Cian O’Connor: A working (and winning) holiday *H&H VIP*

  • Wellington is a small town about 30 minutes outside West Palm Beach in Florida. It’s home to roughly 5,000 horses that move into town around December each year until April for the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). It has grown at a huge pace over the past few years, with many top riders making it their winter base.

    I combine the trip to cover all facets of my life and business. My family joins me for the three-month stint — which is great — and we get to spend a lot of time together in a lovely climate. While our two kids Ben, three, and three-month-old Cara are so young and don’t sleep very well, at least Ruth and I are here together and can share some of the duties that go with looking after two young children.

    It’s a beautiful place to be, especially when you know that the weather is bordering on Arctic back home, but it doesn’t mean we work any less intensely. It’s a lovely holiday for the kids, though, and Ben especially is getting used to being around horses, so he’s going to grow up thinking it’s normal to fly to Palm Beach every winter and wander in and out of arenas and stables talking to farriers and riders.

    This year I brought six horses with me to compete, with the aim of selling one or two to help with the large expense of being here. I also coach two North American young riders — Nikki Walker and Lillie Keenan. Together with my Karlswood team we run their barns and look after their horses and plan their campaigns.

    A plan pays off

    WEF has a 12-week circuit with big money on offer most weeks, so pacing yourself is important. The goal is not to peak too soon.

    This year I took it easy for the first few weeks and was aiming for the Nations Cup in Ocala, Florida. Ocala is around three hours north of Wellington and the FEI Nations Cup was there last weekend (16-19 February).

    As Hannibal Smith from The A-Team used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together”! Ireland not only won the Nations Cup, with my gelding Seringat going double clear for me, but then he and I also went on to claim the Ocala grand prix two days later.

    There was a great sense of team spirit and willingness to work together from all the lads, which is really encouraging and gives great hope of what’s possible for us as a team in the year ahead.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 2 March 2017