‘I knew he was going to be a star’: Farewell to one of the most prolific Connemaras of all time

  • Legendary Connemara stallion Bunowen Castle Ri has died aged 23.

    Owned by breeder and well-known judge Jackie Webb of the Blackthorn Stud, “Ri” was known for his illustious partnership with Matthew Lawrence, who rode him to stand NPS Baileys Olympia M&M supreme champion in both 2005 and 2007.

    Ri was also champion at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in 2005 — the year he also stood reserve supreme pony of the year — and was ridden champion at Royal Windsor.

    “I went to see three colt foals that Sarah Hodgkins of the Spinway Stud had imported from Ireland,” said Jackie.

    “We had lunch and then had a look at the colts; I thought Ri looked a nice foal and picked him out of the three. Winter crept on and one day I got a call from Sarah who told me that she was considering gelding them as it was extremely muddy at her place and the boys were making a mess. I quickly jumped in the lorry and met her halfway to pick him up.”

    “He was very gangly as a youngster but I knew he was going to be a star, even if some other people didn’t know what I thought was so special!

    “We showed him as a three-year-old in hand but as he was quite immature, he didn’t start his ridden career until he was five.”

    Ri and Matthew hit the novice circuit in 2003, starting their unstoppable partnership. In his first open season (2004), Ri was third at HOYS.

    “We were very lucky that he always qualified for HOYS and Olympia first time out,” added Jackie. “One of my favourite memories was watching him stand champion at Royal Windsor under the floodlights.

    “We retired him from the show ring in 2007 after Olympia. We’d decided before the show that he would bow out. He’d been at the top for five years and he’d done everything he could do, including winning the breed show supreme both in hand and under saddle.”

    Although only lightly shown in hand, Ri was also reserve in two Cuddy qualifiers, narrowly missing out on his HOYS ticket.

    “At home he was a real Jack the Lad; he knew he was the most important person here,” said Jackie.

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    “He was so well behaved at the big indoor shows, though would sometimes be a little wicked when Matthew would try to get back on after the conformation section. He absolutely loved Polos so we could usually distract him with those.

    “At home, he ran out with an old mare — dam of his last son Blackthorn Pirate King — and he lived out his days with her. I could have sold him several times over but he did not owe me a single thing. He was happy as a sandboy right up until the end.”

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