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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The Value of a Two-Dollar Rosette

Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

“All that effort for a two dollar rosette! If ribbons really mean that much to you, I’ll just buy you a box of them. Much easier …..”

I’m sure I’m not the only person who hears this lament reasonably often. And I get how it looks. I have waited seemingly interminable amounts of time after a class to collect a rosette. Sometimes, the competition in question is what my non-horsey husband lovingly refers to as an ‘everybody gets a prize’ show (aka clear round jumping or similar), but still I am collecting that rosette regardless.

Because it’s not about the actual rosette, is it? No one could possibly be that unnecessarily enthusiastic about some ribbon and a bit of cardboard. It’s about what each rosette represents. For some people, taking home that frilly ribbon can be the culmination of years and years of soul sapping work. Of what to others may have looked like sheer blind faith in your horse. Of thousands of dollars worth of lessons and equipment, and of fees and vets bills. It might stand for the return to competition of a badly injured horse, or of a perceived ‘no hoper’ horse finally coming good. The one thing you can be sure of is that every rosette has its story, and that each one means a lot to someone.

Walking through my own tack room, I look at the many rosettes pinned along the beams. I know what each one was awarded for, and to which horse. As I take the time to stop and remember, I find myself on a trip down memory lane. Looking at a dusty blue and turquoise ribbon, I am instantly transported back to the day when my horse of a lifetime placed sixth in a 1.10 class. To most riders, this might have been no big deal, but for me it was a huge achievement at a height I was struggling with. I remember the location, the weather and the time of day. I can almost hear the wind rustling the leaves on the trees at the in gate. I can see the horse’s beautiful long ears pricked in anticipation. I can feel the knot in my stomach, ever present at every show. It is wonderful to remember that day and that horse. I lost him the following year, but when I stop and look at that old rosette now, he feels close by for a moment more.

I come across a large blue and yellow rosette, with the familiar Tattersalls logo adorned on each of the three ribbon tails. The Centre disc says ‘3rd Place.’ On that occasion, I was competing a homebred horse of my own, at the Tattersalls summer show. He was a big, roguey sort who had the measure of me, but I felt like one of the cool kids that day as I let my eyes go fuzzy and pretended I was competing at the world renowned three day event-as it happens, my hazy daydream was as close as ever I got … but the horse went on to enjoy success at 4* level in America with Canadian Kyle Carter, and that rosette always reminds me of a special, sunny July day in Ireland.

A small red first place rosette holds the story of the day a dream came true. I had been eventing an assortment of waifs and strays for several seasons, and I believed that success in this sport was simply beyond my clearly mediocre abilities. A month before my wedding and with my father in attendance, I rode a big black horse to victory in a four and five year old pre-novice class. I was genuinely shocked at the result, and I remember so clearly driving home in torrential rain feeling five hundred feet tall. I had finally done it, after eight years of failure and disaster. Suddenly, anything seemed possible. The dream was truly alive, and the fire within blazing brightly. This sensation has eluded me for many years now, but looking at this tatty ribbon I feel it once more — just for a fleeting few seconds.

Of course, anyone can buy a box of rosettes — but what would you be buying? A box of ribbons, glued together around a bit of fancy cardboard. And that’s all that they are, they can never be more than that. The rosettes pinned in my tack room are technically, just the same. Except that my rosettes tell a story-one of deep struggle, huge sacrifice and bitter experience. They remind me of some truly special times with some wonderful horses-days when the stars aligned and it all came right for an hour or two. They inspire me to see what the next 20 years might hold, and they take me back to a place when I had great hope and tremendous faith in my journey.

No money in the world could buy what these flimsy ribbons mean to me. No shop is selling anything so special or so meaningful. I will always be the sad case waiting hours at a show for my ribbon, so that I can hang another memory of my journey up on the wall.

In the Locker Room: Up-and-Coming Wales Eventer Franky Reid-Warrilow

Franky Reid-Warrilow and Billy Champagne. Photo by Mike Nuttall Photography.

Upper level riders are often asked about their horses, their plans and their results. However, they are rarely asked about the ‘behind the scenes’ aspect of their successful systems. In this episode of ‘In the Locker Room,’ I talk to up and coming British rider, Franky Reid-Warrilow.

Based in Wales, UK, Franky runs a select string of quality horses and has been part of many Nations Cup teams. In 2017, she was accepted onto the World Class Podium Potential Programme, and she has competed at 5* level. Franky has had impressive results this year at the CCI4*-S level with Billy Champagne, including an 11th place finish at Barbury Castle and a 12th at Hartpury, as well as top three-star finishes with other horses in her string.

EN: What attributes do you look for in an event horse? What appeals most to you, and are there any things you absolutely won’t overlook?

Franky: “The two main things I look for are conformation and attitude. I have learned that horses with less than ideal conformation can be significantly hampered in showing their ability and scope in the dressage in particular. You can work around a lot with correct training if the horse has a good attitude, but it certainly means you are starting on the back foot against other horses with better conformation. My 4* mare ‘My Squire De Reve’ is a prime example of attitude and trainability winning out over less than ideal conformation. She finds certain things difficult on the flat because of how she is built, but she is easy to train and tries really hard so these things cancel each other out somewhat. I have also previously spent far too long on very talented horses who were difficult mentally, and in the end it is often not worth it.”

Franky Reid-Warrilow and Dolley Phantom. Photo by Mike Nuttall Photography.

EN: What are your ‘can’t live without’ items of equipment for horse and for rider?

Franky: “For the horses, my Amerigo tack and my Veredus boots. Everything that we put onto the horses has to be of the best quality, comfort and design so that it impacts the horses as little as possible. The saddles have to fit perfectly so that they don’t move or pinch, and allow as much freedom as possible for the horse. The same applies to my bridles-I never use tight nose bands, and quite often do dressage without a flash strap. I use a grackle for jumping. I like the horses to feel free, so that they don’t need force or to be constricted to perform.

“For the rider, definitely my Cavallo gear. In particular, I love the Varius riding boots which I use for jumping, and the Ciora Pro Grip breeches, which I live in every day and also use for competing.”

Franky Reid-Warrilow and Dolley Whisper. Photo by Samantha Clark.

EN: What sort of things do you focus on in the warm up for the dressage, cross country and show jumping?

Franky: “Relaxation of horse and rider is number one in all three phases. For dressage, I begin with focusing on making sure that the contact is correct, and that the horse is responsive to my aids in the correct way. For showjumping, I try to feel what sort of shape the horse is making over the warm up fences. I try to see if there is anything I can do to help or improve this before we go into the ring. For cross country, the horse has to be jumping the fences confidently and out of a forward rhythm-but in control. I like to jump angles appropriate to the course ahead, and to be able to land and turn if necessary. The contact and focus between my leg, seat and hand is key for my warm up.”

EN: How do you get yourself in the right frame of mind for competition?

Franky: “I have a system and process in place that I have been adapting and modifying for a few years now, and it works for me.”

Franky Reid-Warrilow and Dolley Phantom. Photo by Mike Nuttall Photography.

EN: What is your most used jumping exercise, and why?

Franky: “A pole exercise I use a lot between competitions is simply having two poles on the ground set out on four, five or six strides. I like to work the horses over poles before or after a run to ‘recalibrate’ the canter, and make sure I am in the correct canter for jumping-not too big or too small. You begin to know your horses, and whether they will run up tight and short after competing, or long and strung out. The information gained helps you to make a plan for the following days or weeks.”

EN: What music are you listening to in your lorry currently?

Franky: “The Eventing Podcast from Equiratings is our ‘go to’ on lorry journeys.”

“My dad Neil always by my side.” Photo by Mike Nuttall Photography.

EN: What is your fitness and diet regime like during the season?

Franky: “I eat normally. Breakfast is a big thing for me, I love it. Once the season is up and going, I don’t tend to have to focus on my fitness as yard work and riding works well. I do use yoga every morning, and I go to a Physio when I need it.”

EN: Describe your perfect day off!

Franky: “Having a lie in, going off the yard with my boyfriend Arthur and doing something non-horsey like having a nice lunch somewhere.”

Photo by Samantha Clark.

 

EN: Your most embarrassing moment in the sport?

Franky: “I have had a few! Probably getting thrown off a horse before fence one on the cross country course and just after leaving the start box is one that springs to mind. I could hear the commentator warning people to not get in the horse’s way as he ferociously headed back to the lorry, adamant he was not going cross country on that day……”

EN: Who is your sporting hero? And why?

Franky: “Sir Mark Todd, for sure — even more so now that I actually know him, have trained with him and compete against him. LEGEND is all that needs to be said!”

With sincere thanks to Franky for her generous contribution to this article.

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot: Best Practices for Cool-Down and Recovery

The vet box at The Event at Rebecca Farm, which hosts USEA Classic Series Novice and Training Three-Day Events. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

In our last equine management piece with Kirsty McCann of Foran Equine, we looked at what constitutes optimal best practice when traveling horses to and from competitions. This time, we are covering the areas of further management, warming up, cooling down and recovery after strenuous exertion.

Many championship events or upper level competitions take place during the summer, in countries with hot or humid climates. Horses competing at an elite level require a high standard of management to enable them to perform at their best, and those management practices must be adaptable, depending on both the environment and the individual needs and requirements of each horse.

Being stabled away from home becomes quite normal for many horses, and for the most part the horses do cope quite well. Given that horses are out of their ‘home’ routine and environment, Kirsty recommends that they are taken out of their stables at least every four hours during the day. Hand walking, hand grazing or free lungeing are all excellent ways of maintaining gut mobility, and of keeping the horses mentally and physiologically stimulated. In warmer weather or in hotter climates, Kirsty has observed that many riders use a quite prolonged amount of walking as their initial warm up, and as their cool down. Rather than getting stuck into a lengthy or heavy schooling session or a demanding warm up, it can be better overall to use plenty of walk intervals during exercise to optimize performance and recovery.

Looking at the areas of the overall management of the performance horse, the post-cross country cool down and also recovery, Kirsty offers us some invaluable tips and advice:

  • Immediately after the cross country phase, dropping the horse’s heart rate and body temperature as well as slowing the rate of respiration, is the main focus. Getting the horse stripped off and washed down-whilst keeping it walking-begins the process. At International competitions, a vet will also be observing and monitoring each horse. From here, icing and claying will begin. Rehydration is vitally important, although it is advised that horses do not receive electrolytes until they have fully recovered and are taking in or being administered with fluids. This can be up to three hours post exertion.
  • Antioxidants are as important as electrolytes in recovery management. The physical chemical reactions created by strenuous exertion create oxidative stress, by virtue of an altered physiological balance of antioxidants and free radicals. This imbalance creates an excess of free radicals, which in turn causes an inflammatory response within the athlete. Oxidative stress can contribute to conditions such as Exertional Rhabdomyolys (a.k.a. tying up), Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (aka ‘bursting’ or ‘bleeding’), damage to the airway or Sore Muscle Syndrome, amongst others. Using supplements with a high vitamin E content can be hugely beneficial, as the vitamin E ‘mops up’ excess free radicals. This helps to stabilize or re establish a more regular balance of antioxidants and free radicals, and promote optimal recovery for the athlete.
  • Using a Ubiquinol Co Q 10 supplement year round can be an excellent help to the performance horse. It is a ‘super antioxidant’, and also aids cellular and metabolic energy-vital for recovery from exertion, and also from injury. Horses are naturally low in Co Q 10, due to their high grain diet.
  • Many riders struggle with finding the best work-feed ratio when it comes to managing fitness levels and individual temperaments. If you are unable to feed a horse the recommended amount for any reason, then you must supplement with a balancer. Optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, protein and amino acids are vitally important for any horse expected to perform well during strenuous activity. For horses that are prone to carrying weight, a low calorie balancer can work very well. Additional energy sources such as fibre and oil can help to provide slow release energy through the diet.
  • When planning your competitive schedule, it can be extremely useful to incorporate having  a forage test done for each new batch of hay or haylage that is ready for use. A forage test will look at the standard nutritional content, as well as minerals, antagonists and hygiene. For horses that are under-performing, a simple forage test can provide clues and answers. Supplementing for imbalances created by the forage being used can be transformative for performance horses.

With sincere thanks to Kirsty McCann and Foran Equine for their generous contributions.

In the Locker Room: Padraig McCarthy on Good Horses, Smart Training and Life Beyond the Barn

Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy won team and individual silver at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Top riders are regularly interviewed about their horses, their season plan and their results — but we don’t often get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes. In this next installment of the ‘In the Locker Room’ series, I caught up with Irish team and individual WEG silver medalist Padraig McCarthy.

Padraig is a relative newcomer to the sport of eventing, but he has quickly and successfully established himself at the highest level. In just a short space of time, Padraig has represented Ireland at European, World and Olympic level. He lives in the UK with his wife Lucy, who has herself enjoyed considerable success in eventing, at 5* and European level. Padraig and Lucy have two children, and also run a busy training, sales and horse production business.    

EN: “What attributes do you look for in an event horse? What appeals most to you, and are there any things you absolutely won’t overlook?” 

Padraig: “Good horses come in all shapes and sizes! I like a horse who is intelligent, and who has an appealing face. For me, a horse needs to have a good natural canter, and be in control of the canter. I’m more forgiving on the trot, as that can be developed over time. I like a horse to have good conformation, and good feet. Really the most important thing is that a horse wants to work, and enjoys the work.”

Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky (IRL). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

EN: “What are your ‘can’t live without’ items of equipment for horse and for rider?”

Padraig: “My Butet saddles — they make such a difference! I’m not a gadget person, and I tend to stick to simple bits; I generally use either a snaffle or a gag type bit. I quite often don’t even use boots at home, unless a horse needs them.”

EN: “What sort of things do you focus on in the warm up for dressage, cross country and showjumping?” 

Padraig: “For all three phases, I tend to look for the same things. I want the horse to be ‘on the aids’ and listening to me. I like to establish a relaxed connection, and to let the horse think for itself. In training at home, I like the horse to be responsible for himself and to have the freedom to learn and develop.”

EN: “How do you get yourself in the right frame of mind for competition?” 

Padraig: “National events obviously differ from international events. I am fairly laid back generally, and I tend to treat national events as an extension of what we do every day. I take care not to overthink too much, and to keep things as close to normal as possible.”

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

EN: “What is your most used jumping exercise? Why?”

Padraig: “I sometimes use a fence on a circle or work on bending lines, and I might use a ground pole set 3.5 metres behind a fence to encourage a horse to look down and focus when landing. I never jump big at home, I just work to get the feel and the way of going right.”

EN: “What music are you listening to in your lorry currently?” 

Padraig: “The CD player in the lorry is broken, so if I’m looking for a bit of mental stimulation then it’s BBC Radio 2! Otherwise, whatever music station I can find has to do us!”

EN: “What is your fitness and diet regime like during the season?” 

Padraig: “Over the winter, I tend to carry a little more weight and I eat far better than I do during the season. As Badminton approaches, I do get a lot more strict. Once the season is in full swing, I will have 10-12 horses in work and I am often too busy to stop and eat. I do use stretching to keep myself supple, but I don’t go to a gym.”

Padraig McCarth and Mr Chunky (IRL). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

EN: “Describe your perfect day off!” 

Padraig: “On a non-riding day at home, I quite like doing a bit of DIY! I catch up on fixing things, and I’m currently building a barbecue. I enjoy it because I can straight away see the result of my work. For holidays, I love Italy.”

EN: “Your most embarrassing moment in the sport?”

Padraig: “Years ago in Ireland, we were allowed to school in the show jumping arenas once the competitions were all over. One particular year at Clonmel show, the jumping arenas were side by side and I thought that both rings were finished. I jumped my horse over the dividing rope into the next door ring, and landed straight in front of a horse and rider who were approaching a combination. I just simply didn’t see them. I got into a bit of trouble that day!”

EN: “Who is your sporting hero? And why?” 

Padraig: “I’d have to say Eddie Macken. He was the leading rider of that era when I was growing up, and I will never forget him jumping clear in the Aga Kahn (Nations cup) at the Dublin Horse Show. He is an exceptional man.”

With sincere thanks to Padraig McCarthy for his generous contribution to this article.

Fast Food: Tips for Keeping Your Horse Eating and Hydrated on the Road

Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

The 2019 competition season is now well underway, with the European Championships and the Pan Am Games fast approaching. Producing and managing elite equine athletes capable of performing on the world stage is a complex and many faceted operation, and nutrition/hydration play a major role. Keeping up with both can be challenging, especially when horses are on the road.

For some tips on how to optimally manage performance horses while in transit, we talked to Kirsty McCann. Kirsty is Head of Equine Technical Support at Foran Equine, a market leader in the field of specialized equine nutrition and health care. Kirsty is a vital piece of the puzzle for many leading riders, including show jumpers Bertram Allen and Scott Brash, and Irish event rider Sam Watson. In this article, we are focusing on transportation.

A large part of the life of any performance horse is spent traveling to and from competitions, and paying close attention to detail during transit can optimize the chance of a successful result at a show or event. Horses can lose 2-3kg in bodyweight per hour when being transported, as a result of increased physiological uptake of fluids and salts. Therefore, hydration is key-Kirsty has these top tips to offer.

A large part of the life of any performance horse is spent traveling to and from competitions, and paying close attention to detail during transit can optimize the chance of a successful result at a show or event. Horses can lose 2-3kg in bodyweight per hour when being transported, as a result of increased physiological uptake of fluids and salts. Therefore, hydration is key — Kirsty has these top tips to offer.

  • If possible, allow the horse access to water at all times. Otherwise, offer water very regularly. Not all water is equal, so it can be very useful to teach horses to drink water with organic apple juice or organic apple cider vinegar in it. Take care to purchase either addition from a reputable brand.
  • Horses should travel with forage to maximize digestive function during transit. This helps to keep the stomach and gut working, and aids in preventing a build up of acid within the stomach itself-the forage acts as a sort of ‘carpet’ across the top of the stomach acid, and the saliva produced creates a natural buffer that assists in protecting the stomach.
  • To aid hydration, Kirsty recommends using a high fibre bran mash. There are many pre soak mashes available on the market-it is generally best to use one that is also a complete feed, and that is part of the feed brand already in use. This minimizes the change to the gut of the horse. Horses will generally willingly drink a mash that has been made into a soup, and this is invaluable when it comes to managing hydration on the move.
  • Try not to get too far out of routine in terms of normal feed times. However, for horses traveling long distances, Kirsty recommends lowering the overall feed intake and also feeding smaller amounts more frequently.
  • Try to use the same bedding in the lorry as is used in the stable at home. This can help to encourage the horse to urinate during transit.
  • Use tape to mark the water levels on buckets to observe intake, and be quick to respond if a horse is not taking in sufficient fluids. Some horses require intervention despite best efforts, and intravenous fluids may need to be administered.
  • Electrolytes must only be given to a horse that has access to water and is readily taking in fluids. Replenishing electrolyte levels is vitally important for optimal physiological function-however, if given to a horse that cannot achieve sufficient hydration, electrolyte use may increase the risk of  dehydration.

Traveling horses over land can be challenging in its own right, but flying horses presents even greater challenges. Loading horses into crates and then transferring those crates to an airplane can be hugely stressful for both horses and handlers alike. The horses are generally well protected with boots or bandages, and some will also wear hoods or earplugs to reduce both visual and aural stressors. The use of calmers in stressful situations such as travelling can also be very helpful, and Kirsty recommends using an L-Tryptophan based product. L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that the body uses during the production of serotonin. Serotonin in turn helps to regulate mood and promote a more neutral emotional state.

Next time, we look at optimal management practices for warming horses up ahead of competition, as well as cooling horses down post exertion. We also chat in depth about how to maximize overall recovery of horses following intense training and performance.

With sincere thanks to Kirsty McCann and Foran Equine for their contribution.

In the Locker Room: Joseph Murphy on His ‘Type,’ His Program and Life Beyond Horses

Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello at Pau 2018. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Top riders are regularly interviewed about their horses, their season plan and their results — but we don’t often get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes. With that in mind, I decided to write a series of ‘locker room’ style articles. First on my hit list of heroes is Joseph Murphy.

Joseph Murphy is one of Ireland’s best and most consistent upper level riders. He has represented his country at World, European and Olympic level and he is known for his effective and stylish riding style. Joseph and his wonderfully supportive wife Jill operate to the highest of standards, keeping horses sound, competitive and enthusiastic well into their teens. I caught up with Joseph to find out more….

EN: What attributes do you look for in a potential event horse? What appeals to you most, and are there any things that you absolutely won’t overlook?”

Joseph: “I like a strong type of horse that rides with the feeling of a ‘blood’ type. After that, I like to see a good quality canter, walk and trot-in that order of preference. Temperament is high on my list of priorities — I will not entertain a horse with a poor attitude to work. A horse lacking a little talent but willing to work is far better than the alternative.

“A perfect example of this type of horse would be the outstanding Electric Cruise. Together myself and ‘Sparky’ competed at World, European and Olympic level for Ireland. At the London Olympics we were clear across the country, and also jumped clear on the final day in both the team and individual show jumping phases. We finished in 14th place individually, which was fantastic.”

Joseph Murphy and Electric Cruise at Aachen 2013. Photo by Jenni Autry.

EN: “What are your ‘can’t live without’ items of equipment for horse and rider?”

Joseph: “I love my Free Jump stirrups and leathers — they look good and they feel very nice. I swear by a product called BCAA from my sponsors, Mervue. I use this in particular after galloping and hard work, and find it excellent.”

EN: “What sort of things do you focus on in the warm up for dressage, cross country and show jumping?”

Joseph: “For dressage, I think about having the horse in front of my leg — this gives you a lot more options. I try to keep to the same system at home during training. With show jumping, I think a lot about how the horses are reacting to the fences on the day: are they focused and thinking carefully? I have a simple rule for myself — if horses are too forward, slow down. If horses are too backward, I need to think more forward. It usually works! For cross country, I like to get horses very confident on an open distance and also a waiting distance. I like to jump a few fences on the angle, as this may be relevant to a combination on the course. Finally, I check that I can turn left and right!”

EN: “How do you get yourself into the right frame of mind for competition?”

Joseph: “I have a relaxed mind, so it’s easier for me when I go to a big competition with the natural atmosphere. I love the big days! I tend to treat the one day events as an extension of training, and build from there.”

EN: “What is your most used jumping exercise? Why?”

Joseph: “I do a lot of turn backs at home, as this checks that the horses are staying careful and in a rhythm. I always try to turn the horses from the outside aids — it’s easy to forget to do this at a competition under pressure, so you can’t do it enough in training. On show jumping training days, I tend to jump through a lot of doubles and trebles. On cross country training days, skinnies and corners are the norm-as well as working up and down hill.”

Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello at Pau 2018. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

EN: “What music are you listening to in your lorry currently?”

Joseph: “I have Spotify, and my playlist at the moment includes Christy Moore, Jess Glynn, James Arthur and Bruno Mars. A bit random, I know!”

EN: “What is your fitness and diet regime like during the season?”

Joseph: “It does leave a little to be desired….! My excuse is that I am on the go a lot. I work a little on my core, and I do lunge lessons when I can. I love chocolate, so I have to curb my intake on the run up to big events.”

Daisy Murphy and Electric Cruise. Photo used with kind permission from Jill Andrews.

EN: “Describe your perfect day off?”

Joseph: “Being honest, I usually ride in the mornings if I am planning to have an easier day. After that, I like gardening and spending time with my wife Jill and our daughter, Daisy. We usually nip into the Dufferin Arms for some pub grub.”

EN: “Is there anything else you might like us to know?”

Joseph: “I love traveling throughout Ireland and America to train riders. My clinics have become very popular, and I like to go the extra mile by keeping in touch with those I help. Following rider progress, spending time watching their videos and offering additional feedback is all part of the service. This is something I intend to expand and do more of, all over the world.”

Lisa Hickey thanking Irish Olympic eventer Joseph Murphy after riding in his Ocala clinic at Horsepower Equestrian. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Learn more about Joseph and view his upcoming clinic schedule at his website, josephmurphyeventing.com.

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.

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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…