Craig Bernstein, A Groom To Die For

Grooming is an undervalued profession. Early in the morning, when even roosters are still asleep, the groom is getting up for a morning of manure, ammoniac, dust and stench. With only a 30 minute lunch break, he then has to start rubbing the mud of horses until his arms get sours, lift heavy duty leather saddles on their backs, clean tack until his fingers get wrinkled and cloven, walk the horses in hand for hours, feed them again and again and again, and then after an 11 PM check up to see if the babies are all safe and sound, the groom can put his own disheveled and weary body to bed.

Let me tell you it is not an easy job and many a horsaholic crack under grooming stress, even though all is done with a smile, because ... after all ... it is for the love of horses. Often, horse owners have to rely on volunteers or underpaid workers to get the job done, but they also quickly have to deal with the burnt-out syndrome among their grooms.

Fortunately, there are a few diamond-in-the-rough grooms who can weather any condition, any sort of equestrian stress and, moreover, are appreciated for what they do.

One of those once-in-a-lifetime, summa cum laude grooms is Craig Bernstein, also known as "Tuny's groom." Bernstein has been grooming for dressage rider Arlene "Tuny" Page for almost three years now and his trade mark is "perfection." Tack tidy, horses immaculately groomed, always on time, always available. Craig provides 24hour room service for Tuny's horses

From Union Camera Man to Full time Groom

Bernstein grew up with horses in Long Island, New York, and gradually got more involved in the equestrian world, as he seemed to breathe equine more easily than C02. In the 1980s, Craig worked as a union camera man in the motion picture industry to support the owning and showing of his horses. Towards the end of 1999, he was so exhausted doing 16 to 18 hour days that he decided to take a year off and do something with the horses.

"I was playing around on the internet and placed an advertisement for a groom in Europe," Berstein said, "because if I was going to quit Los Angeles, I wanted to go to Europe."

It were Monika Sinks and Ed Borresen who offered Bernstein to join them in Holland for two years, but when Bernstein had handled all his family affairs and was ready to move, Sinks had already found someone else. Fortunately Sinks suggested Craig to get in touch with Tuny Page, who was urgently looking for a groom as well.

"I called her [Tuny] after speaking with Monica and told her my background," Bernstein explained. "Tuny wanted to know if i could fly out as soon as possible. needless to say I was on a plane within 2 days to Amsterdam, then getting on a train to Munster, Germany, where Tuny picked me up."

Craig's Daily Routine

Bernstein has set up a very strict daily routine in order to get a maximum result in the triangular relationship between groom, horse, and rider.

"I wake up at around 5a.m. and hit my snooze alarm till 5:30a.m. when I roll out of bed and get myself ready to drive down to the Hess Gas Station to pick up ice for the horses. I grab 4 bags of ice and a bottle of water and, of course, a crispy cream donut to start off my morning," Bernstein said. "I feed the horses a wet breakfast and dinner as they are extremely picky, when it comes to their supplements."

"Between 6.30 and 9.00 am, Wild One gets turned out, while Claire gets the Respond Magnetic Blanket and ice boots on her front legs, while I clean the stalls and get the tack ready for Tuny. After Claire is done with her morning ritualI put her back in the stall and then I get on the tractor and drag the arena's so they are ready for Tuny."

"After dragging the arenas I put Claire's front and back boots on and also bell boots and bring her for a walk for around 20 to 30 minutes depending on who I am talking to on my cell phone," Bernstein joked. "Tuny usually gets on around 9-9:30a.m. and we always start with Claire. While Tuny is working Claire I am getting Wild One ready for her. He is a pretty funny horse to work around. When it comes to wiping him down with a small towel, he just hates it. He does not like being rubbed on with a rag, towel, cloth, etc."

Bernstein knows every single habit of his two foster horses, Claire (Holsteiner mare by Cassini) and Wild One (Hanoverian gelding by Wanderer) and will go the whole nine yards to treat them like royalty. "When Claire's done, I untack her and take her for a walk in the outdoor ring on a lunge line, where she will walk around and find the perfect place to roll in the soft footing, afterrolling I will bring her into the barn and give her a warm lineament bath and set her up in 4 ice boots for 20 minutes as well as the Magnetic blanket once more. Then after the ice and blanket I will dry off her legs and make her a lunch with carrots and apples and her favorite sweet feed."

After Claire has been given this deluxe spa-treatment, Wild One is up next. "When Wild One gets back in, I bathe him and ice his legs also. After both of them have eaten lunch, I am out of the barn and come back around 3:30 p.m. to get them out for either a hand walk for Claire and Wild One or a turn out for Wild One, depending on how the day went for them. Then after the end of the day I will go back and check on them around 8 p.m. and put a sheet on Claire."

Lovey Dovey Claire

Although it is ethically incorrect to have a favorite, Bernstein confesses to fancying Claire. "I love Claire with all of my heart, she has a heart that is so big, but does not show it to many," Bernstein explained, adding that "the best part of my day is when I come in early in the morning and she is still laying down in the stall. I open her door and, of course I am always bearing gifts such as apples or carrots, and sit down with her and she lays her head against my leg while I feed her."

Claire knows that Craig will be there for her all the time. "She hears my car keys in the morning and always knickers as I walk closer to her stall. She has the must kind and loved filled eyes of any horse I have ever had the privledge to be around"

By working 24/7 with Claire and Wild One, Craig has learnt secrets about "his" two horses, that they haven't revealed yet to the owner. "Claire likes to stand on the cross ties sideways because she wants to be able to look outside," Bernstein confesses, "and Wild One really wants to be called Elvis because in a past life he use to be a roadie in Elvis Presleys band."

"Diszipline Muss Sein"

Tuny regularly travels to Rosendahl, Germany, to train with USET coach Klaus Balkenhol and, of course, groom Craig is following in her footsteps. "Claire and Wild One do not leave anywhere unless I am with them," Craig stated.

Bernstein loves going to Germany and considers Stall Balkenhol a very special place. "I have made some very special friends there in Rosendahl that have been so wonderful to me, from Stephan and Irene who own the Zur Post Hotel about 6 kilometers from Stall Balkenhol. To Cindy who has been such a wonderful helpto the Americans when they are in town at Klaus's." Furthermore, Craig admits to love hanging out in the courtyard in the evening having a beer with Klaus (Potts Beer).

Even though Craig is globetrotting with Tuny's horses, his parents Roberta and Ted continue to support him in what ever ventures he tries. "They are always at the show ring to watch Tuny ride down centerline. My parents make me complete and happy, as well as Tuny's daughter Charlotte, nana and papa."

For almost three years now, Bernstein has been grooming for Tuny Page, who is currently in the running for a team place to represent the U.S.A. at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

"It is stressful working for someone that is goal oriented, taking into consideration that you are part of that goal andI respect that," Bernstein confessed. "She is a wonderful person and knows what she wants. It is hard work and it shows. Sometimes it can get stressful, but if you can put that aside and think about the end, and not the means of getting there, you can stay sane."

"I have given this year 110% of my heart and soul because I really want to see my horse go down centerline in Athens, I know she had it in her and I will do anything for my Mare Claire."

We wish Dave and Tuny Page, Claire, and Craig all the best in California during the Olympic Selection Trials!

by Astrid Appels of

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