9 Questions with Canadian WEG Team Member Selena O’Hanlon

Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High at Bromont. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Mac and cheese might not seem a very glamorous way to celebrate a third selection for Canada’s World Equestrian Games team, but it fits Selena O’Hanlon just fine. It’s her mother Morag’s specialty meal, and it was a big hit with the 30-plus friends who gathered for an impromptu celebration at the family’s Ontario, Canada farm shortly after Selena’s win of the Bromont CIC3* in mid-August.

Bromont was the final selection trial for the WEG team and, Equestrian Canada officially announced the squad on Saturday, Sept. 1. Selena and Foxwood High were named to the team and are on top form following the win at Bromont, plus a top 25 finish at Badminton CCI4* in the spring and winning the Fair Hill International CCI3* last fall.

We caught up with Selena on the eve of the official WEG team announcement and two weeks before eventing competition is set to begin on Sept. 13 at the Tyron International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina.

Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Kim: What have you and Woody been doing since the Bromont win?

Selena: “After Bromont, we went home for a while. He had a few days off, then some hacking, light work and a gallop the Saturday afterwards. Then we came down to my longtime coach Bruce Davidson’s place in Pennsylvania for lessons.”

Kim: Tell us about your relationship with Bruce, a many-time U.S. Olympic eventing medalist.

Selena: “He is a good friend of my family. My mom trained with him when she was going out for the Barcelona Olympics, and they are good friends. I’ve been lucky enough to ride with him since I was 7 or 8. When I decided not to go to university and instead try riding for the team, my mom said, ‘You are going to go work for Bruce for a couple of months to see if this is what you want to do.’ Ever since, he’s come to our place for clinics or, now, I ship to him for lessons.”

Kim: What happens in this week’s training camp with Canadian technical advisor David O’Connor?

Selena: “We work the horses in lessons with David. The only kind of bummer about training camp is that we all only have one horse. We’re all used to working a lot harder than that during the day, so we find extracurricular activities. In the past, we’ve gone tubing, boating, and done other team building activities. It’s a chance for those who haven’t been on the team before to learn David’s language a little and for all of us to get to know each other better and actually have a little bit of down time.”

Super groom Anne-Marie Duarte and Foxwood High at Badminton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kim: Does Woody’s care routine change at all in these final weeks before WEG?

Selena: “No. I try to keep everything exactly the same. He’s been in bubble wrap for a few months now and I’m handling him myself during this whole time. It’s amazing how one horse can take up your whole day!”

Kim: “Tell us about Woody.”

Selena: “He turned 15 in May and is very big and tall. He measures 17.1 hands, and looks a little taller because he holds his head high. He’s very mellow: a gentle giant and everybody loves him. He recognizes he’s very tall and if a shorter person is handling him, he’ll put his head down to make it easier to get the halter on. I had the chance to fly with him to Badminton, and even in that small, kind of stressful space on the plane, he took it all in stride.”

“He has a huge stride. It looks like he’s going really slowly, but he’s not.”

Kim: Do you have any unusual expectations for the Tyron course?

Selena: “People are talking about a big hill at the end of the course, and I recall it as a fairly hilly course from running it at The Fork two years ago. I also remember quite a lot of bridges, which might slow some horses down. I’m glad it’s a full course because that’s the phase in which Woody excels.”

Kim: “When do you move into the WEG venue, and are there things you do to get Woody comfortable there right away?”

Selena: “We move in on September 9. Woody will get a lot of hand grazing. He is normally pretty laid back, but at Badminton he got really excited when he heard the whistles and other activities going on with a grass roots competition near the dressage arena. My wonderful groom Anne Marie Duarte spent a lot of time hand grazing him in the area, and that really calmed him down.

“Being a big horse, he doesn’t have the strongest back, so grazing and a little lunging are the best ways to get him comfortable before schooling.”

Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Kim: Woody has used a Haygain hay steamer at competitions. How has that helped him? 

Selena: “He had it before Badminton, when we were at Mark Todd’s place. Mark feeds haylage or steamed hay. I started Woody on the haylage, but didn’t feel like he was eating it enough. He seemed to eat the steamed hay better so he had that for the three weeks before the competition and I think he likes it.

“Over time, we’ve had a few horses with allergies and Haygain steamed hay has made a big difference. We’ve seen a lot less coughing.

“We got to know everybody at Haygain in England before the 2014 WEG in Normandy, France. The Haygain guys lent me a van to drive the team around in. We have the half-bale steamer and two portable steamers to take to shows.”

Kim: How are the World Equestrian Games different from the Olympics?

Selena: “Not for me as a competitor, but it is nice having more disciplines, there is more to watch. I really enjoyed it in 2010 when reining was involved. I got to watch that, driving and the beginning of the endurance. The WEG has all the disciplines going on in the same place, unlike the Olympics. I really loved meeting some of the people that I followed my whole life, the stars and idols of our sport, along with meeting and cheering on top Canadians in other disciplines. We don’t get to see each other very often because we are so spread out. It’s really interesting because we are all horse people and we get to see how we do things a little differently. It’s a great experience.

“Also, the opening ceremonies are something you normally miss out on in the Olympics. Usually at the WEG, we get to be part of the ceremonies, carrying our flag along with all the other athletes.”

Best of luck to Selena and Woody at WEG!

For more information on Haygain USA, visit www.haygain.us. Haygain is committed to improving equine health through scientific research, product innovation and consumer education in respiratory and other health issues. With offices in the USA and England, Haygain distributes products for healthier horses to 19 countries, including its Haygain® Hay Steamers, ComfortStall® Orthopedic Sealed Flooring System, ForagerTM Slow Feeder and Flexineb® Portable Equine Nebulizer. Visit www.haygain.us for more information.