With the onset of the cold weather, it’s a great time to cozy up and get to know some of your favorite riders. We’ll be posting Q&As with riders throughout the upcoming months, giving you an inside look into their life as equine professionals and getting tidbits of advice that we can all put to good use. Do you have a rider you’d like us to profile? Email [email protected] and we’ll get the chinchillas on it!
Sinead Halpin and her French Princess, Manoir de Carneville, stole America’s hearts a few years ago when they stormed around their first Rolex in grand fashion. Now, she’s become a staple on the upper level circuit, and the chinchillas received several requests to get to know her a bit better. You’ll definitely want to read on to find out more about Sinead and her fiery red horse. Many thanks to Sinead for her insightful answers!
EN: Describe yourself in one word.
Sinead: Honest. I think I am a lot of things, but I strive very hard to be honest with not only the people around me but also with my horses and myself. That is not always a pretty conversation, mostly the ones I have with myself. I can be my own worst enemy, but it is also what drives me to improve.
Horses are honest animals; they simply are not capable of lying (even if you wish they would sometimes!). To have my horses trust me is paramount; when it really counts, that’s the extra thing that can make the difference between success and failure. The only way they will trust me is if I tell them the truth every day.
EN: What has been the highlight of your career to date?
Sinead: Professionally, being named to the WEG squad, but, emotionally, my first Rolex in 2011. That was a dream event for me. In every phase Tate and I performed the best we were capable of and finished as the highest Americans. It was the dream coming true that makes all the work worth it.
EN: If you could take a spin on any horse, past or present, who would it be?
Sinead: Eventing horse would be Tamarillo. One day William (Fox-Pitt) let me gallop him, and when we got to the top of the gallop, I was speechless. He was so light and athletic. He felt like he could gallop for days and jump absolutely anything; he was like a cat. I would love to take that horse around cross country.
The other horse would be Shutterfly, of Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum. Talk about an athlete — one of those horses that just takes your breath away like he jumped for fun. The more difficult and more pressure the better.
EN: Think back to your first four-star event. What was going through your mind as you headed to the start box?
Sinead: I was terrified! But I kept trying to breathe and think “ride forward, ride smooth and do as little as necessary,” and then I would repeat that mantra again until the word GO!
EN: Continuing education is vital for eventers. What’s something new you learned recently?
Sinead: I learn something every day from my horses, both from lessons and from watching.
One thing that has helped me a lot this year in show jumping is realizing I don’t have to jump the middle of every jump. It sounds weird but, with so many connecting, bending lines, I always felt like I had to jump the middle of every jump.
Often that means changing the length of stride to make a distance work, but if you jump slightly right of center, you have a little more room without changing the rhythm, and the same thing jumping slightly left of center closes up the distance.
The key is whichever part of the fence you jump, jump it straight, landing on the same track you left the ground from. We do this on cross country a lot, but I have never applied it to show jumping. It works coming out of a turn as well. I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but it works for me.
EN: You and Tate have one of those partnerships that everyone wants to have. If you had to pick just one, what would be your favorite thing about him?
Sinead: His expressions. Of any horse I have ever had, he has one of the most expressive faces I have ever seen. He literally will raise a nostril if he is unimpressed with you the way someone would raise an eyebrow.
His eye can turn from the sweetest doe eye to fire breathing dragon in two seconds. You can tell exactly what he is thinking, and it’s not like he is “happy” or “sad.”
It’s way more detailed than that as well. Here’s a few of his looks:
“I cannot believe a commoner like you would have the audacity to ask me to do something.”
“Thank God all my fans have showed up; I mean, someone needs to see this performance!”
“Hi! My best friend in the world! Where have you been? I missed you so much, and I have never loved anyone as much as you! Now feed me.”
He makes me laugh so hard; this horse does not need words to communicate.
EN: Do you have a funny or embarrassing story to share?
Sinead: I could write a book … but I would have to change a lot of names! Unfortunately, a lot of these stories involve me doing something I probably shouldn’t have been doing so I am pleading the Fifth and not incriminating myself!
EN: A student asks you what they can do to improve their fitness for riding cross country (or riding in general). What advice would you give?
Sinead: Nothing improves riding fitness like riding, honestly. Drop the stirrups on the flat, do your gallop sets with your stirrups three or four holes shorter than normal, unload hay bales and strip some stalls!
EN: What events are on your competition bucket list?
Sinead: Badminton for sure. The problem is that I love Rolex so much; it’s hard to skip in order to go to Badminton. I guess I just need to get a few four-star horses going! Aachen also is on the list. I have never been, but it sounds amazing.
EN: It seems that eventers are more color and fashion conscious than many others. Your cross country colors are black and white, which always looks classic and stylish. How did you decide on those colors?
Sinead: I guess that was what I was kind of going for. I think it’s very easy to overdo the color thing. You can ask any of my students my reaction when they have shown up with everything head to toe in wild colors.
I think it’s important, if you are a professional, to dress accordingly. First impressions do count, and when you get dressed for cross country, look in the mirror and decide if you are setting out to go to work or if you dressing up for a circus. On the contrary, if you are a kid or just having fun, lightning bolt it up!