Where It All Begins
Where It All Begins
They don’t spend their days in a carefully mowed pasture, or their nights in a barn gilded with brass and polished hardwood. That those fancy trappings are so American was never more apparent as I climbed the pipe rail gate to a rolling field that lay in the hollow between two hills in Ireland.
County Kildare, Ireland
Ten pairs of heads forgot their grazing and swiveled towards our small group as we approached. Cautiously, the mares stepped towards us as their foals circled out of reach. And just like that, I was in a field in Ireland, surrounded by some of the most well-bred show jumpers in the country.
If fancy barns are so American (or maybe just so Wellington, where I live), then it’s also so American to dream about one day visiting faraway breeders on their home soil. I know I’m not alone in this. Just as “normal”, non-horse people long to visit the land of their ancestors, us riders dream of setting foot on the land where it all starts for the horses we admire. And in Ireland, clearly, those horses are the Irish Sport Horse.
For this lucky writer, the excitement of the Dublin Horse Show was just one half of an eye-opening trip to Ireland. Thanks to Horse Sport Ireland and the Irish Horse Gateway, I met Dr. Noel Cawley, whose Newpark Lodge Stud in County Kildare has produced Shane Sweetnam’s Solerina, Jessie Drea’s Touchable and Cruise on Clover, ridden by Thomas Ryan.
These are serious horses; Solerina helped Sweetnam notch his first FEI win at the Winter Equestrian Festival back in March. Solerina's dam, Diamond Ballerina, is still owned by Cawley, and was standing among the group of mares with a five month old chestnut filly by Flexible at her side.
Diamond Ballerina and her new filly.
Touchable and Cruise on Clover both jumped on Nations Cup teams this spring, Touchable for Great Britain and Cruise on Clover for Ireland. I was lucky to have Michael Doherty of HSI as my tour guide; he follows the progress and records of Irish Sport Horses with encyclopedic skill, and could rattle off details of each horse and their progeny quicker than Cawley himself.
The mares, all with stunning foals by Flexible, Cruising, Emerald and Jack of Diamonds at their sides, were far from bubble wrapped. They live out in the summers and are checked on daily, and rotated through other fields as they grow up. It's a simple process that's gone unchanged in this region for generations.
The grass soaked into my tennis shoes as I listened to a running commentary between Cawley and Doherty about this one’s dam sire and that one’s half sister’s recent results. While I was assured that not every Irish breeder has fields full of Flexible progeny, this particular pasture contained an uncanny number of foals and young horses by Flexible and his sire Cruising, stallions that Cawley has a certain interest in.
It was late in the day, and the sun was just starting to disappear behind the hills. The horses, fresh from the setting sun and our presence, galloped away and then circled back towards us again before coming to a stop in the lowest part of the field. I may not know much about breeding, but I could see Flexible clear as day in the young faces that galloped by.
Go ahead and call me a sentimental sap, but as a chilly breeze started to pick up and the sun finally set for good, it was impossible not to fall in love with that field, its horses, and really, all of Ireland that afternoon.
Many of the foals are stamped with a wide white blaze.
Nothing better than going for a run with friends.
Waiting for mom.
In another field, Irco Rain is on the left (dam of Touchable & Mullaghdrin Gold Rain) with her Flexible filly foal & Winter Cruise on the right (daughter of Irco Rain) with her Cardento colt foal.
This little guy is just a few months old.
A few of the competition horses on break from training
The two and three year olds are kept in their own field
The good life.