Education by Osmosis: Time Abroad Pays Off for Andrew McConnon

Andrew McConnon competing at Wilton with Daddy’s Quest, an 8-year-old mare owned by Gillian Makey-Harfield. Photo by JP Event Photography Ltd.

Andrew McConnon has spent the past 18 months in England, leaving behind his business in Southern Pines, North Carolina to study under some of the best riders in the world. Basing with William Fox-Pitt in Dorset, Andrew has taken full advantage of the opportunity to absorb every ounce of knowledge he possibly can before he returns to the U.S. later this year.

“There has been no shortage of unique and exciting opportunities,” Andrew said of his time with Fox-Pitt Eventing. “The biggest one would be to watch and help William with Chilli Morning’s prep for the Rio Olympic Games last summer. Everything from daily handling and riding him while William was away at competitions, to helping Jackie Potts groom for him at events has been an experience in itself.”

Andrew has also worked with Tomatillo, a clone of William’s iconic partner Tamarillo. “From teaching him how to be handled through to backing him for the first time and on to confidently schooling, jumping and progressing this year has been exceptional,” Andrew said. “To be given the responsibility and trust of such an exciting and famous colt has been remarkable.”

Competing William’s horses has also been a key part of Andrew’s job. “Between the last two seasons, I’ve had the opportunity to compete six horses,” he said. “They’ve ranged from BE100 level to Intermediate level, including one aiming for an autumn CCI2*, and I am extremely grateful to both William and his owners for allowing me to ride and compete. They’ve been very generous.”

Over the winter, Andrew took the opportunity to work for William and Pippa Funnell while the Fox-Pitt horses enjoyed their winter holidays. William Funnell and Donal Barnwell’s joint venture, The Billy Stud, is dedicated to producing future generations of quality sport horses, and Andrew was able to work with the young horses from day one of their training.

“I have had the chance to see how more of the breeding and producing side of the industry works. I saw what it took to make a quality sport horse as well as what is required of them at each age. Working mainly with 4- and 5-year-olds during my time there was great because you could really see where they should be at those ages to succeed,” Andrew said.

“The U.S. is getting more involved with age classes, but there is a very strong emphasis on the age classes in Europe. It helps to make the pipeline very clear and to see how they stand up to others their age.”

Andrew McConnon competing at Wilton with Daddy’s Quest, an 8-year-old mare owned by Gillian Makey-Harfield. Photo by JP Event Photography Ltd.

Beyond age classes, Andrew observed several key differences between eventing in the U.S. versus the UK. The primary difference is the readily available amount of one-day recognized events that add a new level of convenience and exposure for both horse and rider, he said.

“I like this system for many different reasons. From a practical business standpoint, you don’t have to be away from home for two or three days, meaning less expenses on hotels, food and staff/farm care at home while away,” Andrewa said.

“I also believe it’s better for owners to be able to spectate. They dedicate one day to be able to see their horse compete start to finish, whereas a weekend is more difficult to take off. And I feel it’s easier on the horse to compete and be back at home as opposed to staying away for a day or two — they like their own beds as much as we do.”

His hard work in England has not gone unnoticed, and William said Andrew has been an asset to the Fox-Pitt Eventing team.

“Andrew has a wonderful way with young horses but has also been very effective at home schooling my top horses, such as Chilli Morning. He has grabbed and made the most of every opportunity available when competing. He has a great competition brain and in my opinion all the attributes to make a top international event rider and to fulfill his ambition of representing his country,” William said.

“He is a fantastic team player and a great guy to have around. I really hope he gets the support he deserves when he moves back home and builds a strong team of horses and owners. I wish him every success in the future and will always be available to support him in any way I can.”

As much as Andrew has enjoyed his time working with William and the Funnells, he plans to return to the U.S. at the end of this season to start up his business again.

“My immediate goal is to purchase and find members to syndicate an experienced event horse. I have the opportunity to have a horse with me for the remainder of the year here at William’s, and I want to take full advantage of that. I’ve made some great contacts and wish to invite owners to get behind both myself as well as some great horses with a goal of representing the USA in future international competitions,” Andrew said.

“It has been an invaluable experience to spend this time in the UK and especially to be based at William Fox-Pitt’s yard. I highly suggest that anyone who has the opportunity to work or ride in Europe to take it. It might seem challenging to leave what you know behind, but I promise it’s been absolutely worth it.”

Andrew is currently looking for a location to base his business when he returns in November. You can follow along with Andrew on the McConnon Eventing Facebook page as he wraps up his trip and returns home, at which time he will be accepting new clients.