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Friday 22 September 2017

Pioneers break the mould at RDS

Horse Show highlights include a mock rider and training DVD

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Browsing the stands at the RDS Dublin Horse Show, two stands in particular caught my attention. Both were related to breaking horses and both were attracting large crowds of people with plenty of questions.

The first stand was that of 25-year-old Kerry entrepreneur and horse breaker Paul Murphy, who used the show to launch his new product, the Ardall. Designed to mimic a rider on a horse's back, the Ardall was first designed five years ago and has been refined numerous times as the inventor found ways to improve the prototype. Born into a family of horse dealers, trainers and riders based near the town of Castlemaine in Co Kerry, Paul experienced from an early age the difficulties and dangers involved in backing untrained horses for the first time.

Spurred on by the growing general awareness of safety and by a personal interest in making his own life easier, Paul set about inventing the Ardall.

Derived from the Irish word 'ardal', meaning high valour, the Ardall was designed to conquer the often unpredictable and unsafe behaviour of bucking young horses without any stress, rendering the horse calm and safe to ride.

"I know what it's like to be the crash test dummy, as does my father," says Paul. "There is just no predicting what a young horse will do when he is backed for the first time."

As Paul explains, horse breaking all too often involves talk about "real" men, who would take on any kind of risk to their health to avoid the humiliation of being labelled a "sissy".

Statistics from the emergency department of the UK's Chandler Hospital show that almost 60pc of patients with horse-related injuries admitted between 2005 and 2009 were there as a result of falling from or being thrown off a bucking horse.

"You very rarely see a trained older horse bucking and plunging so it's a safe bet that the majority of those injuries were caused by riding a young horse," points out Paul.

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However, after countless injuries, immense pain and even the unnecessary loss of life, the penny has finally dropped and there is now an increasing awareness that safety is important.

The Ardall consists of four main parts -- a torso, base, harness and weighted legs.

The torso resembles a legless, human torso with short arms. At its core is a coiled spring, to facilitate movement when mounted on a horse. The spring is wrapped in foam and encased in a leatherette skin.

The torso is attached to a flat, solid base that has been specially moulded to fit any standard saddle. There are two straps on either side that are used for securing the Ardall onto the horse, as well as a ring, through which the reins are threaded for lunging and long reining.

Sand

The weight of the Ardall is contained in the boot-shaped canvas bags, which are filled with sand and clipped to either side of the base and secured with straps. The weight can be varied according to the user's preference by adding or removing sand, up to two stone (or 12.7kg) in each boot.

Finally, the harness, which is fitted on to the torso, regulates how much the Ardall can move when mounted on a horse.

The Ardall is 100pc Irish, with every single material used in its manufacture made in Ireland, down to the stainless steel rings sourced in Dingle.

While the use of a mock rider has been explored before, Paul believes the Ardall is a step ahead of the rest because it can be used for schooling horses long after the breaking process is complete.

"The first and main use is to make sure a horse is safe to ride. Whether it is an untrained, unused or unfamiliar horse, a test run with the Ardall on its back will soon determine whether or not the horse is safe to ride," he says.

"Secondly, it can be used to train performance horses in lunging and long-reining by giving the horse the sensation of being ridden. It also makes it possible to position the reins as they would be held by a real rider, which perfects the preparation," he says.

The third use is to substitute it for a real rider in flat work, jumping and training over cross-country fences.

Aside from the backing process, this substitute rider use appears to be a big draw for customers, with numerous parents of pony riders among the buyers of the Ardall during show week.

"They see it as a way of working the pony while the rider is at school," explains Paul.

Retailing at €669 including VAT, the Ardall is not going to be an impulse buy but with 35 units sold at the show and many more enquiries, Paul and his parents, Paddy and Helena, are thrilled with the official launch.

Given his entrepreneurial qualities, I asked Paul if he had ever considered using the Dragon's Den TV show as a launch pad for his design.

"Loads of people have asked me that," he laughs. "I did consider it but I felt that I had enough contacts and market knowledge to go it alone. Thanks be to God, it seems to be working out."

The second stand that caught my eye at the RDS was that of Offaly horse trainer George Webb.

Going under the banner of An Irish Horseman, George has produced a DVD outlining the process of breaking horses from first putting a headcollar on, right through to backing them for the first time. Based at his home, Corolanty Stables, close to Shinrone in Co Offaly, George is an unassuming horseman who breaks up dozens of horses every year for all equestrian spheres.

Stables

In Ireland, he has worked on the Curragh for Arthur Moore, as well as Tipperary trainers Michael Carroll and Pat Hogan. He also worked abroad, in the stables of Gordon Richard in Cumbria, David Nicholson in Gloucestershire and leading Australian trainer Eric Musgrove.

George's methods promote a nurturing and horse-friendly approach to the art of starting and breaking horses. Over the years he has learnt to read and interpret the horse's messages, as well as how to respond to them in an accurate way.

"Every horse is different. Some of them are quite keen to accept the breaking process, while others need a while to adjust," he says, explaining that his approach is one of encouragement and positive reinforcement. He does not move a horse into a further breaking stage until he can see that the horse is ready.

As a result of interest in his DVD, George is now setting up two-day training courses for anyone interested in learning more about how to start and break horses.

The course will teach participants how to use join-up techniques and desensitise horses to frightening objects or situations, including breaking tack.

He will teach students about what breaking tack to use, how to long rein, saddling and mounting, as well as how to school a young horse for jumping. All the horses used for the course will be genuine breakers, in for George to work on.

Costing €295 per person, each two-day intensive workshop will cater for only three students at a time and will include bed and breakfast, lunch, dinner and all educational material.

Given the massive interest generated by both businesses at the RDS, George and Paul look set to be busy in the next few months.

Good luck to them.

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