By Nancy Alcock | Photos courtesy of Graham Alcock
Graham Alcock is one of those people who can never quite seem to sit still. Many of his good friends even refer to him as a Jack Russell. Alcock spends many hours each day moving his whole arm in a forward and backward motion to file down and shape horses’ teeth.
To many people, this job seems odd. To Alcock, equine dentistry is his way of staying connected to the horse world that he loves so dearly.
Alcock grew up in Northampton, England, in the small village of Brixworth. He lived with his mum, Betty, and dad, John, and his older brother, Nick. At a young age, Alcock learned how to be a responsible, hard worker as he grew up around his family’s busy butcher business.
When Alcock was 12, he had a pony and would “get up and do my pony [groom, give feed, hay and water] before school and come home and go to the farm and feed animals after school.” Alcock also would walk half a mile to school every day once the barn work was finished.
Surrounded by a family of hardworking people, Alcock learned that if he wanted to get somewhere in life he would have to work hard.
Alcock said, “Mum lived in Leicestershire in a place called Blaisten; she had to walk a couple of miles every morning just across the fields to get to the bus and when she got there she used to take her wellies off and put her school shoes on.” This was when she was only 10, just to attend primary school.
By the time he was 12, Alcock had decided that he wanted to become a jockey. He left school at age 16 and left home a week later for Newmarket, England, 70 miles away, where he worked as an apprentice jockey. There he “did his three,” meaning he mucked, groomed and galloped three horses. In Newmarket, Alcock realized that his small size made becoming a jockey a real possibility: Alcock is about 5 feet 6 inches and when he started out as a jockey, weighed “8 stones,” which is 112 lbs. His granny always said to him, “Good things come in small packages.” While working in Newmarket, Alcock got a job offer to work in the United States for three months. Thirty-five years later, he is still here.
At the age of 19, Alcock came to Camden, South Carolina, to continue his race-riding career as part of the National Steeplechase Circuit. Alcock competed in flat races at the “point to point,” a few timber, but mostly hurdle.
Traveling from South Carolina to Pennsylvania, to Virginia, Alcock won 75 races during his career as a jockey. He lived in many different places during those years. One of them was a cottage on Zulla Road in the Plains, Virginia. Reflecting on those sometimes-lonely years of travel, Alcock said, “I wasn’t ready to grow up as much as I had to, but there was nothing I could do about it.” Alcock continued to race until 1992, when he began to realize that he needed to find another profession. He had been warned that he should avoid more concussions. Over his racing career he broke his collarbone and his hand, but Alcock said, “I was very lucky” not to have had more major injuries. Knowing he could not race forever, Alcock felt that it was time to stop while he was in one piece and try something new.
After his racing career ended, Alcock went to work for an old-school racehorse trainer and found the team there to be harder on horses than he thought they should be. “Horses should be treated with a certain level of respect,” said Alcock.
He found that he needed a profession where he could work on his own with horses and did not want to be a blacksmith. So, he “fell into equine dentistry,” working as an apprentice in Kentucky for Bill Bakert, a well-known equine dentist.
“Be happy with yourself because unless you’re happy with yourself and content, you’re never ever going to be happy or make anyone else happy.”
Once Alcock learned how to float [also known as filing or rasping, which means removing the sharp edges] horses’ teeth, he thought it best not to stay in Kentucky and compete with the man who taught him the trade. So, Alcock moved to Virginia to pursue his new career.
It was in Virginia that he reconnected with his wife Daphne, a lifelong Virginia horsewoman he had met at Mosby’s (which was the cool place to go in Middleburg) when still racing. They saw each other at a party in 1996 and were married a year later.
Alcock takes pride in his work. He recently went down to Wellington, Florida, to do some horses’ teeth for a couple of show jumping people.
While working at one of the farms, Alcock said to a lady, “I just want to make sure I get the upper backs.” The lady asked, “How would I know if you did a good job or not?” Alcock replied, “I do a good job, because when I am working I always imagine the man who taught me looking over my shoulder.”
Although there were times when he felt lonely or nervous about a new adventure or a new chosen path, Alcock was never unhappy in his life. He said that he had to learn, “Be happy with yourself because unless you’re happy with yourself and content, you’re never ever going to be happy or make anyone else happy.”
Alcock emphasized that the most important thing in life is for people to choose a career path that they will love and that will make them want to wake up every morning.
Alcock’s enthusiasm for all things horse-related is contagious. Everyone in his family rides horses. His two daughters are also interested in galloping and possibly riding in some races. Alcock even stays a part of the horse racing world by starting some of the Steeplechase races in Virginia. In a couple of weeks, Alcock and his oldest daughter will start the Blue Ridge races together.
For Alcock — and for his family, too — it has always been about horses. He would like it to stay that way. ML
Nancy Alcock is a junior at Middleburg Academy who enjoys spending time with her friends, family and horses. She is also Graham Alcock’s oldest daughter.