Irish eventer Tony Kennedy will make his senior championship squad debut at this month’s Europeans on a one-eyed horse he has produced from a three-year-old.
Tony, 25, received the call-up last week with his father Con Kennedy’s Westeria Lane due to Clare Abbott’s ride Euro Prince sustaining an injury.
Westeria Lane, a 14-year-old Irish-bred gelding, was Tony’s first event horse after coming off ponies aged 15.
“I’m very excited — I wanted to get to the Euros or Burghley this year,” Tony told H&H, adding Westeria Lane is a phenomenal cross-country horse.
“I had just got back from Burgham and I had a text [from Sally Corscadden, Irish chef d’equipe] saying that was ‘good prep for Burghley’ so I thought that was the final decision. Then a few days later I was sitting at home by myself when she rang and said a few things had changed and asked if I wanted to go to the Europeans. I think my heart-rate probably trebled!
“It is brilliant, not just for me — in fact not even for me — this horse has had a lot of things thrown at him, but he just keeps coming and coming.”
Tony added the horse was “spooky and sharp” as a youngster, so they gave him plenty of time to develop, with the horse winning a few intros in the early stages of his career and was developing into what they thought was “going to be a nice horse”.
However, when the horse was rising six, an accident in the field resulted in a bramble going into his left eye.
“When I got out of school, Mam was waiting for me and as I got into the car she told me there had been a bit of an accident,” said Tony, adding they took the horse to University College Dublin for specialist treatment, but it was not possible to save the eye.
“I missed the next day of school and went up to see him. I walked up to him from his blind side and he didn’t even flinch — he’s never flinched, never jumped away.
“He has always been very talented so we decided he would be a good fun horse even if he didn’t make it to the top. He has always found jumping very easy.”
The loss of the eye has not affected the horse’s jumping and Tony decided to focus on the horse’s flatwork in the immediate years after the accident.
With help from Amanda Goldsbury and Michael McNally, the pair progressed successfully up the eventing levels and went on to represent Ireland three times at the young rider Europeans winning team bronze in 2015.
They went their first CCI4* (now CCI5*-L) at Pau in 2017, where they jumped clear across country, and so far this year finished 16th in a strong CCI4*-S section at Burnham Market before taking 13th place at Luhmühlen CCI5*-L in June.
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“I had two falls last year that kept me out for pretty much the whole year, so this year I had a few things to prove and we are in a good place,” said Tony, adding he has been really focusing on his own fitness this season and using the world-class gallops at Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott’s yard to boost that of his horse.
Tony broke his wrist just before Christmas 2017 coming off a youngster and then a fall at Chatsworth in May 2018 resulted in a badly broken collarbone, involving muscle and nerve damage, which required surgery.
“He went to Brian Morrison [while I was on the sidelines], who did a super job and won a national title with him,”said Tony.
“[Eventing] is something I couldn’t walk away from, it is born and bred into me and at the end of last year I knew I wanted him back and I had to finish the story with him. He is part of the family to me. I know him inside out.
“I went to Burnham Market in April and I actually felt more pressure there than at my first CCI5* at Pau as I had something to prove to myself. He gave me a nice way run and that set us up for this season.”
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