GROCK AND CARETOL COMPETING THIS WINTER AT WEF. PHOTO © SPORTFOT.
See this story and more, HERE, in the TPH 2017 Feb. Stallion Issue!
Written by Sissy Wickes
Marc Grock has returned to the Grand Prix jumping ring and is having the time of his life. With two talented Grand Prix mounts, he is back in the big ring and competing at highest level of competition. Contesting classes from California to Florida and South Carolina to Kentucky, Grock is a contender in the big leagues.
Originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, Grock grew up at a time when hunter and jumper training facilities were few and far between. Always a self-described “barn rat,” Grock knew at a young age that horses were his passion. As a kid, he and his friends ran through the desert on their ponies. As Grock began to yearn for more advanced training opportunities, he realized that he would have to look west to California. In his junior years, he would ship his horses to California and take lessons with seasoned professionals such as Bob and Debbie McDonald, Mark Mullin, and Victor Hugo Vidal. Commuting back and forth one week at a time, Grock would hope to attend four to six shows per year.
Undaunted by the effort required to seek out training, Grock continued his quest for all things equestrian. Grock garnered tremendous success in the amateur ranks, winning Horse of the Year awards on both his hunter and his jumper. After stepping away from competitive riding for a few years Grock returned to riding and made a commitment to his passion by turning professional. He established Highland Farm with a concentration on sales horses and a small group of training clients.
As Grock’s professional riding career flourished, so grew his business. Soon, Highland Farm evolved away from a sales enterprise and toward a client based business. Grock’s professional demeanor, equestrian skills, and attention to detail drew clients to his Rancho Sante Fe southern Californian farm. While training successful amateur and junior riders, Grock was also riding high performance hunters and jumpers. For ten years, Grock cared for his own farm, rode at a high level, and trained “very serious” amateur riders. Always concerned with quality, Grock realized that he could not maintain a level of excellence on all fronts and sold his farm. “It is very hard to be on the road, operate a farm, serve your clients, and ride at a high level,” Grock explains.
In order to maintain the highest level of quality, Grock moved his business to the world class equestrian center at Albert Court, Ltd. in Rancho Santa Fe, with trusted assistant, Courtney Miller. “Courtney is essential to the business. I literally could not do this without her, ” Grock claims. “She is instrumental in the operation of Highland Farm.” Miller comes to the job with years of experience. She rode as a junior with David Olynick in Massachusetts, was assistant trainer for Carleton Brooks’ Balmoral Farm, and freelanced for California trainers Joie Gatlin, Liz Reilly, and Francie and Dick Steinwedell. Miller both rides and trains at Highland Farm, allowing Grock more latitude to campaign his Grand Prix horses. With an impressive resume, Miller had many opportunities in the horse industry. Arriving for the interview at Highland Farm, Miller knew that she found the place for her. “There is an aura here. It is very fun and relaxed. Marc makes you want to come back to work every day.” Miller and Grock agree on the priorities for their business: provide a comprehensive and competitive program while providing an enjoyable environment. As Grock states, “We really care about attention to detail, from the horses being cared for to the riders being cared for; all of it is top notch.”
Albert Court Ltd. is an exceptional facility by all measures, but especially unusual in California. The property boasts 50 acres of manicured grounds and includes ample grass paddocks, a grass jump field with natural obstacles, professionally footed training rings, and beautiful barns. Highland Farm is the only hunter/jumper based tenant and shares the facility with two Olympic level dressage trainers. The equine and human clients of Highland Farm make the most of their time at Albert Court Ltd. There is a quiet, orderly atmosphere with no one vying for ring or turnout time. Grock and Miller maintain the number of horses in their care to 20- 25 in order to afford maximum attention to each. They offer a customized lesson program to each client and a training program suited to each horse.
Grock emphasizes the importance of flatwork in his training program. “We spend a lot of time working on the flat. We do not jump a lot, but do a lot of pole work. We make it interesting and fun. Sometimes we use the Derby field, which is really fun. We are sticklers for safety for horses and riders.” Small group lesson and private lessons are standard while Miller and Grock also provide training rides for the horses.
Grock believes in the absolute importance of choosing the correct horses for his amateur riders. In making his purchasing decisions, he values temperament as much as physical attributes. “We are conscious of choosing horses that will last long term. We want sweet, easy, quality horses that are easy to prepare. It makes for a nice environment for Courtney and me and a nice environment for our riders. We have had some good success with this program.”
Grock rang in the New Year with his Grand Prix horses in Wellington, Florida. Always endeavoring to improve, he is taking advantage of the opportunity to train with Conan and Becky Conway’s Blue Hill Farm. While Miller competently manages the operation in California, Grock is honing his skills in the International Ring at the Winter Equestrian Festival. To ride at the highest level, a rider must surround himself with excellence. Grock enjoys the intensity of the training program at Blue Hill and the opportunity through competition to surround himself with the best riders in the world. “This experience is a window of opportunity to gain footing in the top level of the sport. A few weeks here provides an accelerated learning curve and gives me so much to take back to California.”
Highland Farm will begin its competition year in Thermal, Calif. at the HITS Coachella circuit. Grock and Miller plan on traveling to the newly founded Santa Barbara Sunshine Classic series and to compete at the Blenheim EquiSports events. The Californians may then head east to contest shows in Tryon, South Carolina and Lexington, Kentucky. With a successful presence in all rings, Highland Farm’s competitors reap the benefits of qualified, accomplished professionals, an exceptional home base facility, and carefully chosen horses.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist and an autism advocate. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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