Christa Dillon
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Christa Dillon


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About Christa Dillon

I am a 35 year old young horse producer based in Ireland. Whilst I currently predominantly compete in showjumping,eventing is my real passion. Myself,my husband Niall and our young Son Charlie also farm a suckler herd and run a haulage business. Life is busy but fantastic.

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What to Look for in an Event Horse: 4 Top International Riders Weigh In

The months of March, April, May and June are a busy and frenetic time for sports horse breeders, with mares foaling and being put back in foal — the ambition of growing sound, capable and correct horses for the market is unrelenting. With the constantly evolving nature of modern day eventing, it is not easy ensuring that supply meets demand. Breeders must remain observant of stallion trends and the progression of disciplines, whilst listening carefully to rider requirements.

I spoke to four international event riders to find out what it is that they look for when selecting horses for the future.

Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky at the WEG. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

For such a small nation, the Irish punch way above their weight on the world stage. This is never more evident than when it comes to breeding event horses. Year on year, the Irish Sport Horse is at the top of the pile when it comes to international performance and results, with many riders sourcing the raw product direct from the Emerald Isle.

Padraig McCarthy represented Ireland in eventing at the Rio Olympics, and although he is a relatively new recruit to the sport of eventing, he has a lifetime of experience as a producer and as an upper level show jumper. I asked Padraig what he most likes to see when he goes to look at a potential prospect:

“I like to see a horse that is strong in its body, a blood type that moves with purpose and has a bright face and a good eye. The horse must have a willingness about it, the appearance of being intelligent and an ability to figure things out. When loose jumping, I like to see a horse that has the instinct to jump from the right spot, and who is willing to try again. Finally, I like a horse with a sharp mind — I don’t want to have to push him forwards all the time.”

Padraig is quick to highlight that some horses will look like stars, but may not fulfill that potential. Other horses are less inspiring to look at, but will progress and develop far beyond anything you might have initially expected.

One example given by Padraig is MGH Grafton Street, a horse who looked like a nice prospect but who was on the small side and a little late in his physical development. Expected to make a nice junior prospect, the horse grew on and showed exceptional range within his paces. MGH Grafton Street is currently competing successfully at top level with British Olympic rider Pippa Funnell. Another such example is MGH Bingo Boy, an €800 purchase at the Goresbridge Horse Sales. This horse is now eventing at now four-star level with British rider Nicky Hill.

Jock Paget and Clifton Lush at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photo by Jenni Autry.

New Zealand Olympic event rider Jock Paget has produced many different types of horse for the upper levels of the sport, with great success. He has specific requirements when sourcing new horses, yet remains open minded and with an eye on the future:

“My theory on selecting horses is constantly evolving, but some of my basic rules are as follows. They must have a good brain and be trainable, with a desire to work. I love a cheeky horse! Nothing is perfect so I would be happy to give a little on the trot, but its important to have a great walk and canter. It’s much easier to produce a horse with a great canter. You should have an easy feeling in gallop with good natural footwork and lightness across the ground. Obviously soundness is nonnegotiable. Good conformation is also helpful but not a guarantee. They should be naturally brave  to a fence, but have a good eye for its profile and real desire to jump around it. They need to be tough, and being naturally straight is a real bonus.”

Alice Dunsdon and Fernhill Present. Photo by Alec Thayer.

British international event rider Alice Dunsdon is a both a breeder and a producer. Most well known for being the only rider to have contested all six of the world’s five-star events with her wonderful horse Fernhill Present, Alice has bred several successful upper level event horses. These include Cool Dude, Sambo, Jollybo and Dunbeau.  She has a unique insight into what the breeder strives to achieve, and what the rider needs:

“When I am looking at potential young event horses I want to see three main things: temperament, bravery and technique over the top of a fence. To be a top event horse they must have a good brain. The horse has to be willing to learn and must be forward thinking. Some horses out hacking will take the lead, walk past that spooky plastic bag, lead the others with their ears pricked. These are qualities I like to see. Their attitude when jumping has to be ‘I must get to the other side’, even if you are jumping a fence they have never seen before. The young horse has to be naturally careful when jumping, and I always watch them loose to assess them. If they have an instinctive understanding of what to do, plus the ability to shorten and lengthen their stride, that will give them the best chance of jumping the fences cleanly when you come to ride them. “

Kyle Carter and Madison Park at the 2016 Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Top Canadian Olympic rider and trainer Kyle Carter has a unique grading system he employs when he looks at potential event prospects. Most famed for his illustrious partnership with the thoroughbred Madison Park, (which included Pan American Games and World Championship successes, many five-star starts and a team place at the Beijing Olympics), Kyle has successfully produced countless numbers of horses for competition and sales. Whilst Kyle has specific requirements, like Jock Paget he is open minded and prepared to overlook some weaker points, in exchange for other strengths:

“I like to grade the horse’s qualities out of 10 — the walk, the trot, the canter, the jump, the ride, the conformation and anything else of significance. I need a high enough score with enough positives for me to feel that a horse is worth investing in. The deficits must not be so many that I have to help the horse with all of his paces AND with his jump as well.  I like to see a horse with a high wither, as neck length is important to me. I like the hocks to be low to the ground, and for the horse to have good length and suspension of stride. I want a horse that almost has too much stride, so that he always has the range to cope with anything when jumping. The horse must be compliant and submissive, as temperament can overcome breeding and other weaknesses. If you walk through my barn, you won’t see one ‘typical’ type — the perfect event horse is an amalgamation of many things. It is an agreement of accomplishment.”

I asked Kyle if he had ever produced a horse that he hadn’t initially thought very much of. His answer was fascinating:

“Yes! Madison Park! I hated him when I tried him. He jumped hollow, drifted in the air and had a bad attitude on the flat. My wife loved him though, and as time went by, I started seeing qualities in him that I had missed at the start.”

I went on to ask Kyle if he had ever had a horse that he knew was top class from day one, and had the been proven right.

“FR’s Trust Fund. We bred him here. His mother went to Rolex, she was a winner through and through but she wasn’t the most brave horse. Trust Fund was an obnoxious foal, but he was a lovely loose mover. He had the looks and the step, although he is similar to his mother — not bursting with courage, quite spooky and with a busy brain. To overcome this, I made cross country into a bit of a game with him and now he takes it on. He always felt like the right horse, even though some of the early days were horrible …!” (Trust Fund is currently competing at now four-star level)

It truly does take all sorts!

With sincere thanks to the contributors for this article.

Triumph and Disaster: The Olympic Roadshow

Editor’s note: The finalists in the 6th annual EN Blogger Contest were asked to write a post-Olympic piece as their final entry in the contest, and now we are publishing each of their articles on the homepage before opening up voting for the winner. Thanks as always for reading, and please leave feedback in the comments section.

One of our favorite Rio eventing subplots: Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy, who accomplished their dream of representing Puerto Rico in the Olympic Games. Photo by Jenni Autry. One of our favorite Rio eventing subplots: Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy, who accomplished their dream of representing Puerto Rico in the Olympic Games. Photo by Jenni Autry.

As the curtain falls after four magnificent days of eventing at the Rio Olympics, many riders are celebrating whilst some ruefully ponder “what if.” The Olympic Games is a maelstrom of triumph and tragedy, surprise and despair, and Rio proved to be no exception. For some, making it to Rio at all was a truly miraculous achievement and for others, absolutely nothing went their way. As with life, so with the Olympics.

There were so many highs and lows surrounding the listing for and participation at the Rio games that it was almost hard to keep up. Canadian selection was akin to a Punch and Judy puppet show, filled with “oh yes she is, oh no she isn’t,” and ending with a legal appeal. This was just the beginning of the roller coaster ride that was eventing at the Rio Olympics. You have to be tough to survive this sport.

The Australian team looked set to clinch a team gold medal on the final day of competition, with just a few coloured poles standing in their way. Sadly it wasn’t to be — despite a brave attempt, the Aussies dropped two places to take the bronze instead.

Team rider Shane Rose was on the podium to collect his medal despite accruing three refusals and a disappointing subsequent elimination on the cross country; however, his journey to Rio very nearly killed him, so to come home with a medal was a fitting return. In 2015, Shane was riding a young horse at home. The horse was struggling so Shane jumped off, only for the horse to turn and kick him. The result was five broken ribs, a split liver and a punctured lung. A secondary golden staph infection almost sealed the deal, but the teak-tough thyroid cancer survivor wasn’t giving in that easily. He recovered, and he took his place at Rio.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Photo by Jenni Autry.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Photo by Jenni Autry.

Much has been made of William Fox-Pitt’s remarkable return to the British Olympic team after a horrific fall in October 2015, which left him in a coma with head injuries. Like Shane Rose, William’s ticket to Rio looked seriously doubtful — William, however, had other ideas. His recovery saw him journey from a weak, partially sighted man post accident, all the way back to a polished world class Olympic rider. An unfortunate 20 penalties for crossing his tracks on the cross country course at Rio was the only blip in an otherwise flawless performance from both William and his horse, Chilli Morning.

The British team had a nightmare Olympics and the wheels came off the chariot in no uncertain terms. Inexperienced horses and rotten misfortune caused them to crash out of medal contention, and doubtless sees the battered crew heading back to Blighty wondering what on earth just happened.

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The New Zealand team were favourites going into Rio, and the fairytale got off to a poor start when Jock Paget was forced to withdraw his stalwart Clifton Lush from the competition after the horse suffered a facial injury in his stable at the Olympic venue. New Zealand’s poor fortune continued with the elimination of Tim Price on the cross country after a slip on the flat. Poised to claim team gold on the final day, Sir Mark Todd and the usually consistent Leonidas 11 dropped four rails. With Jonelle Price dropping two rails, New Zealand slid to fourth place in the team competition. Sir Mark had been in the running for a possible individual medal, and he can only be wondering what might have been when Leonidas 11 jumped a beautiful clear in the final individual round. He summed it up in a news interview later that afternoon: “It has been a s**t of a day.”

The Germans have been a dominant superpower in world and European eventing for several years, but they too got off to a nightmare start when losing Andreas Ostholt from the team. FRH Butts Avedon was found to be carrying a problem in his off hind hoof and it was decided to not risk the horse. Julia Krajewski was drafted in to replace him. After their usual strong dressage performance, things unraveled somewhat around Pierre Michelet’s challenging cross country course and going into the showjumping phase, the Germans were not in medal contention.

Problems for New Zealand and Australia and a strong German return over the coloured poles saw the Germans achieve a remarkable team silver medal. Superhero Michael Jung lifted the individual gold in Rio aboard his wonderful horse Sam FBW, but even he wasn’t immune to disaster. His first choice of horse for Rio was fischerTakinou, the current European champion. However, a minor injury to the horse at the eleventh hour saw Sam drafted in to replace him. I suppose it was OK having to take your world,Olympic and European championship gold medal horse as a substitute … even a bad day in the office is a good one if you’re a German eventer.

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW. Photo by Jenni Autry.

A heartwarming subplot saw the crowd go wild over Chilean rider Carlos Lobos Munoz and his fabulous horse Ranco. They steadily made their way around the toughest championship course in the modern era for a clean cross country jumping sheet with just time to add. A single pole on the last day capped a brilliant performance from this special chestnut horse.

Definitely not quite the usual type you expect to see at 4* level, Ranco proved that heart trumps all, every time. Carlos summed it up: “I’m really happy with my first Olympic Games, just thrilled to be here. It’s an experience I’ll remember my entire life.”

Go Eventing.

Christa Dillon is a 35-year-old young horse producer based in Ireland. Whilst she currently competes predominantly in show jumping, eventing remains her true passion. With her husband Niall and young son Charlie, she farms a suckler cattle herd and runs a haulage business. She write for two websites, organises fundraisers and also runs training clinics with international event riders. Life is busy but it’s great.

[Christa’s Round 2 Submission]

[Christa’s Round 1 Submission]

Olympic Eventing: A Truly Global Platform

Editor’s note: We announced the 6 Finalists in the 6th annual EN Blogger Contest on Friday, and now it's time for round 2! For this phase, we asked the ambitious crew to answer the following question: "As eventing faces the very real possibility of making further changes to the sport's format to align with the Olympic 2020 Agenda, many have questioned whether the sport should remain in the Olympics at all. In your opinion, what is the value of the Olympic stage in eventing?" Thanks as always for reading, and please leave feedback in the comments section.

IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell at the 128th IOC Session. Photo courtesy of IOC Media.   IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell at the 128th IOC Session. Photo courtesy of IOC Media.

Citius, Altius, Fortius. The Olympic motto translates as ‘faster,higher,stronger’,and it perfectly encompasses the efforts and ambitions of every athlete that has ever taken part at any Olympic Games. Competing at the Olympics is the single greatest sporting honour that any athlete can achieve,and it is often the end result of a lifetime of training,planning,dreaming and incredible sacrifice. The sport of eventing at the Olympics currently faces a difficult and turbulent time,with great change required of it if the sport is to remain on the Olympic schedule.

Mr Kit McConnell,Sports Director at the International Olympic Committee,recently presented the Olympic agenda for 2020 and the strategic roadmap of the Olympic movement. He listed sought after requirements from participating sports in the Olympic programme which included media,Internet and televisual popularity,an ability to increase the popularity of the Olympic Games and a capacity to maximise engagement of youth. Whilst eventing is a very popular sport within the  equestrian world,it remains either mostly unknown or as a thing of mystery to most civilians. It is a sport steeped in tradition,and it is such a difficult sport to competently master that most of its participants on the world stage are in their thirties,forties and fifties.

To dramatically alter the Olympic format of the sport of eventing in an attempt to modernise it for the world at large and to fill the perceived Olympic ideal,will throw up many significant issues,dangers and difficulties. As such,eventing finds itself at an Olympic impasse. Younger,more ‘sexy’ sports such as skate boarding,surfing and rock climbing carry broader appeal and far smaller infrastructural and financial requirements than the sport of eventing does.

They are easy to televise,require far less man power to facilitate and the participants mostly occupy a far younger age bracket. These sports are waiting in the wings for their impending Olympic opportunities. Eventing at the Olympics beyond 2020 is beginning to look more and more doubtful,yet the irony exists that we simply MUST remain as an Olympic sport to have any chance or opportunity to step into line with the sought after requirements of the IOC.

So what is the value of the Olympic stage for the sport of eventing? An Olympic Games gives eventing its quadrennial opportunity to participate on a truly global platform amongst other elite sports and athletes,and showcase itself to the world at large.  Horses and riders selected to compete at an Olympics are generally fulfilling a lifetime’s ambition by simply being there,and they are afforded much greater and more far reaching exposure as international athletes on a whole world stage. At the London Olympics, equestrianism saw a huge surge in popularity for spectator and participator alike. Many people worldwide were seeing dressage,showjumping and eventing for the first time.

Seeing their fellow countrymen participating-and in some cases,winning medals-captured the hearts and imaginations of many,and people with no previous interest in equestrianism were now avidly watching all things horse from London. No other eventing championship or 4* event can offer even near-comparable exposure for the sport,the horse or the rider. The potential to build on this exposure,to attract new participants,draw in a wider and more diverse audience and to open up sponsorship opportunities for both the sport and its participants is never greater than at an Olympic Games.

In order to qualify for an Olympic Games,individuals and teams must follow a specific set of guidelines and minimum eligibility requirements. These are achieved by competing both nationally and internationally,and at world and European championship events. For professional riders with horses coming of age during an Olympic cycle-and with an eye on achieving Olympic team selection-international competition is not only their ‘day job’. It is also the main platform on which their Olympic intention is built and shaped.

Whilst participating at an Olympic Games is the dream of many and the reality of few,it is a key motivator for very many riders. Those just getting started in the sport share the same Olympic dream as those competing for many decades. That dream provides purpose,plans,goals and the wherewithal to keep trying no matter what comes your way, no matter if you are man or woman,no matter where you come from or how you got to here. It is powerful and all encompassing,and every four years you get a timely Olympic-sized reminder of why you participate-in any capacity-in the sport of eventing.

Olympic ambition filters into every tiny crevice,nook and cranny in the sport of eventing. To find a horse to produce that has the capabilities of competing at the highest level means that a breeder with an Olympic dream must have played his part in creating that animal to begin with. Farriers and vets must play their part in keeping this animal healthy and sound. A rider with Olympic capabilities  must come to meet with this horse at just the right time. It all starts with a dream,but the value of an Olympic stage for the sport of eventing is far reaching and all encompassing. It provides direction and opportunity from grass roots level all the way up to the greatest show on earth. It cannot be underestimated,and it must not be lost.

Christa’s Biography:

I am a 35 year old young horse producer based in Ireland. Whilst I currently compete predominantly in showjumping,eventing remains my true passion. With my husband Niall and our young son Charlie,we farm a suckler cattle herd and run a haulage business. I write for two websites,organise fundraisers and also run training clinics with international event riders. Life is busy but it’s great.

[Christa’s Round 1 Submission]

Dressage, Stressage and Prancercise

Editor’s note: We announced the 13 finalists in the 6th annual EN Blogger Contest last week, and now we’re bringing you their first round entries here on Bloggers Row. Each entry will be presented unedited for fairness’ sake. Thanks as always for reading, and please leave feedback in the comments section.


Round 1 Entry: Dressage, Stressage and Prancercise

Dressage. Now there’s an activity. An essential part of the magic mix that is eventing, it is probably the biggest cause of angst among riders. STRESSAGE. During the long winter months,it is hard to maintain enthusiasm for boot camp  lessons and mind numbing shows. The arena begins to resemble hell with some sand on the floor.

Fast forward a few months and now you have the added complication of a fit,rabid horse desperately looking for the start box. Attempting to bend this nutter into some sort of submission seems to result in a lot of sweating (from both parties),and then belligerent half-cooperation (again,from both parties) before managing to sort of complete the test in the general area of the required markers and sometimes even in the right pace.

The euphoric relief at getting it over with leads to clouded retrospection-‘he was quite good really’,’lovely flying change,I mean I know it wasn’t in the test but he has such promise for the future’ and finally, the charitable ‘it’s not his fault! He’s just keen to get out eventing. It’s wonderful that he’s so enthusiastic’. Indeed.

The rather more canny horse will work out quite quickly that he can be a bit of a shit in the arena during a test because for reasons unknown to him,you do absolutely nothing about it. The fear of getting some sort of telling off if you do demand your moronic psychotic Mexican jumping bean  behave itself tends to paralyse you into near immobility,including a giant fixed grin. This is SUCH FUN. You must look like its FUN. 

The horse’s thought processes always look hilarious too. ‘Halt is it? Sure that’s stupid. You know what’s a load more fun than that? Spooking at these flowers and having a go at some passage. I’m so FABULOUS! LOOK AT ME EVERYONE! I’m doing PRANCERCISE!’  If the horse is a total knob,he might add in some high blowing. Nothing sets every other horse in this and the next parish crazy like one horse prancing and high blowing. There could be a tiger or anything…..we should all flee! Flee where? From what? No one knows! Let’s just all gallop around each other? And so on.

Occasionally, your horse might feel a bit sorry for you and actually do a lovely and cooperative test. He will be bored of the tea and sympathy by the time the showjumping comes around,but it will lull you into a false sense of security-‘well that’s the worst bit done with. He always jumps clear. And the cross country looks fine’.

At this point, your equine comedian will make some arbitrary wild mental left turn regarding his feelings on planks,perhaps. Or ditches. Or water. Or anything to keep you on your toes. You will make it through,mostly in tact and sort of still able to function. You might have a touch of PTSD and the shakes for a few days,but by the time the next event entry is due in,you will have forgotten all.

The on course photographer will have managed-somehow-to take a stunning photo of your wildebeest doing something fabulous and 4* ish and you will gaze fondly at it many times a day,thinking of how special the horse is. The entry for the following week is closing tomorrow-he’s bound to win next time out-you might even go to a dressage show in preparation…

And it all begins again…