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Friday 24 February 2017

A class apart for three decades

A Limerick family has made a global impact in eventing

Siobhan English

Siobhan English

Ridden for New Zealand by Tim Price, Ringwood Sky Boy is just one of many top event horses to have been produced by the Leonards over the years. Photo: Peter Nixon
Ridden for New Zealand by Tim Price, Ringwood Sky Boy is just one of many top event horses to have been produced by the Leonards over the years. Photo: Peter Nixon
Peter Leonard. Photo: Tadhg Ryan

The Leonard family name has been synonymous with top event horses for years, with the likes of Ringwood Cockatoo, Ballingowan Pizazz and Ballynoe Castle RM all gaining worldwide acclaim in the sport over the past decade.

Though all boasting separate prefixes, there is very much a strong connection between them, having all been sourced and produced by Peter, Ann (O'Grady) and Terence Leonard.

For over 30 years now, the siblings have been consistently turning out top sport horses from their three separate bases in Co Limerick, although the home farm of Ringwood Stud continues to be the core of the operation to this day.

On returning from Switzerland in the mid-1980s, Peter began working closely with his father, the late Michael, and soon built up a reputation as the first point of call for a young event horse. He now runs the business with his wife Erika.

"Dad bought them in as foals or three-year-olds, and we always had something nice for eventing or the show ring. Over the years we won almost every ridden hunter and side-saddle championship at Dublin," Peter commented.

Among the first young event horses to have left Ringwood Stud was On A Mission, the mount of American rider David O'Connor in the 1994 World Equestrian Games. Another was the Red Baron, a member of the Swiss eventing team with the late Max Hauri.

A lot of horses had left Ringwood before it was decided to register the prefix, after which graduates would be easily recognisable.

"We eventually registered the prefix in 1990 and one of the first to bear the name was Ringwood Cockatoo," Peter commented. "He was bought in Cavan as a three-year-old and won the young event horse class as a four-year-old under Ann. He was later sold to Max Hauri and from there to Germany, where he was ridden by Bettina Hoy."

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By the thoroughbred Peacock, during his illustrious career the stunning grey amassed 10 wins at three-star level. He also triumphed in two four-stars - Luhmühlen in 2005 and at Pau in 2008 - as well as individual bronze medal at the 2007 European Championships in Pratoni, the team bronze at the 2005 Europeans at Blenheim and team gold at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen.

Before his retirement at Boekelo in 2009, Ringwood Cockatoo had amassed 2,087 British Eventing points and was the most successful German event horse of his time, reaching No 3 in the world.

In the years that followed, other horses to have gone on to compete at the highest level in eventing include Ringwood Magister, Ringwood Mississippi and Ringwood Sky Boy, who only recently placed fourth in Burghley with New Zealand rider Tim Price.

Much has changed since the days of Ringwood Cockatoo and while there is always a demand for a good event horse, Peter says it has become more and more difficult to find the right article for clients.

"There is a big difference in trade these days," he said. "People have become much more selective and the veterinary exams play a major part in the business now. A good horse is worth anything but it doesn't pay to produce an average one."

While Peter believes that young horses need to show talent, with rideability being a big factor, he believes a lot is asked of some event horses in competitions. "Personally I prefer to showjump some of them first as four and five-year-olds," he said. "By the time they are six, they are expected to have done a one-star which is a lot to ask."

While Peter did not have anything competing at last weekend's ISH Studbook Young Horse Eventing Championships in Ballindenisk, he does have plenty of youngsters in the pipeline, including Ringwood Dalto who was placed at the recent National Eventing Discovery Final in Millstreet.

Over the years Ringwood has also produced many good show jumpers, including the Army's Ringwood Glen and Francis Connors' Grand Prix mount Capitol Cruise. In recent weeks, the home-bred Ringwood Zebo (by Future Trend) was placed runner-up in the ISH Studbook seven-year-old final under Declan Egan.

Previously ridden by Peter and his daughter Aoife, the son of Califax was purchased by Richard Bourns earlier this year.

With the sourcing of horses in Ireland becoming increasingly difficult, and costly at the top end, Peter has recently turned to the continent to purchase foals for their market.

"We've just recently bought seven in Holland. They are better bred than what you'd find here and cheaper also."

It is clear that Peter has had to move with the times and together with Erika they have built up a successful breeding programme. They currently have a band of some 25 broodmares. In addition they are also standing several stallions of their own, including Sibon W, by Heartbreaker.

"We've always loved the traditionally-bred horse," he concluded," but the reality is that it's hard to get the same performance, and prices, as those with continental bloodlines.

"And the likes of Germany are now hot on our heels when it comes to producing event horses. Just look at the Burghley winner Nobilis, by the Hanoverian thoroughbred Nobre."

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