The showjumper-turned-eventer talks to Lucy Higginson about teamwork with his wife Lucy, and obsessive stallion researching in a quest to make a living
Padraig McCarthy’s eighth place at Badminton with Mr Chunky in May and double silver medals at September’s World Equestrian Games (WEG) were not accolades that many would have predicted at the start of the season.
Though the pair were seventh at Blenheim last year, it was the first Badminton for both and the horse’s first four-star since 2015. True, Padraig was on the Irish teams for the Rio Olympics and Blair Castle Europeans riding Simon Porloe — both testing tracks — but he didn’t make the finish line at either.
But Padraig and his wife Lucy (née Wiegersma), who produced this horse, have always had boundless belief in him.
“I bought him as a four-year-old and always thought he was one of the best horses I’d ever had because he had so much quality. For a big horse he’s so light in his movement,” explains Lucy at her family’s Devon farm, from which the couple run their business.
“But he’s big and strong — I could see myself at a four-star in the last two minutes and not having quite the strength to get the best out of him.”
Lucy was keen for Padraig to take on the ride and his owners, Huw Lloyd, Christopher and Sarita Perkins, gamely agreed, despite his lack of four-star experience — a leap of faith that’s been richly rewarded.
If Mr Chunky’s name does not suggest speed, don’t be fooled, says Padraig (pronounced “Porig”).
“It was an unfortunate joke because he was hairy and big-boned as a youngster — but he’s a proper galloping machine, and I don’t think a fence has been built that he can’t jump.”
Few places were as cold and wet as the edge of Dartmoor last, long winter, but Lucy still made full use of it to get the horse fit.
“We’ve five or six places we go to on the moors with various gradients and types of going for canter work,” Lucy says. “I’m a great believer in a bit of variety. Though at one point it got so wet we had to give up and go to the gallops.”
Much has been made of Padraig’s 10 years or so in showjumping, which helped him turn a fast cross-country clear into a rare double clear at Badminton, albeit with three time-faults, which cost him fifth place. At WEG, his showjumping clear moved him up from seventh after cross-country to individual second. He has worked for various jumping dealers and has tackled even 1.60m tracks.
“If you’re not used to jumping at the bigger level, the last day at Badminton looks big — pile on the pressure and it looks bigger again,” agrees Padraig. “But you’re well within your comfort zone if you’ve jumped higher.”
Eventing is a sport that boasts many really bright competitors, but few can match Padraig’s first-class degree (in economics and finance with German) and PhD.
“If we were focused on making money, we’d get a proper job,” he smiles, reading my thoughts. “But we both love the horses.”
His appetite for learning endures, however, and he sought all the advice he could at his first Badminton.
“I’m a terrible one for asking questions of anyone I see,” he says.
Besides walking the Badminton course with Lucy and with Yogi Breisner, he picked the brains of Christopher Bartle and Dirk Schrade, among others.
“You can’t beat experience — in showjumping all we do is walk a distance on a flat surface,” Padraig says. “I don’t have that experience yet about what effect the terrain has.”
Padraig may have kicked himself for “all the money those three showjumping time-penalties cost me”, but they cracked open the champagne when they got back to south Devon. Eighth place is worth £13,000.
“It’s great to win a good chunk of money like that,” he grins. “We have over 60 horses here so there’s always somewhere it’s needed.”
In four years since they founded dealing and breeding business MGH Sport Horses at Warren Farm, Lucy and Padraig have sold some very talented eventers, including Kitty King’s Vendredi Biats and Cillnabradden Evo, who was instrumental in helping Oliver Townend become Event Rider Masters (ERM) champion in 2016.
“But nobody associates them with us,” laments Lucy.
Their MGH prefix — a nod to Padraig’s home village of Mullenaglogh in Ireland — is reserved mainly for the home-breds, the oldest of which are about five now, with another 10 foals due this year.
“It’s quite a long-term project,” says Lucy, “but we can add value to them at four and five where a purely breeding stud can’t.”
That “adding value” is what Padraig spends much of his time doing, competing intensively at the lower levels. Chunky is his only ride at advanced level, though he says: “I’d love to have a couple more at his level so I could do more ERMs and so on.”
“Padraig’s very talented at producing young horses for other talented young riders to bring to fruition, but equally it would be great to keep a few for ourselves,” adds Lucy, herself a former British team member.
That said, she’s not sure she sees herself rejoining her husband at the top levels.
“Right now we don’t have enough high-level horses to support both,” she says. “But I don’t want to go back to rushing round the countryside every weekend with two children — I want to be a mum as well.”
Mindful of where the big money lies, Lucy and Padraig are breeding potential jumpers as well as eventers and are taking embryos from a couple of their best mares.
“I’m a long-term thinker,” says Lucy, “I like to plan how we are going to make a living out of this in our 50s and 60s.”
If you want to keep up with the latest from the equestrian world without leaving home, grab a H&H subscription
August to October finds Padraig “obsessively” researching stallions on YouTube each evening in bed, Lucy reveals with an eye roll.
“It’s amazing that we’ve managed to produce any children at all!” she laughs.
This article first appeared in Horse & Hound magazine 17 May 2018
For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday