‘I hoped James wasn’t following me — but he was already mid-air!’

  • Despite a perilously large hedge with a drop that would give most riders a severe case of vertigo, tiny James Cleary and his pony Little Paddy Brown — who have a combined age of just 11 — are pictured soaring over in tremendous style.

    The eight-year-old Irish rider’s antics on the hunting field with the South Westmeath Hunt were spotted by leading showjumper Cian O’Connor, who posted on social media: “An incredible photo of James Cleary, showing great braveness, position and balance over a massive hedge. This kind of horsemanship is perhaps one of the key factors why Ireland consistently produces so many good riders. If young James would ever like a bursary to come to train at Karlswood Stables, he has one waiting.”

    James’s father Paul, himself a regular follower with the South Westmeath Hunt, was very flattered by Cian’s comments about his son.

    “It was really lovely,” Paul told Horse & Hound. “James hunts with me a lot and as a family we’re involved in racing — James’s uncle Rory rides for trainer Jim Bolger — and James loves showjumping, too. He’s mad keen and just loves it all.

    “When the picture was taken, he was following behind me and I jumped the hedge first. When I realised there was such a big drop behind it, I turned round hoping James wasn’t coming too — but it was too late, he was already in mid-air! And actually only three of us jumped that hedge that day. But that sums James up — he’s so brave. He’s a bit of a show-off shall we say!”

    James has three ponies and straight after school he heads out to look after and ride them. Little Paddy Brown was bred by his late great-uncle Paddy Dunning and is only a three-year-old.

    “James has looked after the pony from day one, since we broke him, so he’s done all the hard work himself,” said father Paul. “We’re hoping this pony will be a really good one so we took him hunting to do some groundwork — James is eight, but he’s quite small, so he’s done really well on such a novice pony.

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    “I agree with Cian’s comments about producing such good riders in Ireland. James has always had a great seat, he’s tidy and has tremendous balance in the saddle. He just loves riding, so we’re encouraging him as best we can.”

    Watch this space — eight-year-old James Cleary is clearly destined for the top, and with Cian O’Connor on his side, he’s sure to be a future star.

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