How Carol Gee Launched the Fernhill Empire

Fernhill Sea Top Boy. From Carol: Fernhill Sea Top Boy. From Carol: "Coming 8-year-old. Toppy is the only horse in the yard I do not own. He is owned by a great friend for whom I have ridden and produced horses for over the past 20 years, Deidre Lannigan." Photo used with permission from Equus Pix.

Fernhill horses are everywhere. We are seeing more and more at every competition, and they are, without a doubt, steadily climbing the ladder in eventing. These horses are athletic, scopey and lovely. Whether you have competed against, watched in amazement, currently own or generally daydream about these horses, you are not alone. Quite honestly, after spending the last five years completely in awe of Fernhill horses, I decided it was time to interview Carol Gee, the owner of Fernhill Sport Horses in Kilkenny, Ireland. Without further ado …

Lila: When and how did Fernhill Sport Horses begin?

Carol: “The Fernhill brand has been around since 2005. I thought long and hard for a name that was catchy, with a good prefix and that would be easily remembered. Friends and family used to call and text me at all hours of the day and night with suggestions, but it was a local taxi driver that inspired me in the end. While out hacking one day, the cab driver stopped and asked me if the hill I was riding up next to my farm was called Fernhill. I was not sure of the answer, but informed him it would be from now on! I love the name, and love that the company logo is not a horse jumping a fence, which is commonplace in the horse industry. I think the fern is a strong plant that grows anywhere, and when all around it is struggling, it seems to grow thicker and stronger. A fitting symbol, I thought!”

Owner, Carol Gee riding Fernhill Mayhem on the sunshine tour in Portugal!

Carol Gee rides Fernhill Mayhem on the sunshine tour in Portugal!

Lila: What is your background in the horse world?

Carol: “I started riding at a very young age. My father was an active sportsman and encouraged me to accompany him whenever it was possible. I swam and ran with my Father, but riding was always my passion, so with my parents support I learned to ride properly with private tutors and quality ponies.

My parents were less than thrilled about building a career around horses, instead they told me to ‘get a proper job so you can afford to pay for your horses.’

So I did just that. I picked up the telephone directory and started to look for inspiration. I started working at the bank Barclays. I worked for them for 15 years, starting at the bottom and worked my way into the marketing department, where I learned about customer service and gained most of my selling skills.

While working for the bank, I continued to ride, compete and sold a few horses to help fund the expensive discipline that eventing is.

After 15 years, I decided to leave a well-paid job with a good pension, cheap mortgage, company car and a decent expense account to combine my selling skills with my passion … horses. My parents were thrilled … NOT! At that time, I was living in England but had an Irish passport, as my mother is Irish. So I fled to Ireland — the land of the horse — to trace my roots and try to make a living as a horse dealer.”

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Fernhill Casano. From Carol: “Very exciting 6-year-old that could be very competitive at the World Breeding Championships in Le Lion if we manage to keep him that long!” Photo used with permission from Equus Pix.

Lila: What makes Fernhill horses so undeniably special and unique?

Carol: “I feel I have a great skill for matching the right horse to the rider. I think because I came from a business background I always think of the long term goals and am happy to wait as long as it takes to find the right client for my horses. I intend to be in this business for the rest of my life, so sometimes when the mortgage is due and the feed bill is mounting up, it could be tempting to sell to the highest bidder, but I have learned that whatever level the horse is or has the potential to be, the home and rider are of paramount importance to his/her success.”

Lila: Did you ever imagine that so many Fernhill horses would dominate the eventing scene and that it would be as successful as it is today?

Carol: I had hoped that through my integrity and ambition that my horses would be market leaders. I read the book “The Secret” when first setting up Fernhill, which helped me believe that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. When top riders start trusting me to select horses for them and they are successful with them, I think that made me realize that Fernhill would be a household name in the eventing world. Many are out there not carrying the Fernhill prefix. I think I counted 12 at Pine Top that were formally Fernhill.”

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Fernhill Casa Nine. From Carol: “Six-year-old gelding that just arrived in William Fox-Pitt’s yard after having a very successful season as a 5 year old, both show jumping and eventing. Photo used with permission from Equus Pix.

Lila: Do you try and keep track of your sold horses and the progress they’ve made?

Carol: “I try my best to keep track of the horses. It’s difficult when the names are changed, and it’s a big job going down the results each Monday morning of every country I have sold horses to. They do not all have Eventing Nation!

I love reading my Monday morning emails and getting reports from riders and owners on how my horses have performed over the weekend. It’s amazing how many purchasers keep in touch and are really enthusiastic about sharing their success with me. Some of the top riders are actually really good at this, and to be honest, that’s worth more than any money.”

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Fernhill Calmore Max winning the 6-year-old show jumping class in the main arena at the Royal Dublin Show last year. He will now have a career change to eventing. Photo by Carol Gee.

Lila: What advice or information can you offer to those in the U.S. that are interested in a Fernhill horse?

Carol: “As my business and connections have grown in the States, I have looked at ways to make my horses more available over there. Recently, Julie Richards and I have imported several of my nice young prospects so that they can be tested on American soil and be more accessible to people in the States who don’t have time to travel to Ireland. Phillip Dutton, Boyd Martin, Mara DePuy and Heidi White are a few of the people who have enjoyed buying Fernhill horses this way. I intend to keep this system in place in the future to make life easier for clients under pressure to travel. This is also particularly helpful for those who like to have their trainer present when making a purchase, which isn’t always a possibility when you’re traveling abroad.”

Lila: What are your plans and goals for the future of Fernhill Sport Horses?

Carol: “I am as happy as anyone could ever be in what I do, the horses I sell and the people I have met through this business. I have no intention of changing anything in the foreseeable future. Why change a winning formula?”

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