Behind the scenes at Coolballyshan Stud *H&H Plus*

  • The Kennedy family stand seven stallions including OBOS Quality 004, sire of Burghley winner MGH Grafton Street, and breed 60 foals a year. Pippa Roome visits them at home in Ireland

    Kieran Kennedy’s interest and pride in his stallions is obvious on arrival at Coolballyshan Stud. His wife, Natalie, sweeps me into the long, covered yard and Kieran opens a stable door to show me the hugely popular and successful stallion OBOS Quality 004.

    “OBS”, as the family call him — and this is very much a family affair — is 28 now and his record speaks for itself: he was a Nations Cup showjumper under Denis Coakley and Dermott Lennon and his progeny include last year’s Burghley winner MGH Grafton Street, ridden by Pippa Funnell, and the 2015 European showjumping team bronze medallist Castlefield Eclipse, piloted by Paul Estermann for Switzerland.


    Kieran is bubbling with enthusiasm as his brother Liam brings out the stud’s other six stallions, including the Olympic showjumper Vivant, a neat, powerful-looking horse even at 22 and now the stud’s flagship stallion.

    In an open-fronted barn, yearlings poke their heads through the bars to eat their fill of haylage. Nearly all by Vivant, they appear virtually identical, but Kieran and Liam know the personalities and pedigrees of every one, even though they breed some 60 foals a year.

    German powerhouse breeder Paul Schockemöhle bred OBOS Quality 004, selling him to Ireland’s Marie O’Brien as a four-year-old. He is by the multiple grand prix winner Quick Star — whose other stallion sons include Rio 2016 Olympic champion Big Star — with jumping lines also through his dam Reichsdame, by Domino.

    “We saw a lot of his young horses jumping in the five- and six-year-old classes, so we approached Marie,” says Kieran.

    An injury in the stable ended OBOS Quality’s jumping career when he was 13; the Kennedys bought him two years later, in 2007.

    “He was busy the first year — he had 80 mares, then 120 the next year. Then he had three Nations Cup showjumpers in Lisona, Castlefield Eclipse and Mark Q, who put  him on the map,” says Kieran. “He was always very fertile, loved his job, was sound and easy to handle.

    “A lot of the mares were 1.10m mares — careful and cute — and he put bravery on them to jump bigger fences, more scope, more canter. He gives rideability too; they come down to the fence and don’t go left or right. If they crash and burn, the next time they come down and jump it, they won’t nap or get too careful.”

    Liam adds: “He stamps his stock. We’ve had stallions who could throw 10 different types, but you could look at an OBS foal in the field and know them.” Kieran agrees: “Their movement is obvious and they are muscly, strong horses.”

    OBOS Quality’s stud fee is £1,000 via frozen semen from Stallion AI Services. There are around 5,000 straws of his semen, with an unlimited life expectancy.

    “It costs a lot of money to get frozen semen, but Tullis Matson has the best process for freezing in the world,” says Kieran. “I haven’t been really pushing it because I don’t want it all gone in one year; it could bring in £30,000 or £40,000 a year.”

    A multi-generational operation

    The Kennedys’ business is a multi-yard, multi-generational operation.

    “My parents, Bill and Anna, started the whole thing. My dad is horse crazy: he’d go to a show and the grand prix could be on, but he’s so into young horses, he’ll sit all day and watch three- or four-year-olds,” says Liam. “He has a photographic mind for pedigrees and horses and he invested in the sport horse industry when no one else was doing so.”

    Kieran adds: “He was a dairy manager, but his pleasure was horses. He sold horses for a lot of money, but because he had an income, he didn’t need to sell.

    “For example, he had KEC Maximum Joe [who jumped for the Netherlands and Ireland in Nations Cups] and he wouldn’t sell him, he wanted to stand him at stud.”

    The stallions at Coolballyshan Stud are primarily Kieran’s responsibility, while Liam leads on producing the young horses. The pair run two yards 5km apart in Adare, Co. Limerick, while their younger sister Sinead manages the original Kennedy Equine Centre in Tralee, Co. Kerry, alongside their parents.

    Their oldest sibling, Oonagh, teaches at a university and also has a tack business, while their older brother, Cormac, runs his own teaching and importing yard in the USA.

    This is a hard-grafting family and they believe in investing back into their business.

    “A lot of stud businesses have opened in Ireland in the past 15 years,” says Liam. “The first year they buy new stallions, the second they’re going to change the whole breeding industry; by year four they’ve gone out of it.

    “They don’t realise the amount of man hours and headaches and work — and work and work, and then more work. In the stud season, Kieran is at the yard at 7am and he doesn’t leave until 10pm every night, seven days a week for five months.”

    Kieran believes in owning all his stallions outright. He says: “We get fellows approaching us from the Continent asking us to take a horse for two years, but it’s a waste of time. If I earn a thousand quid, I can put that into my pocket, but if I do your horse, I’ll have to give you half of it and you’re over there doing nothing at all.”

    Aside from stud fees, the brothers’ income comes from selling horses. The sale of a six-year-old by OBOS Quality to European champion showjumper Martin Fuchs enabled the purchase of Vivant, who competed at the 2010 and 2014 World Equestrian Games, finishing eighth at the latter with Cassio Rivetti.

    The pair are also excited about six-year-old Lagans OBOS Quality, who has already served decent books of mares via artificial insemination. The son of OBOS Quality was bought when he was six days old from breeder Peter Rice, who had sent his dam, a Cavalier Royale mare, to be covered again.

    “She’s the best-looking mare who comes into the barn every year,” says Liam.

    “He was just a cracking foal,” adds Kieran. “He had swagger and exceptional movement and a real attitude. My sister Sinead will showjump him in Ireland this year and in September he’ll probably go to Shane Breen. He’s neat, he’s careful, he has a lot of scope and he’s very willing.”

    Raising young horses simply

    Apart from the odd special one and the fillies who are kept to refresh their mare band, the Kennedys sell the youngsters as four-year-olds. They believe in raising the young horses simply, and that keeping them in groups encourages good temperaments.

    “The weaned foals are fed on oats and haylage and then they get as much haylage as they can eat and mineral blocks,” says Kieran. “If they get too heavy, they have wind and heart problems, and it leads to bone problems which show up on X-rays.

    “All our farms are on limestone so they grow great bone density — you very rarely get little hairline fractures or compound fractures.”

    The Kennedys sell 80% of their young horses to Britain, Ireland and the USA, with Chris Hunt at Global Event Horses and Richard Sheane of Cooley Farm among their clients. They are realistic that not every one will be a superstar and some will be “middle of the road four or five grand horses”, but they hope to achieve €20,000-30,000 (£16,730-25,100) for most four-year-olds.

    “That way, we’re making a living and paying the bills, whereas if you keep them until they’re five, you have to go on tour to Spain and you can be spending €5,000 to €10,000 a week to keep going, rather than €1,500,” says Kieran.

    “It isn’t our scene to be among the fancy boys that go to all the shows. We’d rather jump a four-year-old and get it sold to keep the business going. We’ve seen so many businesses close down because they had massive ideas and they had money today and nothing tomorrow.”

    With a long history in breeding, a selection of exciting stallions and a philosophy of reinvestment, the Kennedy family will be in business for many years to come.

    Coolballyshan Stud’s stallions

    OBOS Quality 004
    Breeding: Quick Star x Domino
    In a nutshell: 28 this year and available via frozen semen, OBOS Quality 004 is the grand old man of Coolballyshan. Sire of a raft of top-level eventers and showjumpers, including Burghley winner MGH Grafton Street, the smart five-star horse Class Affair (ridden by Zara Tindall) and Nations Cup showjumpers Lisona, Castlefield Eclipse and Mark Q.

    Lagans OBOS Quality
    Breeding: OBOS Quality 004 x Cavalier Royale
    In a nutshell: son of the stud’s grandee stallion, a beautiful six-year-old who won the three-year-old potential event horse at the Dublin Horse Show in 2017.

    Breeding: Fuego Du Prelet x Landino
    In a nutshell: a compact 22-year-old former showjumper who contested two World Equestrian Games and the London 2012 Olympics; progeny include 1.60m showjumper CP Argento and five-star event horse Virgil.

    Breeding: Contender x Landgraf I
    In a nutshell: a 24-year-old Holstein stallion with a good record for throwing event horses — “they’re tall, elegant horses, good types,” says Kieran; progeny include One Two Many, a European eventing team silver medallist with Nicola Wilson.

    Barely A Moment
    Breeding: Gilded Time x Danehill
    In a nutshell: a 19-year-old thoroughbred who was a three-time Group One winner in Australia, he covers both National Hunt and eventing mares by natural covering only.

    Future Trend
    Breeding: I Need You x Grannus
    In a nutshell: another veteran at 20, the Oldenburg jumped at 1.50m himself. “He breeds good-looking horses who are easy to ride — showjumpers, lots of eventers, show horses and all rounders, and hunter jumpers for the American market,” says Kieran.

    Breeding: Chacco-Blue x Continue
    In a nutshell: new to Coolballyshan Stud this year, the 10-year-old jumped at 1.40m level before suffering a career-ending pelvis injury. The Kennedys believe he’ll be ideal for adding power and size to “little blood mares who are short of scope and size”.

    Frozen semen is also available from the family’s now deceased stallions Lancelot (Voltaire x Nimmerdor), KEC Maximum Joe (Lasangos x Pilot) and Aldatus Z (Aldato x Caletto I).

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 March 2020

    Stallions at Stud