Irish rider James O’Haire has started numerous four-star horses, but China Doll is extra special.

Of the many top quality horses he has started, she is the one that has remained with him and they will make their debut at the 2018 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials together.

“Her owner Patricia Heffernan bought her as a foal after the sales at Goresbridge and sent her to me as a yearling — a rather playful yearling — and I have had her ever since,” explains James.

“Nobody else has even jumped a cross-pole on her.”

The highly-strung mare has been quietly and carefully produced by James to build her confidence.

“As a four-year-old I would bring her to all the shows — I didn’t do any competing on her — but I brought her to ride about then put her back in the truck,” says James.

He adds the mare always showed a lot of ability, but had such scope that he was very cautious to ensure she didn’t overjump and scare herself as a young horse.

Patricia has never once put me under pressure, or said ‘I want her to go here or there’. She allows me to do whatever I think is best for the mare,” he adds.

“I told her when the horse was a four-year-old ‘she is going to the top, but you are going to have to be patient’.

“She has had such enjoyment from her, but I think when we went three-star she stopped watching her go cross-country — she will walk the course after we have jumped around it!”

The sensitive mare, whose stable name is Angelina — after Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie — prefers James to do everything with her, even in the stable.

A pony companion will also travel over for Badminton to keep the 12-year-old mare company on the journey — James’s team have arranged for her to stay in a nearby field during the event.

James, who runs Hawthorn Farm in Kildare with his family, specialises in starting youngsters.

“My horses do something different every day — if they do a bit of flat work one day, they might go and have a hack in the woods the next,” he says, adding Angelina is enjoying a roll and some grass in the sunshine as he speaks.

“I let young horses be young horses. I have been lucky enough to break in several that have gone on to be four-star horses.”

These include William Fox-Pitt’s four-star campaigner, Fernhill Pimms, who is currently at the top of the Badminton wait list.

“This is the first time that one has stayed with me to go up to the top,” he adds.

James and Angelina have been successful on the international circuit with numerous placings at three-star and winning Camphire CCI3* in 2016. They made their step-up to CCI4* at Pau last year.

James adds he has had a look at the course previews and has been training over some of the types of questions that will come up on Eric Winter’s course.

“She is always very brave across country,” he adds.

James also paid tribute to his inspirational late mother and thanked his family and support team, including trainers Jane and Ronan Kinsella for all their help.

His wife Ciara and three sons will be there to support him at Badminton and as a member of the Irish high performance squad, he has been receiving help from Yogi Briesner, Ian Fearon and Ian Woodhead.

“At the end of the day, I’m just the one steering the ship,” he said. “It is a real team effort”.

James and China Doll have been drawn 78th to start.

Read the full Badminton preview in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound — out Thursday 26 April 2018

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