Cian O'Connor
Olympic Bronze Medallist

Cian's Blog

Great week for Karlswood students

Sometimes its harder to watch from the ground than be actually competing yourself. 

 Last weekend’s thrilling Furusiyya Nation’s Cup Final was a great competition and went down to the wire with Germany’s Marcus Ehning beating Big Star and Nick Skelton in a jump off. It was fitting for Ludger Beerbaum’s last team performance that they would win and for good measure he produced a double clear. 

 My involvement there was coaching American young rider Lillie Keenan. She was called up to jump in the second round at what’s arguably one of the biggest Nation’s Cup competitions there is and she did it in style. 

Lillie and her partner Super Sox have a great partnership and they skipped around like it was easy for them to post a clear round and help Team USA to a third place podium finish. I was thrilled for Lillie and her family but particularly her mum Pam who loves the sport more than anyone I know and I could see on her face that this one evening was somehow a reward that her belief in her own daughter and indeed her own work and effort put in over the years was all well worth it and justified. 

We all need a break and American Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland is always trying to develop new talent. I’m a great believer in that you make your own luck and more important than getting the opportunity is to be ready in case it comes your way and when it does to grab it with open arms and realise that today is the day. 

Lillie did that extremely well and she delivered when it counted, which in my book is what winners do and this should be the basis of greater things to come hopefully. 

The following day Nikki Walker, whom I’ve been coaching for the last four years, was competing in the $86k Caledon Grand Prix in Canada. Nikki is from Aurora outside Toronto and has progressed through the hunters and equitation to small show jumping classes and now this year has won two major international Grands Prix with Deko de Landetta Z. 

I was in Angelstone show outside Toronto helping Nikki a few weeks back and as she is based at home this time of year we discuss all the plans for the horses, their work and show schedules and I study all her videos. 

I have two of my Karlswood staff with her full-time and they assist Nikki to keep all in our programme and structure. I’ve always maintained that we want to coach people to become professionals as opposed to keeping them amateurs. By Nikki doing some shows on her own and reviewing them after with me it has allowed her to develop as a horsewoman and make decisions about warm up, distances, turns, time allowed etc. She rode the quickest jump off I have ever seen her ride last week to claim victory in a competitive international field. I wouldn’t have liked to try to catch her! 

It’s amazing listening to both girls following there super performances. The enthusiasm, confidence and outlook all got a boost. Let nobody try to tell you that taking part is what it’s all about. We all have to start somewhere and winning is not instant but I for one won’t celebrate mediocrity- winning is not important - it’s everything!!! 

You can watch Lillie in action here and Nikki Walker here

I’m writing this to you on my flight from Dublin to Los Angeles, where I compete this weekend. You can follow my competitions on my Facebook link here

Chat soon, - Cian

Ready for home!

Hey Everyone, 

 We have just completed the 12 week Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. 

Team Karlswood had a total of 25 horses and 13 staff in our group for the duration. The pace is fast here, with classes on in multiple arenas at the same time. Organisation is key and I’d like to thank all my staff and background team who made sure everything ran so well. 

As a group myself and my three students have had an incredible circuit, which I believe is largely due to the extraordinary group of people who make it happen behind the scenes. Michael Kelly and Ross Mulholland are, apart from being two of my closest friends, a major contributing factor towards any success we have. They both help me coach the students, flat the horses and compete and do all to a top standard which I firmly believe sets Karlswood apart from other coaching yards. 

It’s a long time to be away from home and it really is a different world out here - not necessarily America of course but just this equestrian world of Wellington. It’s fairytale stuff- like Disney World for horses! We try to stay somewhat grounded and focus on our goals and targets. I always wanted to use the circuit to build up the horses and riders so they are ready after this to compete, and the hundreds of rounds we have all done should have us in the groove when we all return to Europe. 

I’m proud of the accomplishments of my students. Nikki Walker had two younger horses to develop and she produced them both to a higher level successfully as well as winning the $25k classic in Ocala last week with Deko

Emily Short used the circuit to get used to some of her new horses as well as move up to the bigger level with Coco, which they did extremely well - fourth in a young rider Grand Prix, second in a ranking class in Ocala and second in a $130k Grand Prix in Wellington. 

Lillie Keenan also developed her younger horses and formed a successful new partnership with a new ride, Be Gentle. Super Sox, whom I competed in Olympia just before coming to Florida has really developed over the past number of months and catapulted Lillie into the big league, where she will hopefully have the opportunity to be considered to be a part of a senior American team later this summer. Sox and Lillie were double clear and placed third in a five star Grand Prix at Wellington and had the same result in the $1million Great American Grand Prix in Ocala last weekend. 

All my horses improved throughout the circuit. I think our plan of not overusing them worked well, so that they are fit to jump when we get home as opposed to needing a long break due to over jumping them over the winter. My new horses Calisto, Crespo and Sam Du Challois all proved themselves with solid performances. Calisto was second in a 1.50m and seventh in the World Cup in Live Oak. Crespo stepped up to jump a few Grand Prix classes well and had a number of good placings in the ranking classes throughout the circuit, as well as winning a 1.45m class. Sam du Challois has proven a great find. One of the highlights for me of the circuit was being last to go in the Nations' Cup in Wellington and jumping clear with Sam to help the team secure victory, and also making it my 105th appearance on the senior team. 

Saphir had multiple placings in ranking classes and stepped up to 1.50m level well, producing a great clear in the Suncast final. 

Good Luck has been sensational. He was always an amazing jumper long before he came to me but the biggest change has come in his rideability. He is much straighter to the fences, a lot easier to collect, and jumping a 1.60 m course feels like 1.30m on another horse - it’s all so easy for him. We did three major Grands Prix and were clear in all of them finishing eighth, fourth and the biggest result came last weekend when we were double clear in the Great American Million Dollar Grand Prix to finish second. 

It was a great course built by Ireland’s Alan Wade, who is one of the most popular course designers in North America. He got the right result with only three double clears, which meant a podium finish for those who made no fault over the two testing rounds. We will all take a few easy weeks before our European tour kicks off at the end of April. 

Check out the great video that Noelle Floyd made: A Day In The Life

 Chat soon, 


From Doha to Lier, with Rio in mind

  • Super Sox placed 3rd in 1.45m on opening day at GCT Doha
  • Super Sox showing off!

Hey Guys,

I’m writing to you on my flight from Doha to Brussels. The Global Tour final marked the end of the outdoor season for most of us. A fabulous venue and a wonderful show in every way. The Global Tour has really raised the profile of the sport on a global level and offers a wonderful spectacle and package for the sponsors involved to enjoy. I must say it’s been 7 weeks since I jumped a show of that level which was in Barcelona and unwittingly am at a disadvantage to those doing it more frequently. It’s all about horses and my current plan is to keep building my team of horses so I can get into the top 30 in the Longines World Rankings by next summer which will allow me automatic access to the Global Tour shows.

Good Luck has learned a lot in our first year together and now he will get a nice two month break in Florida ahead of next season. We have developed a good partnership together and I feel that next season a lot of the greenness will have been ironed out and he will really hit the ground running! It’s important to aim him at the biggest courses with the biggest prize money as there is no track he can’t jump. The final of the Global Champion’s Tour was not ideal in that the time allowed was so short, it forced me to gallop very early on which meant the horse was open and long, and then when I ran deep to the third last the horse was out the front door! I have always felt that top level should be a jumping test with a neat time allowed but in fact it was not as big as I would have hoped and nowhere on the course had you time to add a stride or regroup. I won’t over jump him in Florida next year as the focus is solely on getting him to Rio.

Before the year ends it looks like we will have our hearing with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in relation the to the Aachen incident. I’m extremely confident that we will win that case with the end result being Horse Sport Ireland being awarded a team place for Ireland at the Rio Olympics.

Next weekend I jump at the 2 star show in Lier, Belgium where I take Saphir, Under Fire and Sam du Challois.

Follow me on Facebook for updates.

Best Wishes,

Aga Khan win is the perfect prep!

Hey Everyone,
Dublin Horse Show is a highlight for most competitors but for the Irish it’s much more than that. The team of Bertram, Greg, myself and Darragh performed even better than we looked on paper. The Dublin leg marked my 100th cap on the Irish team so to win it was very special! 

In those 100 caps we've had some good performances and some not so good - all for various reasons! But prior to the Nations Cup in Dublin there was a confidence that we could win. When you have a likeminded group of guys all wanting the same goal and working solely towards winning the Nations Cup it makes a huge difference. Enthusiasm from all creates team spirit, and a willingness to help each other, backed by a manager who believes in each of us, culminates in what I believe is the beginning of a winning formula.

We all travel to Aachen next week with Denis Lynch also in the squad with All Star who was 7th at the world games last year individually and also has decent current form this season too. Any Team of 4 riders needs a strong squad and we probably have 6 or 7 decent combinations all capable of doing a good job. This strength is very promising for the future success of the team.

Winning is a habit which is good to practise and like a good football team when you win then you expect to win - you get on a roll. Olympic qualification is the most important task next week in Aachen where we have to finish in the top 3 of the non-qualified teams but ultimately if we aim to win a medal then we can kill two birds with the one stone!

The arena in Dublin is very similar to Aachen so both for the horses and the riders it should act as the perfect prep!

Follow the updates on Team Ireland Facebook and indeed my own page.

Chat soon,


That time of year again!

The build up to Dublin reminds of me Christmas - there is always great excitement. I have just got back home with my staff and clients, having been on tour since last December. It's nice to be back in Ireland as there is no place like home. This weekend we will jump some of the horses at the South County Dublin show in Coilog to give them their final run before Dublin.

I take Good Luck, Coco, Aramis and Ikkea to Dublin. I feel it's a decent string and all have the ability and form to win a class. I'll post regular updates on my Facebook page throughout the show so please check it out here and like the page if you haven’t already!

Chat soon,

Another year!

  • Nations Cup
  • Louise Mullen with her three kids on her birthday a few years ago
  • Sneak Preview:Karlswood's proposed new truck!

Hey Everyone,

It’s been a quiet few months for me on the competition front and I'm so looking forward to heading to Florida right after Christmas. Christmas is a lovely time of the year, a time for families to be together and support one another. This year will be our first Christmas without my mum so that will be a little different but we are lucky to have her watching over us.

I think I have found some of the best horses that I've ever had in my career (Meet The Stars here). It's tough when you have to constantly find the balance between business, sport and family life in equal measure. This year I feel I gave a lot of attention to the first and the latter and for several reasons did not excel in the sport sense to my usual high standard. But as a good friend of mine told me recently, I have time on my side in relation to the sport, while the success in my business dealings and a positive family life will be the foundation of the next 50 years !!

Sourcing, producing and selling elite horses have become something that I specialize in but like others in the same boat we become victims of our own success. If you sell the flagship it's obviously a positive from a monetary point of view, but it's next to impossible to have the next Grand Prix horse waiting in the wings. 

I've been very fortunate over the years to have some great owners who supported me with top horses and this is an area that I must continue to develop in order to stay at the top of the sport. I want more medals and therefore I know now that I need to work even harder than I did 10 years ago because the demands are more and it’s vital to keep the skill level up. 

Last month I found what I think is one of the best horses I've ever sat on - an 8 yr old stallion called Good Luck. I am so grateful to Nikki Walker and her family for their support in securing this superstar and I have also built a nice team of horses to go along with him. It doesn't happen overnight. Last time with Blue Loyd I got him just 7 months before the Olympics and now we have 18 months to Rio 2016!! Planning is everything. Of course, all plans don't come off but they have no chance if they don't exist!

In 2015 I will be focusing on having a top class group of international horses to ride and I’m always looking for new additions. I will coach my students and continue to develop young horses for the international market together with Ross Mulholland, who competes for me at Karlswood. We will be rebranding our logo and colours which you can see now on the site and I'm expecting my new Roelofsen horse truck in March 2015 - also in our new colours. We are getting closer to developing an equestrian facility to be named Karlswood Farm with plans being currently developed.

I really feel blessed to have a great team of people working for me at Karlswood. They all play their part and are so important to our success.

This year coming we have a number of staff changes and I'm very grateful to those who have put in so much work over the past 12 months and I'm genuinely excited about my team as we all will be striving for a vibrant and positive working atmosphere in 2015, which will hopefully yield further success. 

I will keep you posted with pictures and videos from Florida through this website and my Facebook page. Please like my page - I want to reach 100k likes by this time next year!

I better go before I set any more goals!! 

Season’s greetings- good health and happiness to you all for 2015!

Best Wishes,

Rearing to go!

Hey Everyone

It's been some time since I wrote my last blog - apologies for not writing sooner but things have been hectic on all fronts to say the least!

On the competition front I have done very little since Dublin in August, as I decided to invest time into my business by both selling some of the great horses we have at Karlswood and further adding to my own string of international horses in order to be well mounted for 2015.

It's taken some time and multiple trips to most countries in Europe in search of my next super stars! I was starting to lose hope after trying dozens of horses to no avail for around 3 months and then all of a sudden I found two special horses in one week!!

In fact, it was the week after my mum, Louise, suddenly passed away and it just seemed surreal that both came so close, as if she was sending them my way. I'm a great believer in the saying "what's meant for you won't pass you by" and I'm really excited and motivated to get to know my new mounts in Florida this winter.

Over the coming weeks I will be giving my website a major facelift, showing our new Karlswood colours and logo as well as a new page dedicated to my horses for 2015!!

Check back in soon!


All systems go!

  • Quidam's Flower
  • Saphir
  • Hugo
  • Quidam's Cherie
  • Castlecomer Q

Hey Everyone,

It's that time of year again where everyone who is anyone involved in horses in Ireland will be making the annual pilgrimage to the roads this coming week. It’s an amazing event enhanced by such large supporting crowds which seem to make you try harder as you want to please all the fans and supporters.

I've jumped in the international classes at Dublin every year since 1998 and have been a member of 10 Aga Khan teams- twice winning the famous trophy. There is no better feeling in the world (other than an Olympic medal of course!) than delivering a top performance on the team in Dublin - it somehow defines the year, is reward for all the effort and is a thank you to all my background team who work tirelessly to make it happen.

This year is no different. It's all systems go at Karlswood as I enter my 17th year competing in Dublin and hopefully my 11th Aga Khan appearance. The adrenalin that you experience when competing at Dublin is unexplainable. You just want it to go well and in the build up think about nothing else except visualising winning performances and rethinking past victories at the famous arena.

This year I take Quidam's Cherie as my main horse and Quidam’s Flower and Saphir as my two other international mounts. I have a new stallion called Aramis for the 7 & 8 yr old class plus the Irish bred Hugo in the 6 yr old division. Perhaps the one class I'm especially looking forward to is Saturday's Land Rover puissance. I have a super horse to ride in the Irish bred chestnut stallion, Castlecomer Q, owned and bred by Willie McDonnell. (See link of us practising!)

Ross is taking Lvs Heartache, whom I own together with Mark Duffy. The pair qualified in the 7 & 8 yr old section in Galway over the summer and I expect them to go well, as horse and jockey looked extremely good in training this week.

The practicing is complete. The next few days the horses hack around the farm and graze to allow them to freshen up for the busy week ahead. It will be hard to beat the last few years’ results - winning the Nation's Cup in 2012 and last yr winning 2 classes including the Grand Prix. Either way we will do our best and ultimately enjoy the week in the knowledge that no stone is left unturned in terms of the planning and build up to the highlight of my sporting year!!

Check regular updates from the show on my Facebook page.

Chat soon,

Nothing is easy!

Hey Everyone, 

Despite our best efforts, as a team we performed well below par last week in Rotterdam. Everyone was trying their best but we just weren't good enough on the day. It's always tough when competing against the world's best who, in many cases, are riding a superior class of animal. When I came on to the international scene and won my first cap for Ireland 15 years ago the sport was quite different. You competed nationally to show yourself and then the chef d'equipe would select you for a team and you might do a small international show on your way to prepare for the Nations Cup. Team jumping was the pinnacle and I came up in an era where it became my ethos.

The sport has developed and no doubt for the better, but its progress also throws up a few anomalies that should be looked at as ways to salvage team jumping, such as: the amount of shows one horse can do a year, the prize money at Nations Cup shows in the other classes (not the Nations Cup and Grand Prix) is way too low, and the ranking points should be higher at Nations Cup shows. As the sport has evolved the results have only been positive - more prize money, more venues, globalisation of the industry, increased TV exposure internationally, but somehow the Nations Cup, despite best efforts to give it a face lift last year, is below par in many people’s eyes compared to say the Global tour.

While the final is a great concept, the league is impossible to follow – its complexity creates disinterest.

However my point in discussing all this is that in times gone by there was less choice for the riders of what shows they could do than there are today, and therefore everyone arrived at the Nations Cup show in the fullness of health and ready to fire on all cylinders. Nowadays there can be a 5 star show in the week before a Nations Cup, and another the week after, which can dilute the efforts to be in top form and produce on the day required.

It all depends what goals one really has. This year we say that we want to qualify for the Rio Olympics at the world championships in Normandy in the first week in September. Obviously the horses need to be competed between now and then but taking in a host of mini goals on the road to weg because of lucrative prize funds is perhaps not the best preparation in many cases, as unless you are riding a world class horse, each effort has the potential to lessen the chances of having a fresh horse come weg. We can't leave the horses in the field either, but the balance should be found.

Quidam's Cherie jumped superbly at both La Baule and Rotterdam and this week we were named by Robert Splaine as a possible combination for weg. I have decided to drop back a little in terms of the shows that she will do next month in July so that I can build her to Dublin in August and have her peaking in weg. It’s no different than a top race horse trainer preparing a horse for a grade 1. The horse will be in full fitness and given a few light runs before the big day, as to try to have too many aims simply won't work.

Nothing is easy, but delivering on the day is a term that some use lightly - unfortunately it take sacrifices to actually make it happen!

Chat soon,

Ready for Action!

Hey Everyone,

I’m writing to you from the north of France where we are stabled between the shows. Last weekend we competed in Fontainebleau and all the horses are in good shape after their jumping. Florida last winter was good to develop some of my younger horses but I feel it’s important to go to different venues to allow the young horses to see various arenas and fences. Fontainebleau is probably the best schooling ground in Europe in terms of developing horses. Each track had a friendly water jump and my 3 horses had no fence down all weekend. (See News)

As Blue Loyd is just coming back to full fitness I am carefully planning his road to the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Normandy. He just jumped one class last weekend in Fontainebleau and I plan to jump him in the Grand Prix next week in Le Touquet. Cherie jumped twice, clear in both the GP qualifier and the GP, placing 2nd. Both horses are in great form and I'm looking forward to aiming at and attacking some of the bigger shows this summer.

Sometimes it’s not easy to take a back seat and wait for horses to progress. For someone competitive this is part of maturing as a rider and being able to discipline oneself by allowing horses the time to get to the high level. No one likes just schooling but, unfortunately, you cannot skip that phase of a horse’s education. I feel like I’ve been schooling long enough, and I, for one, am certainly ready for action! Roll on La Baule!!

Chat soon,

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