We sit down with the owner of Bright Moon Eventing, Karen Conk. Karen has been horseback riding since she was five years old. She absolutely loves horses and the horse games. Through hard work and family support, she started her own business Bright Moon Eventing. Her mother, Trish Conk, is the owner of Bright Moon Farm. Karen has accomplished a lot in the field of Equestrian Sports. When she discovered the world of eventing, Karen fell in love with the sport and has not looked back.
In this interview, Karen explains how she was able to begin working in Australia for the well known Australian eventer Megan Jones. Karen groomed at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany; the 2007 Olympics Test Event in Hong Kong, China and the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong, were Megan won the silver medal and won fourth place individually. Karen explains how hard work and networking created incredible opportunities for her.
Equestrian Sports Video Transcription: I started my business Bright Moon Eventing a few years ago, but it's really started to take off here at Bright Moon farm, it's a farm parents bought here in Winchester, Virginia a few years ago. It has always been a dream of mine to have a property so I kind of do through my parents, but it's not truly mine as of yet, maybe sometime in the future. But years ago I started riding, my mother rode when she was little and she had grown up and had a family, and as soon as she had 2 daughters and we were of age she started us in horseback riding lessons. I have to admit I started riding when I was 5, I then quit because my sister was winning more ribbons at the horse games and shows than I was, and I was very offended by that.
So then I didn't ride for a few years, I did dance, and I did soccer, and then when I was 10 I really wanted to start again, and then from there it has just been full on, and I rode through middle school, through high school and it was in high school that I really fell in love with my sport, eventing. Looked at a lot of colleges that have a lot of eventing programs but I didn't find any that were suiting my needs. So my dad suggested looking at programs where my trainer lives. Then you go to college and trained with your trainer and then just get a normal business degree , so that's how I found Shenandoah University in Winchester. I found it on the map and it was close to my trainer, Sharon White, I worked for her for the 4 years of school. I studied was English literature and probably not ideally what my dad would have liked me to study, and he does say that writing is an important part of business. I also like to think that while I was getting my degree in English, I was getting my degree in horses. Because I was a working student, and whenever I wasn't in class, I was in the barn.
You can ask my friends, on my weekends, all my classes in the morning or in the afternoon so they could spend most my day at the barn the other part of the day. I worked every holiday, I didn't go home, I went out to the barn and I worked. When I graduated, I evented through college, I was part of the North American Junior Rider team on for my area in 2003, that I took my horse, Gadeaux, up to that. By the time college ended, my horse was actually lame, and he was limping on one of his feet and he wasn't going to get better. And I said to myself, and I was talking to a lady I know who rode at Sharon's, how cool it would be to live overseas for a few months. She looked at me “and said why don't you,” that's how it kind of started so if you months later I flew to New Zealand and I lived in New Zealand for a year. And I worked for some horses then, and I was finishing my year in New Zealand thinking about what I was going to do next, thinking of moving to Europe, but then a friend of mine had worked in Australia and said “Karen this job is right up your alley.” So I called up Megan and I said hey I'm looking for a job as a groom, she said “that's great I'm looking for groom to come with me to the world equestrian games in Germany.”
I went over and interviewed on it and interviewed her and spent a few weeks working with her, we liked each other, then I came home for a little bit then I met her in Germany. Then from Germany I went back to Australia and I worked for her for 2 years. In that time, I groomed for her in Germany so I went around Europe for a little bit, and we went to the test event in 2007 at the Olympic venue in Hong Kong and I groomed for her in Olympics in the Beijing in 2008. I groomed for Megan Jones and she is from Hahndorf, Australia, right outside Adelaide. And she ended up getting a silver team medal and she finished 4th just outside of an individual medals. So she had a very good time, a very good Olympics, she could've won a gold Olympic medal, if she hadn't made a few little mistakes, but a few people in that position can say that. But she finished 4th in the world, she was only 31 years old when she did it, which is a huge deal, and she did it her own way and in her own style. She was a force to be reckoned with on the international eventing scene.
Being a groom at the Olympics was amazing, there really is no other way to say it because you're there and you're part of it. And I find it very hard now after being behind the scenes and part of it for so long to just go and watch it because I want to be back there, I know what goes behind the scenes and I want to be able to say “that's my horse out there, that's my rider.” That's the horse, when it comes off cross-country that I'm going to be looking after. And I was responsible for looking after it to make it jump well the 3rd day. It was amazing, it was LONG days. You get there 10 days to 2 weeks before the competition to let the horse settle in. I was there from 5:30 am until 10 pm with my horse. We’d run off, and maybe eat, and because it was so hot, they rode early in the morning and later in the day, we had a few hours to ourselves in the afternoon. The actual time of the competition, it was intense. And you’re constantly there, and you have to be on top of it. It takes a different kind of person to be a groom at that type level because you’re giving everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired or hungry, if you’re horse needs it, you go without. So if your horse needs something done, you do the stuff to the horse and then you eat something later.
It’s a special kind of person, but then my rider does well, and she gets her medal, I’m there and I’m part of it and I can say, “part of that medal is mine.” The trust that she has in me to look after her horse, during the most important competition in her career, and she can hand the horse to me and she knows I know my job and I can do it. But it’s fun and when you’re behind the scenes with the horses, you’re with the other grooms, you’re with the riders and everybody can’t be too full of themselves because they know they can easily fall off on cross country as the next person if they have a bad day. Eventing has a way of humbling everybody, horses especially have a way of humbling everybody, you think you’re good, but then your horse goes lame and then you’ve got nothing, or they trip and they stumble and there goes your competition. It’s a very big camaraderie between the grooms, and the riders, and the support staff, and the vets, etc. and it’s a huge effort for everyone to get the horse performing their best on that day.
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