thomas has always been obsessed with horses. Since taking her first riding lessons at pony camp, to campaigning her own horse to the two-star level in eventing, to earning a degree in equine studies from Virginia Intermont College, Thomas has taken any opportunity to expand her horsemanship.

But even Thomas probably couldn’t have predicted she would one day be grooming for some of the top names in show jumping, and playing an integral role in their success. She took her first professional grooming job almost a decade ago, and for the past four years, Thomas has groomed for U.S. Olympic show jumper Laura Kraut, with whom she has traveled the world and developed a close friendship.

“Laura is an incredible rider and an incredible horseman,” says Thomas, 33. “It’s great to work with someone like that day in and day out. I’ve learned so much—more than I ever imagined—working here these last four years.”

Margo Thomas (right) has worked for Laura Kraut for four years, traveling the world, including to Tokyo for the 2021 Olympics, where Kraut and Baloutinue contributed to a team silver medal. Photo Courtesy Of Margo Thomas

However, Thomas, who hails from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, originally planned a very different equestrian career for herself. After graduating from college in 2011, she worked for eventer Jennifer Simmons for several years, with aspirations of competing at the upper levels in that discipline. But when she saw Simmons questioning her own future as a professional equestrian, Thomas took a step back to reflect as well.

“Eventually, I saw the writing on the wall,” Thomas said. “My boss decided she was going to stop riding horses, and I thought, ‘Is this going to be me in 20 years?’ I wondered if I was ever going to make it to the top of the sport. I looked at the hardships she had experienced and wondered if I was prepared to do the same.”

Thomas decided she needed to change her professional path if she wanted a sustainable career in the equine industry. Although she didn’t intend to leave eventing behind, she found far more professional grooming opportunities in the horse show world.

“I did do a couple of events, but I really immersed myself in show jumping,” she said. “It snowballed from there, in terms of sticking with show jumping jobs, and I never really got the call back to eventing.”

Initially, she groomed in Wellington, Florida, for U.S. rider Norman Dello Joio, then spent several years working for Sharn Wordley, a U.S.-based show jumper who rides for New Zealand. While working for Israeli equestrian Daniel Bluman, Thomas made her first trip to Europe and had a chance meeting that would change the arc of her career.

“I had some friends whose riders were competing at Hickstead,” she said. “I’d never been to England, and seeing as how I was in Europe, it seemed like a good time to go.”

While there, Thomas was introduced to Kraut through her then-groom, Dale Hailstones, whom Thomas had met at previous competitions. A few days later, Thomas received an email from Hailstones; he said he was planning to move on from his position and thought Thomas might be a good fit.

“I ended up coming out a few weeks later to meet them in England, and 10 days after I started, I was sent to meet another groom in St. Tropez [France],” she recalled

Not even two weeks later, Thomas returned to the U.S. to groom for Kraut at the Washington International Horse Show (District of Columbia) and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair Horse Show in Toronto.  

“From there, it was clear I had passed the test,” she said with a laugh. “So, I flew back to Europe and went to Prague, Geneva and Olympia, then went to Wellington that winter.”

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Laura Kraut (left) and Margo Thomas celebrate Team USA’s team silver medal with Baloutinue. US Equestrian Photo

Kraut’s schedule keeps her team on the road for much of the year, a style of life Thomas currently enjoys. Typically, Kraut’s horses and those of some of her clients winter in Wellington; then in April or May, they relocate to Europe. Thomas is currently based in the Netherlands, with 30 horses in the barn and a show schedule that sends her and her colleagues to a different country nearly every week.

“Luckily Laura’s string is only about 10 horses, and I get to focus on them,” Thomas said. “But there’s definitely always a lot going on.”

Thomas works hand-in-hand with fellow groom Alex Tyler-Morris to keep Kraut’s horses at their best. They collaborate on all aspects of the horses’ prep and care, so either groom can go anywhere with any horse, as needed.

“We share the show grooming,” Thomas said. “Who goes where depends on the logistics. For example, I don’t drive a lorry over here, and he does. After Florida this year, Alex went to Mexico, and I went out to California for the Nations Cup. With the amount of horses we have now, we have to split it up a bit.”

But when it comes to the most elite competitions—such as the recent CHIO Aachen in Germany—both grooms may attend. Kraut rode four horses at Aachen; aboard Cherry Knoll Farm’s Dutch Warmblood mare Haley, Kraut turned in two of the U.S. team’s top individual performances, with a win in the 1.45-meter VBR-Prize and a close second in the Prize of Handwerk CSIO5*.

“Aachen is one of my favorite horse shows, anywhere in the world,” Thomas said. “The atmosphere is incredible, because the crowd is just huge and they actually understand the sport. They sigh with you for every rail that comes down.

“We had a great week, and it’s always nice to be there with Team America,” she continued. “For these big shows, it’s all hands on deck, and it’s really great to have that support.”

Thomas uses her previous experience in hunters, equitation and, of course, eventing, to care for her equine charges.

“I’ve had a really well-rounded way of learning about horses and the horse world,” she said. “For example, I use some of the finishing touches they do with equitation horses, like baby powder on their white legs, or shining boots. From eventing, I know how to cool off a horse on a hot day—which really comes into play when you are in a place like Tokyo [for the 2021 Olympics.]”

Margo Thomas (right) joined Laura Kraut and Haley in Aachen, Germany, where the mare had two top placings this year. Shannon Brinkman Photo

Additionally, Thomas’s eventing background is useful when she schools Kraut’s horses on the flat.

“Some of the dressage skills definitely came from my time eventing, and I also have some idea of how to keep horses fit,” she said. “I’ve picked up so many things along the way from different jobs and mentors over the years.

“I really feel Laura trusts me with the horses, and my opinions,” she added. “It’s great to work somewhere where I am respected, and at the same time, I don’t feel micromanaged in my care of the horses.”

As a career groom, Thomas especially appreciates the increased attention and respect being shown to her colleagues across the disciplines. She cites recent examples, like the Fédération Equestre Internationale posting pictures of grooms and listing their names alongside riders at the ECCO FEI World Championships (Denmark) and FEI World Cup Finals (Nebraska), as well as special recognition of hunter and equitation grooms in the U.S. at major competitions.

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“It’s really great to feel the recognition for grooms increasing,” she said. “I don’t mean that just for myself, but for all grooms across the board. It’s nice to see that credit being given, because what a lot of people don’t realize is that even when we have horses and riders going in every direction, the grooms to some extent know the horses better than the riders do.

“We don’t know, necessarily, the feeling over the jumps,” Thomas added. “But I know that, for example, this horse feeds off of this kind of energy, or that horse needs to leave the stall before anyone else, because he needs to be first and as long as he’s first out, he calms down.”

When Thomas groomed for Kraut at the Tokyo Olympics, her mother, Genny Thomas, shared posts about her daughter’s contributions to the team effort on social media, which helped her non-equestrian friends better understand her daughter’s unconventional career path.

“None of my family is horsey, but my parents [Genny and Ford Thomas] have always been supportive,” Margo said. “I know they wish I could be closer to home, but I usually get about 10 days off at Christmas to visit my family.”

Of course, being an integral part of her team’s success at major five-star competitions is a large part of what makes Margo’s job so rewarding, and Kraut has been on a roll in recent years. In addition to earning team silver Tokyo with St. Bride’s Farm’s Hanoverian gelding Baloutinue, who was a relatively new mount for Kraut at the time, she has scored wins at events in St. Tropez-Grimaud, Washington International and the Royal. This winter, Baloutinue and Kraut also captured a five-star win in the $425,000 Lugano Grand Prix CSI5* in Wellington, and Margo earned the Groom’s Award.

“It’s nice to see that credit being given, because what a lot of people don’t realize is that even when we have horses and riders going in every direction, the grooms to some extent know the horses better than the riders do.”

Margo Thomas

But perhaps equally important are those successes the come with a hidden backstory. One recent example happened in March 2022, when Confu, a Holsteiner gelding also owned by St. Bride’s Farm, won the $216,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI4* in Wellington, just months after nearly succumbing to a serious virus. Margo still considers the moment one of the highlights of her career.

“All of us were crying that night,” she said. “To see him come all the way back to the top, and enjoy doing what he does so well, was an incredible feeling.

“So yes, the achievements and the winning are important, but it’s also about helping a horse that’s been sick or had an injury come back to the top form in the sport. Those moments are kind of what keeps you going.”

Margo admits she has enjoyed her experience being part of Kraut’s team so much that it is difficult for her to imagine working for anyone else. She also recognizes that someday, she will likely reach a point where she wants to stay in one place for more than a few weeks at a time.

“But I love it for now,” she said. “When I stop getting enjoyment from it, that will be the time I choose to move on.”


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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