By Charity Lucente
In the world of competitive horse showing, braiding and grooming are a usual part of the artistic showmanship of the event, particularly in the sport of dressage. From a functional standpoint, braiding a horse’s mane and tail has been done for hundreds of years to prevent the hair from getting tangled in the riding equipment the horse wears. Keeping the mane and tail braided as a matter of daily maintenance can keep the individual hairs from becoming damaged and broken.
In today’s modern show scene, braiding or plaiting a horse’s mane enriches the horse’s appearance by showing off the muscling and silhouette of the horse’s neck for judging purposes. When showing, competitors take great care to present a tidy picture out of respect for the horse, the sport and the judges.
In order to get a glimpse of what goes into managing and maintaining a horse at the very top of the sport, we spoke with Carly Muma, head groom and stable manager for dressage rider Susie Dutta.
Growing up in rural Michigan as a young rider, Muma participated in 4H and hunters with a premarin mare that her mother had given her. She developed a superior work ethic to complement her empathic nature and innate attention to detail, which has taken her to the top of the sport of dressage.
As an up-and-coming professional in the industry, Muma pursued the world of eventing and found herself as a groom and rider for Buck Davidson Eventing and BDJ Equestrian in Pennsylvania. In her role there, she learned just how demanding the professional horse world can be, how extremely difficult it is to find balance in your work and personal lives as a whole, and how always having an open mind allows you to learn new ways of doing things.
“We have to keep in mind that we don’t know everything and need to give priority to the controllable aspects of horse care,” Muma said.
During her time training, grooming and traveling for team BDJ, Muma forged a relationship with Tim and Susie Dutta of the Dutta Corporation, for whom she is now the head groom and stable manager of their international string of dressage horses. She finds herself truly bonded with each of the five equine athletes under her direct care and takes the time necessary to know their every behavioral pattern, bump, bruise, noise, gait and request.
Being this precise and particular about her horses’ care allows her to not miss the smallest of details and prevents issues before they start.
When asked what essential tools she could not live without in her daily grooming kit, the answer was one of a wise professional who knew that the tools of her sport only supplement the greatest asset of all — good and safe horsemanship.
“A basic, good-quality brush and curry go a long way and are accessible to everyone,” Muma said. “Good horsemanship and a quality feed and farrier are the simplest of ways to keep your horse safely at their best, starting from the inside out, from the core.”
Muma always keeps her focus on the horses in her care.
“Good, basic horsemanship was instilled in me from the beginning, and sometimes I feel like that lacks. It is so easy just to rush through your day, and then you lose the details,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re doing hunter plaits, dressage button braids or banding for a western pleasure class, it is all in the details and being consistent to your program.”
As stable manager for Susie Dutta, Muma has soaked up any and all knowledge and experience to grow her abilities in horse husbandry using a wide array of modalities. In her daily set of therapies, she uses shock wave, Sport Innovations blankets and laser therapies to bolster her horses’ wellness regimen.
She offers wise advice to anyone involved in this all-encompassing love of horses.
“No matter what sport you compete in, even if you are purely a recreational weekend warrior, we all do it for the love of the horse,” Muma said. “We are their voice. It’s just making sure they are healthy and happy. Keep it simple and pay close attention to the basics of your horses’ care and maintenance. I know that if they are healthy and happy, they will do whatever it is we ask. They will put their heart and soul into it.”