Cian O'Connor
Olympic Bronze Medallist

Cian's Blog: August, 2010

What Makes A Class Rider

  • The pinnacle of team successthe Nations' Cup victory at Aachen

The Irish team has achieved already one of its main goals which was to remain in the superleague for the coming season. This was arguably one of the hardest years to stay up, as there were more teams than usual in the league, and unprecedentedly, four had to be relegated.

Many clever commentators said at the start of the year that we'd have our work cut out but through dedication, commitment from both the riders and the horse owners, and good team management by Robert Splaine, not only did we manage to finish fourth out of ten teams overall in the series, but we actually won Aachen, the biggest and most coveted of all the Nations' Cup competitions.

I've been involved with jumping on the team for the last 12 years, and at this stage I have to laugh at the beginning of each season with talks/dreams of superleague partnerships on the way up that never materialise. Each year when it comes to the thick of it, it's the same old soldiers who enter into battle time and time again. This is not to be critical of others, and indeed under Paraic Geraghty the developmental squad did a superb job to win the Nation's Cup in Ypaja, Finland and full marks to all involved.

What I'm trying to get at is that horses come and go, but it's something that's in the make-up of the man, that will to win and to be a part of a team that makes all the current team members world-class riders. A top rider is somebody who can re-invent himself every few years, secure owners, horses and have success on many different horses. It's not a one-trick pony or “when the horse is gone, the rider’s gone” but rather a rider that can have success at the highest level on many different horses over a long period of time. For me that is the definition of a class rider- it's the complete package that's required to survive modern sport and business.

The obvious question that many will throw up is: "that's OK for you guys to say, because you have owners/sponsors". But we are the people who went out and got the owners and sponsors in the first place, produced the goods, got through tough times and were able to keep the business going and also keep ourselves performing at a level where we are able to ride many different types of horses.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a tough game and I for one wake up every morning thinking how I can do it better. It’s not easy but I suppose these days there's nothing easy, but I would encourage any young riders to aim high and work hard.

When I was 19, I had jumped at both the junior and young rider championships and had been on a senior winning Nations’ Cup team at Athens. As I look back on it we were all very fortunate back then to have decent people with great communication and coaching skills to be able to call upon, such as Gerry Mullins, who basically put teams together and brought them to faraway places where he led us to victory, while many at home were laughing at the idea of us even taking part.

Every week I have people coming to see me looking for a job or a chance as a rider and sometimes it’s difficult to be honest with them with regard to their future. Having talent is definitely a part of being a top rider. Coaching then nurtures and develops this talent, but most importantly something that lacks with a lot of people that I see at the shows in Ireland is attitude of mind. It's not enough just to say you’re determined. You have to demonstrate it as well.

Take for instance the Irish team that won in Aachen - four great horses with four great riders who took on and beat the world greatest combinations. All the horses cost money at some point in time and all the riders got some form of help and training along the way. However the common denominator of these four individuals is sheer determination, a single-mindedness that we all have naturally, but don’t necessarily promote this as a skill in the pub.

The RDS was as always a great show. I was a bit disappointed with my first Aga Khan round when I had eight faults, but I knew what the mistakes were and how to rectify them and came back and jumped a clear in the second round with K Club Lady. I've only been riding her since April and we have achieved a lot - second in the Grand Prix at St. Gallen, double clear and a first in the Nations’ Cup in Aachen.

We have now been selected for the Irish team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, running from the 4th to 10th of October. This is an important championship as it is the first of only two qualifiers for the London Olympics. It's my belief that if we can arrive in Kentucky with four sound horses and four riders in the same frame of mind as we were when victorious in Aachen, I think we're in with a serious chance.

The goal for me would be a team medal and secure qualification for the team for London 2012. It won't be easy and we too will be looking up to our colleagues in Germany or the USA and studying them to see how we can do it better.

Therein lies the crucial difference - at the top level we look to others who we see as above us and try to learn from them. At lower levels the opposite is evident, where people will look to those above them, give all the excuses in the world why they can’t do the same and in turn try and knock them down. It’s an Irish trait and one of which I despair.

To all would-be Nations’ Cup riders I say this: your destiny is in your own hands, the ability to rise to the top rank depends upon your willingness to learn, your willingness to work, and your ability to focus on the goal ahead, oblivious to all distractions and oblivious to those who try to diminish your ambition.

I set off on Tuesday for the CSIO at Gijon in Spain, so check back next week for more news.

Best wishes,

Ready For The Road Again

  • Splendor will be my Nations' Cup horse in Gijon

Hi Everyone,

My horses are leaving tomorrow for a two week trip to Spain. I take K Club Lady, Splendor and a new horse to me, Sebo.

First of the two shows is Gijon in Spain where I will use Splendor in the Nations' Cup and the following week is a five star international event in Madrid where I will take Noctumbule Courcelle to have another go at the Puissance.

Last weekend I jumped the three horses in Boswell and they all jumped really well. Sebo was 2nd in the 1m30 on Saturday, Splendor was 6th in the Grand Prix, where K Club Lady was 2nd. It was nice to give her a few easy jumps, yet still you can't beat getting in the ring and having match practice, it's much more productive than jumping at home.

The highlight of the weekend, I have to say, was on Friday night when Ruth and I went to see Westlife at the O2 and we were one of a lucky small audience of 900 that saw it live. Unlike the usual audience of 8,000 people and the boys putting on an action-packed evening this was a more sombre intimate evening as it was live-streamed across Europe to an audience of 60,000 people.

They were accompanied by a choir and an orchestra, sang some of their regular songs and indeed did some new ones from other artistes. Georgina Byrne (Nicky's wife) was sitting beside me and she commented : "Oh, you know all the words." I said: "Yes, I'm a real fan, but don't tell anyone!"

Westlife are an amazing success story and a key part of this is the work ethic that all the guys have. Their management obviously helps enormously, but most of all they're down to earth and grounded people.

Check back next week  for more news.

A Week To Recover

  • Horses out relaxing in one of the paddocks at Waterside

Hi Everyone,

It must be a sign of getting older but I'm just about recovered now, a week later, from the Dublin Horse Show. It's a long tiring week both physically and mentally and I felt absolutely drained for the most part of this week.

It's nice having the horses at home with no big shows on for a few weeks. Every day they went for hacks and to the paddock and just be like horses again. So often during the year you're minding them and afraid to let them out but we're very lucky at Waterside as we have very safe compact paddocks where all my top horses go out beside each other. They certainly enjoyed their week off!

Next weekend myself and Mark Kinsella will jump in Boswell at Ashford in Co. Wicklow for two days, Saturday and Sunday. My international horses leave the following Wednesday for Gijon in Spain, and Boswell will be their warm-up.

Last week I was officially confirmed as part of the Irish team for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games with K Club Lady. The show jumping takes place between the 4th and 9th of October. I will plan each step and jump between now and then very carefully so as to arrive in the best possible shape. I'm absolutely thrilled to be going to WEG, and it's a fantastic reward for my owner Dr. Michael Smurfit. He only purchased the mare last April and believe it or not, she is his first ever show jumper. Double clear and victory in the Nations' Cup at Aachen, clear and placed second in the Aga Khan, and now heading to WEG - not bad for your first horse, and I'm extremely grateful to him.

It's only seven weeks until we start jumping in Kentucky. While I try to think of the championship as just another show, which it is, I can't help be a little more cautious in my planning. One train of thought would be to keep jumping her in big Grands Prix between now and then as there is no point in wrapping her up in cotton wool. While I agree with a part of that, and obviously horses can get injured even working at home, I do believe there's no point in going looking for trouble and tilting at windmills.

I plan to give the mare two nice shows at Gijon and Madrid without pressure and also I would like to practise turning back against the clock in some smaller classes as the opening day at WEG is a speed leg. Everyone has their own theories, and different plans suit different horses, but for me the Irish team has achieved one of its main goals this year, which is staying in the Meydan Series.

The other goal is a team medal at WEG, and I strongly believe that if we arrive there in the same vein as we did in Aachen, we're certainly in with a shout. I for one won't be chasing the gravy train between now and then, it might work, it might not but at least I can say I did my best.

Check back next week for more news.

Best wishes,

Dublin - Full Marks To The Organisers

  • Ruth and I relaxing between classes at Dublin

Hi everyone

Just returned home from a long week at the Dublin Horse Show. It's my 14th year competing in Dublin's international classes and I would have to say the show is developing and improving each year. This by far was the best show the RDS equestrian committee and staff ever put on.

Each year they seem to make improvements and in my book it now surpasses many of the top shows around the world. The main arena is second to none - each year the show has some new fences and the ring is a spectacle in itself with the unique themed jumps and the flowers making it all look very special.

I think the greatest asset the Dublin Horse Show has over other shows is the public that come in their droves to support everybody. Following Holland's victory in the Nations' Cup the crowd were cheering them like it was their own, which is unique to see.

It was a great show for all the Irish riders, winning a total of six international classes, and it was great to see the Leading Rider prize go to Paul O'Shea ,who is probably one of the hardest-working riders on the circuit and had a great show.

For my part I'm pleased to say that he spent some of his early years training with me and it's great to see it benefitted him to get to this level.

In terms of my own week I was reasonably happy. It can be always better but then it could have been worse too. Splendor was unlucky with four faults in both jump-offs in the main events on the first two days, denying him second place on both occasions.

K Club Lady was fantastic in the Nations' Cup. I would consider us still a relatively green partnership and she is learning her trade at the bigger obstacles. I learnt this week, for instance, that I need to use less leg pressure in order to jump the width of the oxers. She jumped a second super round clear in the Aga Khan to help the team finish second and we got a roaring cheer from the home crowd.

The following evening I took joint first on Noctumble Courcelle in the Puissance competition with Pablo Barrios. It's always a super class and the crowd love it. When I was going into the arena for the final two rounds you could have heard a pin drop and you just want to get over that wall to please the fans who were all on the edge of their seats.

Land Rover's support of this competition is much appreciated and it is a class that should be supported to create more media interest, and from my own observation it looked like the second biggest crowd of the week behind the Nations' Cup.

I thought Brendan McArdle, the arena commentator, was a revelation this week. He got the crowd going and put a bit of show into the word show jumping. This is what our sport needs and full marks to him.

In the 7 and 8 year-old classes I had a very good week with Ballymore Eustace, placing second in the qualification and jumping another double clear in the final to place second again and be the leading 7 year-old of the show.

This horse is owned by Mel Sutcliffe and Jim Bolger and was sourced by Paddy Quinlan in Finland. Paddy has done a great job with the horse in getting him to this level over the last six months which of course made my job easier this week. I'm looking forward to riding him in bigger classes in the years to come, he's a very promising animal.

The Dublin Horse Show is something special, there's something for everybody and as it moves to improve by modernising over the years I think it's great it doesn't lose its wonderful traditions. Some people give out about the parade before the Nations' Cup that it takes too long but for me it's one of the highlights of the show.

I've been on the Aga Khan team eight times in the last nine years and every time I ride in for that parade it's a very special occasion. Full marks to the show, keep up the good work.

To all the show jumping spectators who were there, maybe for the first time, why not take it a stage further? Look up the show jumping calendar and come and support the riders around the country in the national shows, and abroad if you can make it, for the international shows. You have no idea how much difference it makes to us to see a big crowd turn out in support with their tricolours!

If you want any details of what's on, email my office and we'll send you out details.

Best wishes,

Dublin Horse Show - An Exciting Week Ahead

Hi Everyone,

I'm writing this of the eve of the opening of the 2010 Dublin Horse Show. All the horses are in their stables and have passed their veterinary inspection and I'm about to get an early night in the hotel to be fresh and ready for the week ahead.

The horses came in to the RDS this morning and had a light lunge and I did some flatwork with them all this afternoon just to get them used to the surroundings and stretch their legs.

The show begins tomorrow and I've brought five international horses with me.

K Club Lady will be aimed at Friday's Nations' Cup and Sunday's Grand Prix. Splendor will jump the feature classes tomorrow, Thursday and Saturday. Irish independent Echo Beach will feature in the speed classes throughout the week. Noctambule Courcelle is a horse I got just a week ago, and I will attempt to jump the Puissance on Saturday.

I also have a new horse to me, which I got only last Thursday - a 7 year-old called Ballymore Eustace who will jump the 7 and 8 year old international classes on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. I'm excited by this horse. He has been well produced by Paddy Quinlan over the last six months and I'm looking forward to riding him this week.

The Dublin Horse Show is something special. It's a time when the whole equestrian community throughout the country comes together. There's international, and national show jumping, pony jumping, loose jumping, showing classes, hunt chases, Ladies' Day, and a whole lot more.

Really, there's something for everyone, and I would encourage everybody to get down to the RDS at least one day this week.

On a personal note from me without a doubt it's the most important show in the year. Obviously being based in Ireland and running my coaching and horse business here it's a great shop window for me to promote myself and do as well as I possibly can. Eddie Macken once famously said: "You can win what you want around the world, but you'll be judged at home by what you do in Dublin."

Keeping that in mind, I specially try to do my best here, and I'm hopeful for a big week ahead.

Check back during the week for results and stories.

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