Winning the Nations’ Cup Aga Khan Trophy in Dublin (l-r) Marion Hughes/Heritage Fortunus; Billy Twomey/Luidam; Irish Chef d’Equipe, Col. Ned Campion; Cian O’Connor/Annabella; Jessica Kürten/Quibell

By Dr. Helen Sharp PhD
Photography: Courtesy Hughes Horse Stud

In last month’s World Breeding News, our correspondent, Helen Sharp, joined Marion Hughes at her stud farm in Kilkenny and talked about breeding, competition, and family – the latter encompassing generations of knowledge and experience. In Part 2 Marion recalls the highs and lows of life on the competition circuit, and what she might breed that will have the star quality to carry her and husband Miguel Bravo’s daughters to a future Olympic Games!

Q You had earned your stripes on the international circuit, and the 2004 Olympics were on the horizon, can you talk us through your Olympic journey?
At the start of that year, nobody else was thinking we were going to the Olympics, but we had it in our heads. I had a brilliant horse called Transmission by Cavalier Royale but he wasn't ready for the Olympics. No one really took much notice of [Heritage] Fortunus, but I was the fifth Irish team member in Rome, so Fortunus and I jumped: I ended up going double clear in the Grand Prix, as did Kevin Babington and Cian O'Connor. After that good result, the chef d'equipe had no choice but to put me on the team for Lucerne the following week. That was the first time I had been back to Lucerne since my Dad died there. I went back anyway, and I was clear, which was an excellent result for Fortunus and my first Nations’ Cup! I'm sure my Dad must have been with me all the way because I ended up being on the next team in Rotterdam, I had clear and four there. Next, I jumped in Aachen, and I had a clear there too. The first round I had two down and just a bare toe in the water, and then the second round, I came out and jumped clear. After Rotterdam, I competed at Hickstead on Transmission, and he had gone well. Then I got on the Aga Khan team with Fortunus, and we won the Aga Khan! [The Nations’ Cup Trophy presented at Royal Dublin Horse Show.] I jumped, got on the team, and ended up going to the Olympics.

Q Both you and Heritage Fortunus (Foxhunter x Metellus) had such an impressive run to get to the Olympics. Still, it didn't quite go to plan on the day of the Nations’ Cup part of the Olympic performance, did it?
It was a fantastic year, the whole run-up to the Olympics was great, but the horse wasn't fortunate there. I had done two rounds, and everything was going well, the plan was good. I jumped the fourth fence, and I jumped the fifth fence, it felt just like when a horse has bandages, and he stands on the bandage! He had stood on his shoe, he had side clips and the shoe twisted, and he stood on the clip. Every time he stood on the shoe, he was hobbling lame. When it came to the water fence, the minute I jumped it, he just crumbled, because he had to stretch and he just crumbled on landing. We kept going towards the corner, then straight away, oxer, oxer with five strides. The longest five strides! He jumped the first oxer, and then I tried to go up on the five strides, but he couldn't canter, he was getting worse and worse. Eventually, I had to get off him and walk him out of the ring. We took him out, and they pulled the shoe off him, and I presumed we weren't going to do anymore – he was completely lame. That was in the morning, but the second round was at eight o'clock in the evening. So, the vet and team iced him, and then they cut out where the foot was bruised. And all the icing, icing, icing, icing! He was 50% better, but I still thought I wasn't going to jump. It was so traumatic the whole thing; I was thinking, 'Oh! my God, do I even want to jump again?' It was a hard thing to get through, must have been one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. Eventually, in the last hour, we had him sort of sound. So, the shoe went back on him, and then I had to go and jump again…

Q What did you think as you went back into the ring?
It was like a nightmare! How the hell could that happen? However, off we went, he jumped around the course, and I think I had two down. Still, it was a massive track, so to have two down was good, even for him to have the motivation. He must have been worried in his head, and he was a careful horse, he was a super careful horse, but he needed that belief in himself. He jumped really well, and we got through it. But it's funny how things work out – the team as a whole hadn't done so well anyway, everybody had a fence or two down. Cian O'Connor got into the final, and he won, and then he lost – it was such highs and lows those Olympics! Having said all that, it was really good to be there. It was hard work to get through it. But whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Fortunus was sold straight after the Olympics because that was the deal, we'd produce him to sell him... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber

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