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.