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Beloved Irish Sport Horses for British eventer Oliver Townend

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Oliver Townend riding Irish Sport Horse Ballaghmor Class (Courage II – Kilderry Place), bred by Noel Hickey

By Nadia Rea / HSI
Photography: Trevor Holt/Kingfisher Media

Over many years of recording world-class results and winning coveted titles in some of the most upscale eventing arenas, Oliver Townend’s legacy is admittedly based on hard graft and a love for the horses he works with – a love that he inherited from his dad, Alan, himself an eventing rider, and mum Eve, who showed in side-saddle classes at county level.

Horse Sport Ireland’s Nadia Rea recently caught up with Oliver Townend to discuss his recent successes on board his beloved Irish Sport Horses and his winning work ethic.

Q Can you tell me about the history of Ballaghmor Class, how long you’ve had him, and how he was produced?
We found Ballaghmor Class as a four-year-old. He was very sharp but right away I thought he was special. We produced him quietly to give him time to mature and he kept moving up the levels. The year he turned nine he also turned a page and started feeling very grown up. When we entered Burghley the year after, I went there knowing he was ready. I think the rest is history; he’s on track to become one of the best five-star horses ever, and it’s an incredible privilege to have a horse of that calibre in my stables – even if he’s still sharp to get in from the winter holidays.

Q How many Irish Sport Horses do you currently have in your stables?
The majority of our horses are Irish Sport Horses. We probably have at least 30 at home, and they’re everything from green youngsters to five-star winners.

Q Do you have a favourite and why?
I really try not to have favourites, but of course some horses that have been here for longer and that have done a lot for me get very close to my heart. Cooley Master Class and Ballaghmor Class are obviously two horses that mean a huge amount to me. They both came to me very young and green and they’ve both grown up to become very special horses to our whole team.

Q Do you have a favourite pedigree for eventing and why?
I have a few horses sired by Ramiro B and they are all very good. His offspring tend to be intelligent, good jumpers, and with good movement. If the dam has some Thoroughbred in the pedigree, the offspring has all the qualities of making a very good eventing horse.

Q What traits and qualities make the Irish Sport Horse so special in the eventing discipline?
I like the Irish Sport Horse because they tend to have a decent amount of Thoroughbred and are good jumpers. Eventing is changing rather quickly and we’re seeing less and less blood in event horses, but when you look at the five-star winners, they are often still 50% Thoroughbred. I also like that they tend to be intelligent and quick-thinking – you need that.

Q Do you come to Ireland frequently to buy Irish Horses, and what do you look for?
Yes, I try to make the trip over a few times every year. Good jumpers are important, but I also always take into account the brain and the pedigree. Sometimes it’s also a gut feeling; trust that you know a good horse when you see it, even if it’s only young and green.

Q You have had so many great achievements – what is the best memory you have with one of your Irish Sport Horses?
It’s difficult to pick just one. Obviously the big ones: Ballaghmor Class’s wins at Burghley and Kentucky, plus four more consecutive five-star top-five finishes – which is just incredible – as well as Cooley Master Class’s back-to-back Kentucky wins are all fantastic memories. Equally it’s such a thrill to produce the young ones and take them up the levels. When you get a feeling that ‘this one will make it all the way,’ that’s truly special as well.

Q Can you please tell us about the Maryland course and how Coolio found the entire event at the age of 16?
The Maryland course built by Ian Stark was a proper five-star track with a mix of technical as well as huge and frightening alongside difficult and tough terrain. We were all relieved the rain came just as the class was finishing, otherwise it would have been a very different day. All the Maryland team deserve a huge ‘thank you’ and congratulations from everyone involved in the sport of eventing for putting on such a great event and providing us with another top-class venue and competition to aim for. And the American hospitality at these events is always second to none.
Cooley was brilliant all week, feeling and performing very well in all three phases, and it just wasn’t quite meant to be for his third five-star win, but the whole team are absolutely delighted with him and pleased to have him home safe and sound.

Q Finally, what do you think is the main factor that has aided your success over the years?
Personally, I’m very driven and determined. I get up at 4:00 a.m. in the morning to ride, and my whole life revolves around horses and eventing. I have been very lucky to have been backed by fantastic people over the years and without them none of it would have been possible. n

Oliver Townend’s Irish Sport Horses:
Cooley Master Class (ISH), 2005 bay gelding by Ramiro B (BWP) out of The Swallow (ISH) by Master Imp (TB). Bred by John Hagan
Ballaghmor Class (ISH), 2007 grey stallion by Courage II (Holst) out of Kilderry Place (ISH). Bred by Noel Hickey†
MHS King Joules (ISH) 2005 black gelding by Ghareeb (TB) out of Gowran Lady (ISH) by Cavalier Royale (Holst). Bred by Ita Brennan†
Newmarket Caro (ISH) 2011 bay mare by Newmarkey Venture (Hann) out of Glenamuckla Alana (ISH) by Cavalier Royale (Holst). Bred by Brian Daly
Arklow Puissance (ISH) 2011 bay gelding by Puissance ( ISH) out of Cruising Jewel (ISH) by Cruising (ISH)(TIH). Bred by Michael Byrne
Miss Cooley (ISH) 2012 bay mare by Ramiro B (BWP) out of Hillside Adella (ISH) by Albinor (IRE). Bred by Patsy Toner
Cooley Rosalent (ISH) 2014 grey mare by Valent (KWPN) out of Bellaney Jewel xx (IRE) by Roselier xx (FRA). Bred by J.W. Rosbotham

The Irish Sport Horse Studbook would like to thank Olly and his team for taking the time to talk with us, and for their continued support. We wish Olly and his team of Irish Sport Horses every success in the future.