Tim Bourke has become a very familiar face in the U.S. eventing scene since moving from his native Ireland a decade ago. He initially made his way over to the U.S. after graduating from college, landing a job with Bruce Davidson before going on to take an assistant trainer position with Sharon White.
Having now settled in Berryville, Virginia, where Tim and his wife Marley have owned Stone’s Throw Farm for nearly two years, Tim is rapidly expanding his business and also staying busy competing. He has climbed to the top levels of the sport with Luckaun Quality (“Obie”), and the pair has proved their mettle with three consecutive Rolex Kentucky appearances, finishing just outside the top 10 this year. They also added a big completion to their resume at Burghley last fall (and made an epic save).
EN was lucky to sit down with Tim to ask him some of our burning questions. Be sure to read to the bottom of the article for an exclusive promo code from MOJO, one of Tim’s newest sponsors.
EN: How did you ultimately decide to put down roots in the States?
Tim: “I’ve been competing here for about 10 years now, basically ever since I started working for Bruce. Marley and I did go back to Ireland for a bit while we were still dating and she transferred to the National University of Ireland Galway for school, but I didn’t get to compete in Ireland as much as I wanted. It was a pretty easy decision to come back in the end and once we did, we knew that was it.”
EN: You and Marley are coming up on two years of farm ownership in December. How has it been teaching and training at your own place?
Tim: “It’s awesome. It’s been really, really good being able to concentrate on myself as well as building the business. We have 16 horses in training now and some great girls working for us. Marley does a great job of running the business and taking care of the accounts and scheduling the lessons. I’m lucky that all I have to do is ride and teach!”
EN: What would you say to someone dreaming of starting their own business as a rider and trainer?
Tim: “If you do it, you have to realize that it’s not a job and it’s not a career — it’s a lifestyle. You have to be prepared for it to become your life. It’s like a lot of things though, where you get what you put into it. I really believe that if you’re a good, honest, hard worker then there’s no reason you can’t be successful at it.”
EN: You and Obie have really formed a strong partnership as you’ve made your way up to the four-star level. What’s next for Obie?
Tim: “Aa lot of people have been asking me that because I’ve been giving him a good bit of time off after Rolex Kentucky this year. He actually came out of Kentucky pretty foot sore, not because of the actual event — the footing there was nice and soft — but because all the run up to the event itself was so hard. It was a lot.
“But here’s the thing: the horse is 11 years old, and he’s done four four-stars in three years now. My life goal is to be on a national team for Ireland, and I know he can be my horse for that, but we’re going to have to be more competitive on the flat in order to get there. So we’re going to do a ton of flatwork over the winter and try to improve, plus maybe do a few jumper shows as well.
“We’ll aim for Rolex again next year and just keep trying to get the team selectors to notice us hopefully for the WEG in two years. You have to understand though how many good riders are out there for Ireland. Especially after watching the Olympics, it’s extremely competitive. You have to keep working for it and going out there and proving yourself.”
EN: Do you currently have any up-and-coming young horses that you’re particularly excited about?
Tim: “The horses that I have coming up the lines are fantastic. We have three horses qualified for the Young Event Horse Championships at Fair Hill in the fall. Quality Time, owned by Carla Abramcheck, and Foreign Quality, owned by Marley, are qualified for the 5-year-old division, plus Quality Pop, also owned by Marley, is qualified for the 4-year-olds. We also have four others that are qualified for a one-star now.
“I really believe that you don’t build a career on one horse. You need others in the pipeline so that when the time comes you have options. You look at the people out there at the top of our sport, and they have more than one horse. I’m not fortunate enough to be able to go out and buy made top horses, but I would rather spend the time and make them myself anyway.”
EN: What do you like about bringing along young horses?
Tim: “There’s never a hole in their history. You know exactly who the horse is from start to finish.”
EN: The majority of horses in your program right now are Irish imports. What is it about Irish Sport Horses that you like so much?
Tim: “I can’t necessarily say it’s one trait in particular about the Irish horses. It’s more about the Irish people, their breeding programs and how the horses are prepared from a young age. Plus the amount of young horses and the quality of horses that go through Ireland is just incredible.
“There’s a huge quantity of horses to choose from, not just eventers, but a lot of top class show jumpers as well. I don’t necessarily go for the big-name sourcers; I generally cut out the middle man. To be perfectly honest, I have a couple of show jump friends that I get a lot of horses from and find them to be very successful.”
EN: Irish Sport Horses have been one of the most represented breed at some of the most recent four-star events (including Rolex 2016 and Rio 2016). Why do you think Irish Sport Horse breeding programs have been so successful ?
Tim: “They have a lot of great organizations in Ireland that help produce young horses and support the breeding programs. Websites like Irish Horse Gateway are working to promote the breeders directly as opposed to the buyers. Plus there are an incredible number of sales like the Goresbridge Go for Gold sale for eventers and Millstreet sale for show jumpers.”
“The breeders have also just been good at what they do. Right now they’re tending to mix the old stock with warmblood breeds to get the modern type that people are looking for. In a way it’s sad to see that the traditional Irish horse isn’t getting promoted the way it used to, but it shows that the breeders are adapting and evolving to meet the demand. It’s about creating something that’s marketable.”
EN: If all the Irish Horses suddenly disappeared off the planet, what breed would you then prefer to ride?
Tim: “I think what some American breeding programs are trying to do with crossing Thoroughbreds with continental horses like German or Dutch Warmbloods is quite nice too. There are a lot of nice horses in the U.S. as well; it just needs to be built upon.”
EN: What do you like most about MOJO?
Tim: “I like that it works! I have problems with muscle spasms in my neck, probably from an injury I had as a kid. Every now and then my neck would go out, sometimes during something as simple as putting a quarter sheet on a horse. One time I just fell to my knees crippled.
“I tried everything to fix it. I don’t like massage. I tried magna wave therapy and it didn’t help. Then one of my friends said, ‘Here put this on,’ and it was a MOJO bracelet. Over that weekend my neck got better and eventually just stopped hurting. That was three years ago and I haven’t taken my MOJO bracelet off since.
“I’m just a believer in it, and I’m not a superstitious person, but my neck hasn’t gone out since I put it on. My dog Blue wears a MOJO patch on his collar too. He’s a Cardigan Welsh Corgi and has got bad arthritis in one of his legs. The MOJO makes him a lot more comfortable also.”
Want to try MOJO for yourself? Use the promo code MOJO10BUCKS on the MOJO website for $10 off your order!