Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2024

Groom Spotlight: Meredith Ferraris Is A Student Of The Horses

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Meredith Ferraris is a planner. You have to be organized when you’re the top groom of five-star eventer Ariel Grald, who travels nationally and internationally throughout the year.

Grald, too, is generally cautious and sensible. That’s the irony of their origin story: The rider and groom came together in an uncharacteristically impulsive moment. 

“We had been trying to hire somebody to come on to help us,” Grald remembered. “We were kind of running out of time, and weren’t getting anywhere. It was literally less than two weeks before we were leaving for Florida, and Meredith applied for the job.”

Ferraris herself was navigating a different kind of chaos, managing a busy barn of more than 40 horses, when she found Grald’s post on Yard and Groom. During their phone interview, Grald invited Ferraris to her farm in North Carolina for a working interview. 

Meredith Ferraris had to learn the job of an international groom while on the road with Ariel Grald. Now she’s her top groom, and has logged many miles traveling with Leamore Master Plan. Incanto Photo

“Look, I can put in my two-week notice and come down,” Ferraris remembered telling Grald. “But I can’t do the interview, and come down and make it before you go to Florida.”

According to Ferraris, Grald didn’t need much time to think it over.

“She emailed me back 30 minutes later,” Ferraris said. “She’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s just do it.’ I was the first person she’d ever hired without a working interview.” 

The mutual decision they made based on a short phone call now seems like fate. 

“We’re very cautious, planning people, so for us to both just jump off the cliff with that was kind of crazy,” Ferraris said. “Somehow, it worked out really well for both of us.”

For Grald, its an impluse decision she can stand behind.

“Honestly, it worked out. I haven’t looked back since,” Grald said. “Meredith has, over the last five and a half years, become my right-hand person.”

From Barn Rat To Book Worm

There was nothing rash about Ferraris pursuing a career in horses, however. When she started eventing lessons at age 10, she knew she’d found her lifelong passion. Each weekend, Ferraris made the trip from her home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to her lesson barn in Fort Mill, South Carolina—but she always wanted more time in the saddle. 

“I went to the barn every weekend and did as much as I could,“ Ferraris said. “But it was hard to get down there.” 

By her senior year, Ferraris began leasing a horse and competing in lower level events.

Determined to have an immersive equine education, Ferraris pursued a degree at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where she majored in equine instruction and training. Her college experience was a stark contrast from high school, where she felt her passion for horses set her apart from her classmates.  

“Everybody who loves horses goes through that, where you’re kind of the outsider in high school,” Ferraris recalled. “Being at [a college] with 40 horses on campus, and all these people in your major—it’s actually a really good community. It’s very welcoming.”

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For a girl who could never get enough barn time growing up, she was delighted to dedicate her college years to equine studies.

But for as much as Ferraris had picked up from her formal education and barn management, grooming for Grald turned out to have a steep learning curve. 

“I got here, and I was like, ‘I know nothing,’” Ferraris remembered. ‘I have no idea what I’m doing. Why did this lady hire me?’”

Ferraris quickly learned that packing for weeks of travel with an upper level horse was a challenge, but Grald was patient about showing her the ropes and wouldn’t let the inexperienced groom get down on herself.

Meredith Ferraris shares a quiet moment with Leamore Master Plan, Ariel Grald’s five-star eventer. Photo Courtesy Of Ariel Grald

“I would forget things for horse shows the first couple times or make a mistake,” Ferraris said. “Ariel was like, ‘Nope, it’s fine. Just keep going. Everyone’s fine.’ So she was very forgiving with that.”

Nearly six years later, Ferraris is now at home in her role. Ferraris manages Grald’s barn, exercise rides most of her 14 horses, leads the team of grooms and travels internationally with Grald’s five-star horse, Leamore Master Plan, known around the barn as “Simon.” 

“I rely on her a lot for everything, from keeping the barn ticking along during the day to dealing with the upper level horses,” Grald said. “She’s been a superstar Simon wrangler and international groom for him.”

Ferraris has stayed a student of horses, observing the quirks and preferences of Grald’s horses and customizing care for each animal’s specific needs.

“A focus of my program overall is really trying to key into what each horse needs as an individual and being able to provide those little things that help them,” Grald said. “Meredith is good at sussing those things out too. I ride 10 to 12 horses a day, so I’m out riding, but she’s the one watching them in the barn and seeing that this horse needs a different stall, or it needs a different this or that.”

While Ferraris takes care to customize each horses’ program, she also tries not to overcomplicate things.  

“I have to remind myself they are horses,” Ferraris said with a laugh. “They need food, water, shelter. They do a lot of work for us, and they work at a very high caliber, so they do need modifications, but I try to keep it on the simpler side—not over washing them, not giving them too many supplements, and doing enough that you’re benefiting them without being detrimental.”

Being an international groom, Grald added, isn’t limited to managing the horses. 

“I’m sure other upper level riders will say this, too,” she said. “Unfortunately for these grooms, it’s not just about taking care of the horses. They kind of end up being our coaches, therapists—you name it. There’s a lot more to their jobs than just taking care of the horses.” 

After years working together, and the “hundreds of hours” Grald said Ferraris has seen her ride, the rider and groom have developed a common understanding. At this stage in their relationship, Ferraris is comfortable being straightforward with Grald about what she believes the rider needs.  

“We know each other well enough now that she reminds me to take a day off,” Grald said. “Or if I get fixated on something, she’s like, ‘No, that’s not worth your time, go focus on something else.’ She manages me sometimes when I need it.”

Ferraris has also found a community in the other grooms she meets on the international show circuit. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the stress of competition on grooms, the top riders’ teams look out for each other. 

“This sport is so hard,” Ferraris said. “You have an extensive packing list, but you are going to forget something or need something that you don’t have, and you can guarantee that one of the other grooms has it. They will always have your back. They will always help you out. It’s grooms supporting grooms, and it’s amazing.”

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The “Superstar Simon Wrangler”

Since she came onto Ariel Grald Eventing in 2018, Ferraris has developed an understanding with Simon, a 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Master Imp—Ardragh Bash, Cavalier Royale), owned by Anne Eldridge. There’s a short list of grooms who are allowed to handle the exuberant gelding—especially since a 2022 incident where Simon, while Grald was longeing him for the vet, kicked out and made contact with her mouth, sending her to the emergency room with 11 teeth knocked out.

“Obviously, those hind legs go flying—because that’s how Ariel lost her teeth,” Ferraris said. “It takes a special horse, to knock your teeth out and [you] still keep them around and love them.” 

Ferraris wasn’t surprised that in the hospital, Grald continued to sing Simon’s praises to nurses and doctors, even through an injured mouth. 

“He’s still her favorite,” Ferraris said with a laugh. “She was sitting in the hospital bed, and they were like, ‘Oh my God, what happened to the horse that did this to you? Is he already on a trailer somewhere else?’ She goes, ‘No, I love him!’” 

Meredith Ferraris (right) travels internationally with rider Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan, pictured here at the 2022 Badminton Horse Trials. 1st Class Images Photo

Ferraris has had a front row seat to this winning pair’s special connection. In competition, she finds herself most nervous to watch them—not when they’re flying through a cross-country or show jumping course—but during their dressage tests. 

“It’s hard for him to keep all his pieces in their places and not go exploding down the centerline,” Ferraris said. “I’m nervous that he’s going to kick out during a change, or bolt down the arena … He doesn’t like to stay in the box.”

Because Ferraris is so connected to Simon, she also worries about her own nerves impacting his performance.  

“I have to remind myself to breathe during dressage, because I’m convinced that he can feel me not breathing, and that if he’s not breathing, she’s not breathing,” she said. “I’m like, everybody needs to breathe!” 

Finding Balance

The other special horse in Ferraris’ life—and in Ariel’s barn—is her own. She calls her $500 off-the-track Thoroughbred, Mosby, the “perfect horse.” She’s evented her beloved gelding up through the modified level, but after some injuries, he is now mostly retired. Ferraris still finds time to hack him around the North Carolina farm bareback in a halter. 

Meredith Ferraris competed her off-the-track Thoroughbred, Mosby, in eventing through the modified level before retiring him. High Time Photography Photo

“He’s a staple of Ariel Grald Eventing—even though he’s not competed by Ariel,” she joked. “Somehow, he made the cut.”

Now that Ferraris is established in a top eventer’s barn, living out her childhood dream of working in horses, she has a new goal: balance. 

“It’s very easy to get wrapped up in your job and be ‘on’ 24/7,” Ferraris said. “But it ends up being very mentally and physically draining.”

Ferraris and Grald, who were unexpectedly home for the month of July, took advantage of the time off of competing. 

“We’re going to have a little time to regroup and get everything on track, and then off we go for the rest of the year,” Grald said.

Ferraris spent some downtime with Mosby, and enjoying trail rides and lake days with Grald’s horses and the other grooms. It’s exactly the life she dreamed of as that 10-year-old horse-crazy kid—the life she said “yes” to on a whim. She hasn’t looked back.

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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