Cian O'Connor
Olympic Bronze Medallist

Cian's Blog: 2014

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,

Dundalk - Perfect Warm Up

Hey Everyone,

Despite the cold weather and showers it was a great first day to the Horseware show in Louth last Saturday. I jumped three horses in the opening leg of the National Grand Prix and, with 100 starters, the course designer, Tom Holden, did a superb job to get just 15 clear rounds. Quidam's Flower jumped a super clear but picked up one time fault - so pleased with her as it was our first GP together and she's only 8 yrs old. Quidam's Cherie jumped a smooth clear and as she was the only one that I was jumping in the 1.50m Grand Prix the next day, I opted not to jump her off. Blue Loyd shows no signs of his 14 years’ young and jumped out of his skin and was double clear. A good start to what will hopefully be a good season with these three great horses!! (See video of Quidam's Flower).

On Sunday, Quidam's Cherie was 4th in the 1.50m opening leg of the National Premier series in Dundalk. Great clear in the first round over a difficult track and an unlucky rub in the jump off for four faults, but I feel this show should set her up well for international travel starting this week. Full marks and well done to Kenny Graham who took top spot - delighted for him as he has worked very hard.

This coming weekend I will be jumping Quidam’s Flower, Quidam’s Cherie and Blue Loyd in Fontainebleau, France. (See Tour Calendar)

Check back next week for more news.

Safety is a must but let's not lose the plot!

Hey everyone,

Great day today at Coilog for the final leg of the Showjumpers Club Spring Tour. A big turnout was always expected with over 70 horses in the class. My horses have had a few weeks off since Florida and it was the perfect warm-up class before Louth County next week. Saphir and Cooper were both double clear in the feature class, placing 2nd and 5th respectively. The show ran like clockwork. Both classes in the main ring were pre-entry and ran smoothly, and (for a pleasant change) the main class started exactly on time - full marks to all involved! 

One thing that struck me though is a new policy - I presume within Showjumping Ireland - to have barriers in the warm-up ring where people should stand when warming a rider up for the competition. I saw these brought in last year at certain shows, following some very unfortunate accidents that occurred. Safety is of utmost importance so anything that can be done to make the shows and the warm-up areas safer for all really is a must. But I think it needs to be revisited and looked at in a practical way, as today it seemed to me to be overboard, bordering on counter-productive. There was a chicane-like tunnel of mesh fencing between the main ring and the practice ring, presumably to make the place safer, but, in fact, it was possibly more dangerous than if it was not there at all. The barriers in the practice just don’t work. Stewards are giving out to trainers for stepping outside them which of course you can’t avoid doing in order to change the fence - unless you have Inspector Gadget arms! The World cup finals were held this weekend in Lyon and there were no barriers in the warm-up nor were there at one of the smallest arenas in London, Olympia. A possible solution is to have an extra person monitoring the safety of the ground in front and after the practice fence, and also observing everyone warming up and generally keeping an eye that all is in order. This should not be the steward - that is an entirely different role.

Full marks to Ger O'Neill from Castlefield Stables for supporting the new initiative in the league to reward the highest-placed young horses. A great initiative and a super stepping stone for the young horses to go on to greater heights.

Chat soon,

Strategy for the Future

  • Minister Simon Coveney and Prof. Pat Wall at recent forums to develop a strategic plan for the future of the industry

Hey Everyone,

We've been home now for two weeks following our American stint and all the horses are enjoying some down time. We take a few easy weeks here before building up to travel to France at the end of the month. I plan to jump at CoilÓg on Easter Monday and then the following weekend at Horseware Ireland’s show in Dromiskin. Robert Splaine named the La Baule team last week and I'm thrilled to be a part of it. On paper it looks like the strongest team of riders we have had together in a long time for the opening leg of the Nations Cup series. I join Denis Lynch, Billy Twomey and Cameron Hanley for the French fixture and all are performing well, so I'm really confident that we can repeat our 2011 victory there!

Horse Sport Ireland, Teagasc and the RDS have completed 4 regional forums which were attended by the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to try to develop a brief that could strategically guide the sport horse industry forward. This initiative should be supported and complimented. Holding open forums to any interested party in the current climate of shortage of funds and decline in the industry nationally over the last number of years was a brave move. The Chair of Horse Sport Ireland, Professor Patrick Wall, chaired the meetings and did an excellent job in allowing everyone have their say and managed well to co-ordinate all comments into structured headings. Some years ago I recall my grandfather saying to us calmly when people were arguing, "everyone is entitled to their point of view!" And that is just the issue - everyone sees the situation from their own goldfish bowl and if we are to move forward, there must be give on all sides and cohesiveness on some common points that will better the whole industry.

I was shocked at the request by many looking for handouts and demanding the government fixes their problem. If I buy a horse that is not as good as I thought I sometimes end up selling for a fraction of what I paid. New money buys new goods. This is a business and should be run as such rather than the romantic notion of bring your mare to the closest stallion and hope for the best. Drastic times require drastic measures and it’s up to all of us to cut our own cloths to measure and in my view the government support that should be given to the industry must concentrate around excellence and development rather than passports and culls. People must look at the situation with a 10 - 20 year plan.

It bothers me that those who are at the top of this sport are often referred to as elite. I don't see it used as a word to describe the top rugby players. Prejudice is always irrational. Those at the top fly the flag around the world and promote Ireland on the world stage. I'm not just saying that the best in their profession should be supported but rather anyone in the industry who is forward thinking and crucially, striving for excellence. It could be a school set up to educate grooms or identifying top mares and supporting their breeders, or supporting those who open new markets for trading Irish horses. We have an abundance of talented horse people in Ireland and if we could all pause and look to the big picture, we have the ability to create great changes. It is always the talent not the money that counts in the end.

 Chat soon,

Live Oak- a beautiful change!

  • Cian O'Connor wins the Welcome Stake Grand Prix at Live Oak International aboard Carolus Z
Last weekend I travelled north to Live Oak Estate in Ocala, where they were hosting an international show with driving and jumping taking place. The show is run by Chester Weber and his family. Chester is a world class international four in hand competitor and will be aiming for WEG this summer. This show was run by horse people for horse people, and the competition was held on a beautiful grass arena, which was a welcome change.

I brought Quidam's Cherie and Carolus  Z, who jumped great (see news) and ended up winning the leading rider award, which was nice. This week we are back in Wellington for the final week. Nikki has three horses to compete and I'm going to aim Quidam's Cherie at Saturday night's $500,000 Grand Finale!

 Check back next week for more news.

High hopes!

  • Quidam's Cherie placed 3rd in the 4* Grand Prix

Hey Everyone,

This sport is all about hopes and dreams. We all lose far more classes than we win, so it’s very rewarding when things go well, and the good days should all just be appreciated and enjoyed. 

The 12 week tour in Wellington is very long, and I have to keep reminding myself that it’s early in the season and be cautious about over-jumping. My main horse is Quidam's Cherie, and since I got her - 10 weeks ago - I set my sights on this weekend, and, more specifically, the Nation’s Cup and the Grand Prix in Wellington. I knew I’d need time to educate and get the hang of her, but I reckoned she could move up a gear by now.

Luckily, we got it right, and the mare was superb in both classes (see news article), culminating in a double clear and 3rd place finish in the $150,000 Grand Prix (see the video). I have to say that I could not have done it all on my own and I'm extremely grateful to all my owners and sponsors, without whose support any success would be impossible. I'm very fortunate to have a great team of staff behind me and it’s really satisfying to see them enjoy and get a kick out of the good days as much as I do. We riders are so fortunate to work in a job that we love and enjoy, so much so that it doesn’t feel like work! 

Time to set new goals and targets so the dream stays alive - high hopes indeed!!

Home from home!

  • Quidam's FlowerA new 8 yr old mare showing off her impresssive technique

Hey Everyone,

Apologies for not being in touch for a while but to be honest I haven’t had much spare energy to blog! Early mornings and a good day’s work tend to leave me ready for bed at 8pm in this Florida sun! All horses are in good shape and performing well. It’s over half way through the circuit and time has just flown by. We are fortunate to be staying with the horses at Adena Springs Stables which is a beautiful farm in close proximity to the horse show. I’m thrilled with all the horses and having been here several times now I’ve learned to pick and choose my classes and not to get too excited too soon by over jumping. The Nation's Cup is next Friday and I hope to be jumping Quidam's Cherie which I have set as a target of mine since December. I was double clear in this Nation's Cup with Blue Loyd in 2012 and again in 2013 with Splendor - so I’m going for my third double clear on the trot - fingers crossed! 

Nikki Walker, whom I’m coaching full time, is doing really well with all her horses, especially Saphir, whom I won the Cavan Classic with last September, and Blue Loyd. She rides them both so well and with great confidence and they just love her, which makes the perfect partnership. As Nikki has developed in her own riding skills, the improvement is evident in her results with consistent clear rounds and placings, which makes my job very rewarding. Next Saturday Nikki will jump Blue Loyd as part of Team Canada in the Young Rider Nation's Cup, so we'll be all dressed in red and white and donning the maple leaf.

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