Irish showjumper Cian O'Connor reveals his secret weapon for success with his new ride Callisto

At the Spruce Meadows Masters Tournament in Canada last week (8-11 September), Irish showjumper Cian O’Connor found the winning formula with new ride Callisto, who has an unusual phobia — other horses.

After winning Saturday’s 1.50m Suncor Energy Winning Round competition, the nine-year-old Dutch warmblood gelding was ridden in to the prize-giving ceremony wearing Cian’s secret weapon, a pair of blinkers.

“The previous rider had difficulty warming him up if a horse came towards him, so I spent a lot of time working with him, and trying to get him relaxed,” said Cian.

“We started using blinkers in his training and that has really helped him a lot. He does not wear them in the competition, but just during the warm-up, so he stays relaxed and focused.”

The Quasimodo Z gelding came to Cian from Frenchman Aymeric De Ponnat at the start of this year and Cian was told that the horse had an issue with having other horses around him. They made their debut at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida and it was here that Cian spotted a New Zealand rider using blinkers on his horse and decided to try a pair with Callisto.

There were no FEI regulations at the time regarding the use of blinkers so Cian contacted the organisation and a rule was introduced stating that they may be used in training and warm-up but not in the ring.

“It’s a sensible ruling for saftey’s sake,” Cian told H&H. “And more and more riders seem to be using blinkers now — Joe Clayton saw me using them and came and asked me about them and the word seems to be spreading. Callisto wears them until we get to the in-gate, then we whip them off to go in the ring and then put them back on when he comes out.

“Horses are herd animals, so I do not know why he is like that. Maybe he just got a fright at some stage,” said the Co. Meath rider.

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“Gradually I am going to take the blinkers back and I would say eventually he will be able to go without them. He has not been as afraid, so it is interesting how they have worked. As he has started to settle, I can train him and jump him bigger, and I think he is going to be a really exciting horse for the future.”

You can read the full report from Spruce Meadows in this week’s Horse & Hound, out today (15 September)