Immediately after becoming Olympic champion, Ben Maher rubbed the face of his gold medal-winning horse, Explosion W, and then threw his arms around his groom, Cormac Kenny. For all the magic horses and riders can produce in the arena, there is years of hard work put on by the grooms to help the horses perform at their best.
Cormac originally hails form Kilkenny in Ireland, and has been working with Ben for almost 10 years, ever since he came over for work experience aged 16.
“I did two weeks then went back to school. Then I came back for the summer, and decided I wasn’t going to leave,” he says.
“The journey has had a lot of ups and downs and a lot of great experiences. I’ve met so many amazing people along the way, and I’m very lucky to work with such motivated people who always had a very clear vision – you learn from that.”
Cormac cares for the the world’s top showjumping horse, Explosion W, on a daily basis, and describes him as a “great guy”.
“He is always happy, always looking for treats, and always in your face,” he laughs, adding that the 12-year-old gelding goes by several names in the stable: Ginger, Carrots and BFG being just some of them. “Emma, Ben’s other groom at home could shout ‘treats’ and Explosion will drag me towards her. He is a people person and likes people more than other horses. There are two or three that he travels really well with, but people are his thing.
“He also really loves scratches – you can scratch him anywhere and he will fall on the floor in front of you.”
Cormac describes the Tokyo Olympics build-up and experience as “a whirlwind”.
“At one point we didn’t even think it was going to happen but we were still getting ready for it,” he says. “Then we were in quarantine getting ready and still didn’t believe it, then the next thing we’re here thinking, ‘Oh my god we have to do this; it’s everything we’ve worked for’.”
Ben arrived in Tokyo as one of the hot favourites to win the Olympic showjumping individual gold medal with Explosion W, and that came with a certain pressure. Cormac felt it too, but says that focusing his attention on the horse helped to alleviate it.
“As a groom you want them to win, of course, but also you care about the health of the horse and how they come out of the ring. Explosion’s a great horse and we trust him with our lives when he’s in there. We know he is going to give 110%.
“When he won it felt like a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders – when I realised it was done and the goal we had set was complete. It was quite emotional.”
Cormac is also quick to pay tribute to the other grooms whom, as he explains, put in just the same amount of work: “Their job is just the same and they did an amazing job, but didn’t get a medal for their part,” he says.
So what advice would Cormac give to other grooms working their way up the ranks, or hoping to gain a foothold in the industry?
“My tip would be to learn from everyone, and to be open-minded. You never stop learning and with horses you can get humbled quickly.”
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