Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 22 July 2017

Making an equestrian mark in the world of cyber space

Online TV channel is bringing Ireland's horse fans closer to the action

The brainchild of freelance television cameraman Ken O'Mahony, horsebox.tv is designed to combine the appeal of an equestrian
TV channel with the interactive nature of a YouTube-style website, allowing subscribers to watch advice videos and post their own material on the website
The brainchild of freelance television cameraman Ken O'Mahony, horsebox.tv is designed to combine the appeal of an equestrian TV channel with the interactive nature of a YouTube-style website, allowing subscribers to watch advice videos and post their own material on the website
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

There's really no middle ground when it comes to horses: you're either into them or you're not -- and the people who are into them are often fanatical about them.

At the professional end of the scale, you'll find people who cross over from one equestrian sphere for their day job to another equestrian sport as their hobby.

Take the likes of jockey Paul Carberry: it's not enough for him to spend days riding thoroughbreds at breakneck speed, so in his leisure time he hunts every day that he can.

Three-time Gold Cup-winning trainer Henrietta Knight doesn't twiddle her thumbs when she's not at the racecourse -- she breeds Connemara ponies at her Lockinge Connemara Pony Stud and judges hunters at county shows.

At the leisure end of the scale, equestrian enthusiasts are so keen on their four-legged friends that they can get engrossed in the horsey equivalent of two flies crawling up a wall.

It is this fervent passion for all things equine that has provided the foundation for dedicated TV programmes and even entire channels. Sky subscribers are familiar with the UK-based 'Horse and Country' channel that covers all aspects of horse riding and management, both on TV and via its website.

However, Irish viewers now have a homegrown option in a new online tv website, www.horsebox.tv.

The brainchild of freelance television cameraman Ken O'Mahony, horsebox.tv is designed to combine the appeal of an equestrian TV channel with the interactive nature of a YouTube-style website.


As Ken explains, the idea for the website has been around for quite a while.

"I've been thinking about developing this site for several years but it was only last year when work was quiet that I began to start," he said.

Ken has been a freelance cameraman for the past 20 years, although his connection with the equestrian world only began properly in recent years.

"I started horse riding about seven to eight years ago, having been interested in it as a child," he said. "It struck me that there were people like me who knew very little about taking care of a horse so I had the idea of making some very simple, basic videos on horse care and management."

The first series of horse care videos featured presenter Donna Coady explaining the basics of tack, rugging, travelling, grooming, boots, first aid, lunging and the points of the horse.

Ranging from 10-30 minutes in length, the videos are available to watch on the website.

However, Ken is keen to expand what he calls the "behind the scenes" documentary-style programmes.

"They will include videos such as a day with a top rider at a show, a week following a vet out on calls or at a top equine hospital," he said.

"People love to watch what happens before and after an event, not just the activity of jumping. I often get comments from people who say they love to watch a horse being warmed up for an event, jumping and being cooled down afterwards.

"People are interested in what goes on behind the scenes."

Of course, online programmes have a distinct advantage in that regard, because they are not limited to a certain time slot.

"Often only two minutes of an interview might be used for television but when it comes to online content, I can use the entire interview," he said.

Other documentary ideas in the pipeline include personality interviews with the likes of a fourth-generation farrier and a hunting stalwart, still riding to hounds at 80 years of age.

Completed documentaries are already available for download from horsebox.tv and these include an interview with legendary showjumper and course designer Tommy Brennan and a visit to the Irish Equine Centre in Co Kildare.

The annual Glenbeigh Pony Racing festival in Co Kerry was featured in the most recent video, while the AIRC National Hunter Trial Championships, Pony Premier League and Berney Bros saddlery have also been uploaded to the site.

One of Ken's ongoing projects is a feature on artist Nicola Russell, who is painting Istabraq on a 16ft x 11ft canvass. Known as the 'Big Horse Painting', the image will be Ireland's largest ever horse painting when completed and will be gifted to the Irish State. The painting, which is so far 10 months in the making, will be unveiled next month. Ken has followed the project from the beginning when artist Nicola started taking photographs of the famous racehorse to work from.

There are several future projects in the pipeline, including a possible series in conjunction with the Irish Horse Welfare Trust (IHWT), where the programme will follow the story of an abandoned horse from rescue right through to its re-homing.

However, the venture is not only about past events -- Ken plans to provide live coverage of events too.

"This year we streamed live coverage of the action from the RDS," said Ken. The live feed was also bought by Horse & Country TV for use on its own website.

"Viewers could tune in live to either ring, and next year we hope to have two camera crews with reporters talking to competitors at the show," he said.

The popularity of websites such as YouTube has prompted the entrepreneur to add video-sharing technology to horsebox.tv.

Subscribers to the website will have the option of posting their own material -- be it of equestrian success, horsey humour or four-legged failure -- on it. The videos can be shared and commented on by other users of the site.

"The idea is that horse owners and riders can share their pictures and videos with other people," said Ken. "Added to that, we plan to have a chat forum, advice column and some blog accounts."

Ken is joined in the venture by equestrian enthusiast and a former competitor on TV3's The Apprentice, Lucinda Kelly.

A fan of Ireland's native pony, Lucinda has already set up a website called connemaraponyworld.com and previously won a Connemara class at the Dublin Horse Show.

"Lucinda Kelly has a strong background in online marketing and digital strategy so the pair of us understand what Irish viewers need in the fast-moving online space," said Ken.

"The on-demand nature of online programmes is a big bonus for viewers. Television is limited by time slots and length of the slot, whereas the online content can be as long as it needs to be and is available to the viewer anytime he or she wants to watch it.

"So far, we have had positive feedback from viewers in America and Europe. We get great reaction to any footage of hunter trials in particular."

Another offshoot of the business that Ken is eager to explore is the production of made- for-web advertising.

"Studs could use it for stallion promotion or horse sale videos," he said. "Other equestrian companies might be advertising online and our service means we can record an event and either upload it live for immediate viewing or archive it for 24/7 viewing on the company's website."

The recession might have resulted in a quiet 2009 for Ken, but if the Wexford-based horse enthusiast has his way, it will be his last quiet year for some time.

Irish Independent