Rachael Livermore believes that success with horses stems from going back to the basics. As the long-term groom for international five-star event rider Sharon White and her Last Frontier Farm, Livermore spends her days at home and on the road caring for White’s impressive string of event horses, and an assortment of client horses, too.
Livermore got her start in the horse world early on, with her mother owning and operating a small lesson barn in Aldie, Virginia, right near Middleburg and the center of horse country. “I did Pony Club growing up, and when I was in high school I started to work off lessons at a barn down the road from me with Deana Vaughn,” she explained. “I worked for her all throughout high school and college, and Deana is actually who Sharon worked for back when she was in high school, so that’s how I got connected there.”
After attending James Madison University (Virginia) for four years, Livermore decided to follow her passion into the horse world. “I thought I would try doing horses full-time for a year,” she said. “When I told Deana I wanted to do that, she said she’d get me an interview with Sharon. I had always heard good things about her and her program, so I was certain that’s where I wanted to be. Sharon said she was looking for a groom, and I didn’t really know what that would entail, but I thought ‘Yeah, that sounds easy enough.’ I just wanted to work for her, and that was what was available.”
Livermore quickly discovered that she had underestimated what she signed up for after getting her first taste of international level work and competition.
“I didn’t really know that the [Fédération Equestre Internationale] existed, what it meant, or what it was comprised of,” she admitted. “For me, the top of the line had been [preliminary], so it was a really different world for me. I decided that I really liked it though, and wanted to keep going. I’ve been able to groom and travel to some incredible places over the past few years, and that’s what keeps me going and keeps me motivated.”
Two years into Livermore’s work at Last Frontier Farm, White’s string of top horses had grown tremendously, and the pair agreed that another set of hands were needed. “Sharon brought in Max Corcoran to help me learn the ropes at away shows and FEI competition,” Livermore explained. “I remember being so nervous when I first met her because she’s such a legend, but she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and I was extremely lucky to work so closely with her.
“I had a good base of horse care and grooming, but Max really showed me how to manage horses at an event and at the top level,” she continued. “She’s a huge advocate for horse welfare and is a wealth of knowledge on more things than you could imagine! Plus, she is always willing to share what she knows; she never made me feel like I was inexperienced or was asking a dumb question. Even though it’s been a few years since she helped us, she’s my go-to when I’m not sure of something, and if she’s at an event I always still go ask her if she thinks I picked out the right studs!”
Fast forward seven years. Livermore now helps to oversee the 35-40 horse operation that comprises Last Frontier Farm, including three full-time employees and a number of working students. When not on the road, her time is divided between Summitt Point, West Virginia, and Florida for the winter months.
She explained her daily routine on the farm: “On a typical day, I usually do all of the feeding in the morning, and then someone will do all of the hay, water and stalls while the horses are brought in. Most of our horses are out at night if possible. Once everyone is in, that’s our chance to get our hands on them, make sure we don’t need to call the farrier, etc. Sharon likes her horses ridden in the morning before she has to go teach, so I usually spend my morning tacking up and hacking prior to her rides on each of them. Sharon teaches in the afternoon, and during that time I have a few to ride, or I’m packing or unpacking from a show.”
Livermore also enjoys the logistics and the behind-the-scenes elements of the operation and works beside White to manage office tasks. It was a job she didn’t initially expect to have.
“I shattered my navicular and cuboid [bones in my foot] two months into my job with Sharon,” she said. “It was about seven months and a few surgeries before I got off crutches and back on a horse, so in the meantime I started doing some of the office work and helped with billing. I’ve continued to do so, and that has really given me the chance to learn what it takes to maintain a farm of this magnitude. I think that’s really important, especially if you want to be realistic about this long term.”
Though working in a top event barn has its pressures and stressful moments, Livermore credits White for her fairness and ability to run a successful, thriving business. “The thing that I admire about Sharon is the fact that she’s quite a good businesswoman,” Livermore noted. “She’s not just doing things paycheck to paycheck. With the horses, she’s really managed to create a steady business out of it. Of course, she works incredibly hard.” Livermore continued, “Sharon runs at a fast speed and I tend to be a bit more laid back, and I think we both take things very seriously, but have a different way of approaching them, which makes us pretty well-rounded. We balance each other out in a way, and our personalities really click. She’s been really great to work for.”
When it comes to the tricks of the trade, Livermore sticks to a few core beliefs, using them daily to keep her horses happy, healthy, and on the fast track to success. “Most good horsemen will tell you that you don’t know what you don’t know,” she explained. “For example, when I started grooming horses I thought ‘Oh, I just tack up horses, that’s pretty easy.’ But the longer I do it, the more I realize that you can always be improving and learning, and I think that’s what makes it all so fascinating. Keeping your eyes open, and your ears open is a huge part of it. I’ve learned from all of the lessons I’ve been able to observe, even if Sharon is teaching a lower-level rider. There is always something you can pick up on, just by watching others. I believe that you should always try to learn, no matter what situation you’re in. Even if you’re learning what not to do; it’s still valuable.”
Secondly: “There is always something to be done. Sometimes I have to call it quits at the end of the day, and be like, ‘You know what, it’s OK to save this for tomorrow.’ But, there is literally ALWAYS something to do! You can always clean something a little better, or tidy up a little more. If you ever find yourself with nothing to do, you probably need to look around a bit harder.”
She continued, “In general, I think that what is the best for most horses is getting grass, and getting turned out. Grooming them well, the good old-fashioned way, works wonders, too. It not only feels good; it also helps you really get to know them. Having a good team behind you and your decisions is another key factor. Obviously, you have to have a vet that you trust as well as a farrier, and they have to be able to get along with each other, and be willing to work with you to help resolve any issues.”
And the most important factor in keeping her horses happy? “I think the better that they’re ridden, that’s just good injury prevention,” she noted. “If they’re being ridden properly, and they’re strong, and they don’t have to participate in short ‘crank it out, shake it off, on to the next one,’ type of situations. If you spend time walking them beforehand, and after, if they’re working properly and developing that muscle, that’s just good for their body and their brain, and keeps them sounder longer,” said Livermore.
As for what the future holds—Livermore is focused on White’s promising 2007 Irish Sport Horse mount, Cooley On Show (Ricardo Z—Jogatina, Grand D’espagne), and around her team’s success. “I just decided that if I was going to groom, I wanted to be able to groom really well, so right now, I’m giving my all to that side of it. I’m not really sure what the future will bring, but Sharon has Cooley On Show right now and he’s very talented. He’s in the prime of his career, which is exciting. I’d like to see where he can go, and be able to be a part of that success with the two of them, and the rest of this team,” she said.