Sally Robertson knows horses. With over 30 years in the business, the head groom for Landmark’s Event Horse Team and Lauren Nicholson née Kieffer can do it all, and, thankfully, delights in teaching others the tricks of the trade. The recent recipient of both the 2019 Eventing Riders Association of North America (ERA of NA) Liz Cochran Memorial Groom’s Award and the 2019 USEA Groom of the Year Award, Robertson was recognized as an outstanding groom who has had a significant influence on her rider’s career and the health and well-being of the horses under her care. “Sally’s amazing,” says Lauren Nicholson. “She loves the horses so much, and does everything she can for them. She’s such a positive influence on my riding. Sally’s probably the best in the world, definitely in America, and has no ego. She’s very good at educating new people and spreading her knowledge.”
Starting as a groom at age 15 in New Zealand, Robertson came to the United States while working for fellow Kiwi, Platinum NZ rider Donna Smith. Smith had been hired by David and Karen O’Connor to head up their young horse program, of which, in full circle fashion, Nicholson is now in charge. Robertson credits Smith for the huge impact she had on her life, “Without Donna Smith, I would not be where I’m at today.” Other influencers include eventer Jock Paget and Australian show jumper Chris Chugg. “Every rider has taught me something,” says Robertson. “You never stop learning. Although you might not always agree with a certain method, you will always take something away from any and every situation.” Sally has worked closely with eventers, show jumpers and even breeding programs and has jet-setted across the world with some of the top horses and riders. She has earned her stripes from a fast-paced world that requires the highest standards of horse care. Like an oyster uses grains of sand to cultivate a pearl, Robertson has used her vast experiences from people, places and horses to become a recognized expert of her trade. Fortunately for her sport, she eagerly shares her vast wealth of hard-earned knowledge and continues to add layers of wisdom with each new horse that comes into the barn. Nicholson is very aware of the huge weight that Robertson bears. “Attention to detail is very key at this level,” says Nicholson appreciatively. “A lot of times things are preventable, and as much as I would love to be able to feel the horses’ legs 10 times a day, that’s impossible. It’s so important to have someone like Sally that I trust and know that she is always going to put the horses first.”
“Attention to detail is very key at this level. A lot of times things are preventable, and, as much as I would love to be able to feel the horses’ legs 10 times a day, that’s impossible. It’s so important to have someone like Sally that I trust and know that she is always going to put the horses first.”
— Lauren Nicholson, USEA Lady Rider of the Year
Robertson is very in tune with the horses in her care. And there is so much that goes into her everyday job including organization and management of horses and people, organizing the vet and farrier, making sure horses are groomed and ready for riding, knowing their exercise schedule and facilitating the turnout schedule, getting equipment ready for the next event and packing and unpacking the trailers. The list goes on and changes constantly. But consistently, one of the most important things that Robertson is in charge of is what the horses eat. Making sure that they are healthy and happy from the inside out directly correlates to how they feel and perform. “Diet is so important to these top athletes. We are asking them to train six days a week, and then hoping it all comes together at the events. We need them to be feeling the best they can to perform for us. Juggling each individual horse’s needs and weight is an important task. You don’t want a horse too skinny or it won’t have the energy to do its job. You don’t want a horse too fat that it can’t possibly be asked to make time on cross-country.” Robertson emphasizes the importance of daily turnout and the opportunity for the horses to forage and graze. When they are home, the horses are out all night. They come in in the morning and are fed and exercised. They have lunch and are turned out again in the early afternoon. Robertson uses a Haygain to steam the hay and keeps hay in front of them around the clock when they are away at events. The feeding routine stays as consistent as possible whether at home on the farm or on the road — with one happy change. “I add a small late feeding when we are at shows since they are spending more time stalled,” she smiles. “Who doesn’t like a late-night snack?”
Robertson brought Platinum Performance® to LKE when she started working there in 2018. “I wanted to incorporate Platinum into the program when I started here. I had worked with their products in the past and loved it and saw a difference in the horses while using it. When I started at LKE, there was a wide range of supplements being used from many different companies. I wanted to consolidate it as much as possible. I am always going to have questions about products, and it is so important to have the support and knowledge of the team that supplies the products and Platinum’s customer service is second to none.” All of the competition horses use Platinum Performance® CJ and Platinum Electrolyte, and then it depends on the individual horse and their specific needs. When asked to select a favorite product, she hesitates, thinking aloud, “I really like them all. I love the Healthy Weight oil. Even if you’re not wanting to put weight on, it will help their coats gleam. The Bio-Sponge is a lifesaver when we are away at shows. The Skin & Allergy has been essential for the skin issues we can get in Florida. And I love the Renew!”
“Bug” is the full brother to Lauren Nicholson’s first 5* horse, Snooze Alarm. He is 13 this year, 15.2 hands and an Anglo-Arabian. He loves to sleep! Lauren Nicholson's head groom Sally Robertson laughs, adding, “Bug likes most things, especially if I’m eating them! He has recently decided he likes my oranges as well. He is just a sweet gentle soul that is cute as a button. But if he doesn’t like something, he will look at you as if you are trying to poison him.” His alter ego is Captain America, and he attacks cross-country and occasionally bucks and squeals to make sure Nicholson is paying full attention.
Patrick, or “Patty,” is a 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse/Thoroughbred (Formula One — Glamour) who is known to those that love him to “see ghosts” — and has spoken with an animal communicator to help ease his mind. Patty is a cross-country machine and, notably, with Nicholson, was the horse and rider coming in closest to optimum at the Land Rover Kentucky 3-Day Event. He has also competed at the prestigious Badminton Horse Trials. Sally Robertson says fondly of the quirky gray gelding, “Well he is a unique individual. He loves his turnout, so we actually keep him outside 90 percent of the time. There aren’t really words to describe Patty as he can change on any given day, but we love him for who he is.”
Veronica, a.k.a. “Troll” or affectionately “Pirhanica,” would be Miranda Priestly in human form. She is beautiful and her work ethic is impeccable, but she can be witchy. She has the most perfect ears, which swivel dramatically between angelic and annoyed. The LKE team refers to the 16.0 hands Dutch Warmblood (Pacific — Kimbell) mare as a “fine wine” who at 18 years old has made it abundantly clear she is not interested in retirement. “She is very determined in everything she wants.” The determination and intensity have in large part contributed to her being a two-time National Champion, Olympic veteran and having completed multiple 5* events, so the feisty bay mare gets what she wants.
There was already a “Louie” in the barn when he arrived, so he was called “Louie Pi” as a nod to his official initials. “Lou has been with Lauren the least amount of time, so his personality is still coming out,” says Robertson, “he likes to act grumpy at times, but he’s actually a big softy.” He is a fiercely talented 16.3 hands Holsteiner gelding (Pasco — Gesche II), and at 13 years old, is peaking at a great time with a great rider. He still has some nerves in dressage but is incredibly athletic and comfortable at the cross-country and show jumping. He finished in the Top 10 at his first 5*, the 2019 Land Rover Kentucky 3-Day Event.