Horse hero: Young Irish star Cathal Daniels’ ride Rioghan Rua *H&H Plus*

  • H&H finds out about the fast and feisty 15.2hh chestnut mare, known as Red at home, from her rider Cathal Daniels, while CCI5* ground jury member, popular Scottish-based coach and former top-level rider Les Smith looks at how the mare’s conformation has contributed to her success...

    Rioghan Rua – 13yo, 15.2hh, chestnut Irish Sport Horse mare

    Stable name: Red
    Owners: Frank and Margaret Kinsella
    Breeder: Margaret Kinsella
    Rider: Cathal Daniels
    Best results: individual bronze medallist, 2019 European Championships; team silver medal, 2018 World Equestrian Games; won Bramham under-25 CCI4*-L 2019; won Chatsworth CIC3* (now CCI4*-S) 2018; seventh Luhmühlen CCI4* (now CCI5*) 2018; team bronze medal, 2015 young rider European Championships; team gold and individual silver medals, 2014 junior European Championships; team gold, 2013 junior European Championships

    A hot little chestnut mare may not be the most obvious candidate to be a top event horse, but Rioghan Rua has won medals for Ireland at every championship she has been to, from junior to senior level. Her team silver at the 2018 World Equestrian Games and individual bronze at last year’s European Championships catapulted her rider Cathal Daniels into the sport’s highest ranks. Still at her competitive peak at 13 years old, there should be more to come from this mare known at home as “Red”.

    “She’s very sound, a great traveller and deals very well with the heat – and I think she has more than proven herself at championships. I think she’d be ideal for Tokyo,” says Cathal.

    Red’s owner-breeder, Margaret Kinsella, sent her to Cathal in 2013 when he was 16 and the mare was six, to produce and sell as a junior horse. The partnership was an instant success, and they were on the gold medal-winning team at the junior European Championships that autumn.

    A year later, in 2014, they won team gold again and individual silver, moving up to young riders in 2015 and taking team bronze.

    “There were loads of people trying to buy her at those championships as a six- and seven-year-old,” says Cathal, “but I am lucky that when she started winning, her owners began really enjoying her, and wanted to go on a journey with her.”

    Remarkably, 15.2hh Red’s half-sister Sassy Cassie, who has showjumped up to 1.45m/1.50 level, is 18hh.

    “Red’s lack of size doesn’t matter,” says Cathal. “She’s hugely tough and sound – she’s never missed a run – and she’s fast. You are never under pressure or working hard on her across country.

    “She is unbelievably intelligent. Before she gets to the ‘a’ element of a cross-country combination, she’s worked out b, c, d and e.”

    The diminutive mare with the tigerish outlook may well yet be adding to her medal haul.

    Cathal Daniel’s Rioghan Rua. Credit: Tony Parkes

    Overall impression

    “Rioghan Rua is a lovely, sharp, intelligent mare who clearly has a huge heart and will to win,” says CCI5* ground jury member, popular Scottish-based coach and former top-level rider Les Smith.

    “From the front, she’s not desperately wide and doesn’t have a huge depth of girth, but although she’s quite ‘feminine’ to look at, she’s strong and well proportioned.

    “She’s an eye-catching colour – definitely a feisty redhead, and proof that great things can come in small packages.”

    Head and neck

    “I’m immediately taken by her honest-looking eye. She looks sharp and alert but genuine. Her very pretty head is fairly well set on to her neck, and she has the good length of rein that comes from a nice sloping shoulder and decent-length neck. She has fairly large ears and looks broad between the eyes, which we traditionally like as it indicates plenty of ‘brain room’.”


    “The noticeable thing about her legs is that she has a fairly sizeable splint on her right foreleg, which demonstrates that splints are a minor blemish and won’t necessarily detract from the longevity of an event horse’s career.

    “Overall she has a good set of limbs and stands four-square over them. She doesn’t have a great deal of bone but what she does have looks to be quality. For the amount of work she has done – and while she’s only 13, she has been performing at championship level since she was six – she has good joints and she’s obviously very sound.”

    Body and quarters

    “She is correctly muscled up and has particularly good, strong quarters,” says Les. “Her hindlegs look quite well positioned underneath her, which creates power. The angles of her body from the saddle backwards show where her speed comes from; she is able to power off her back legs. In this photo, she does look as though she is verging on being herring-gutted, but I gather the picture was taken just after she had done a three-day event, and she looks very lean and fit, which would exacerbate that.”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 21 May 2020