What is your earliest equestrian memory?
My brother and I used to go hunting a lot when I was growing up. So, I think that my earliest equestrian memory was when I was around five-years-old, and we would bet with each other who would fall off the least during the day.
As a rider, what has been your proudest moment this year?
This is easy for me. It was winning the Aga Khan Nations Cup™ at The Dublin Horse Show with Count Me In. It was an incredible moment in my career and winning in front of my home crowd was amazing.
What qualities are you looking for when purchasing a 5* (or potential 5*) show jumping horse?
It is difficult to say – I think everyone is looking for the same thing. They have to have good results and the want to win, and then in terms of qualities I think that carefulness and the ability to do the right thing when it is needed are so important.
How did you become a top-level owner in the sport?
This happened because I didn’t have any big sponsors or owners, so I had to do it by myself. Now, I am very lucky because a good friend of mine, Conall Murray at Mannon Farm, has started to purchase horses with me. Together we own Count Me In, Vital Chance De La Roque and Nadal Hero & DB who are my three best horses. Having the support from him has been incredible and makes it a lot easier on me when I can split the cost of the horse.
As an owner, what is the proudest moment of your career so far?
I am very proud of what I was able to achieve without the help of numerous owners. Obviously, I would have preferred some more financial help so that I could have bought more horses and given myself more chance to win. But I am very proud of what I have done on a limited budget, and I have been loving the last couple of years of my career.
How do you balance your dual roles as a world-class rider and a top-level owner?
I find it quite easy. I think that it is all about having a good schedule for the horses. As a rider, I have to travel around a lot, but I always make sure that none of the horses are doing too much at any one time. I try to make sure that their balance between work and rest is right and that the horses are fit, otherwise they do not perform at their best.
How are you preparing for CHI Geneva?
I am bringing my best horses, Count Me In and Vital Chance de La Roque. I jumped Count Me In indoors at The Washington International Horse Show last weekend where he won the FEI Jumping World Cup™ Qualifier. He will go to Toronto next week, and then have a few weeks off before we go to CHI Geneva.
Vital Chance De La Roque jumped in Sacramento a couple of weeks ago, where he also won the FEI Jumping World Cup™ Sacramento presented by GV23 Wines. He will go to Las Vegas next, which is about a month before CHI Geneva. Both horses have been jumping really well indoors and will have had a couple weeks rest before CHI Geneva – so I hope they will continue their form until the end of the year.
How many horses do you have in at the moment? Are there any young horses that people should be looking out for?
At the moment I only have five or six. I haven’t got too many young ones at the moment. Usually I have some in Ireland that I will produce over there and then if I think there are any future 5* horses, I will bring them over to North America when they are eight-years-old.
You must be incredibly proud of Count Me In; tell us a little bit about him, including when you first noticed his potential? What makes him stand out from other 5* horses?
Before I purchased him, I knew the horse relatively well. He was jumping on the circuit with Beth Underhill and was always a successful horse who was very careful and who jumped a lot of clear rounds, although not at the level he is jumping at now.
So, when he became available, I decided to take the risk on him, even though he was 14-years-old. The gamble has really paid off and I think that he has surprised not only me but a lot of other people. He has been an incredible horse to me, and we have a great partnership. He continues to go from strength to strength – he has changed my career and I have only had him for just over a year.
What are your hopes and ambitions for 2023 and beyond?
I think that your ranking is a reflection on the consistency of success that you are achieving – I am very proud of the fact that week in and about that my horses are able to win and place well in a lot of very big competitions. But a big aim of mine would be to win a medal at a major championship.
I passed on the opportunity to compete at the FEI World Championships this summer with Count Me In. I think that for a horse of his age, it was too big an ask to jump over numerous days. I did not want overexert him or for him to hurt himself. I think that if we had gone then we would have done well, or even won a medal because of his quality. But it was the right for the horse and his longevity in the sport to not go. It is so important to make the right decision for your horses and keep their best interests at heart.
How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam is for the sport of show jumping?
The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is the most prestigious series in the sport. The prize money is incredible, and it is made up the best shows in the world. It is a privilege to jump at the Majors when you have a horse good enough to do so.
Out of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping’s four Majors, which is your favourite, and why?
CHIO Aachen is obviously a very special place. I also spend a lot of time at Spruce Meadows and compete there all summer – the venue is just so incredible. CHI Geneva is also one of the best indoor shows in the world. But I think I would have to say CHIO Aachen is my favourite, you only go there once a year, which I think makes it more special, and the crowds are amazing.
Who has inspired you the most throughout your career?
I admire a lot of the great riders, and I try to watch and learn as much as possible from them. If I had to choose one, then I would have to say John Whitaker. I think that he is one of the most naturally talented riders – he has had a lot of very different horses and he rides them all unbelievably well. His longevity is incredible, and he has always been very inspirational to me.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
You should always believe in your own ability. Throughout your career you are going to have good and bad results, so you must believe in yourself and your ability to keep moving forwards.
What do you love to do away from show jumping?
I love sport and I really enjoy playing golf or watching sports when I get the opportunity.
Source: Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping
Photos: © Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof