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Saturday 3 December 2016

Staying ahead of the field

Equestrian farmer of the year Daragh O'Neill talks horses and business

Siobhán English

Published 10/06/2015 | 02:30

Alan (left) and Daragh O'Neill at their Abbeyfield Farm in Clane, Co Kildare
Alan (left) and Daragh O'Neill at their Abbeyfield Farm in Clane, Co Kildare

Holidays are a rarity for Daragh O'Neill, so it was just as well he headed to the sun for a week with his wife Grainne and their four children before business moved up a gear at Abbeyfield Farm outside Clane, Co Kildare earlier this month.

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"We had been really busy up to then but the phone started ringing non-stop after we won the award. Everyone was delighted for us, which makes it all worthwhile." said Daragh, reflecting on a busy few weeks since he won the Equestrian Farmer of the Year at the recent Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards.

Having been pipped at the post to second place last year by Tipperary-based pinhooker Rory Maher, Daragh was thrilled to pick up the accolade second time round during the black-tie evening in the Ballsbridge Hotel.

"Several of our friends and clients nominated us for it again this year, which was very much appreciated.

"It's nice to know we can do the job, and do it well. It means a lot for us as a family to win an award like this, particularly for the publicity.

"Personally it would be great to see more awards for equestrian businesses. They are a good incentive for people to push themselves and get their name out there."

As many of their customers will testify, Daragh and his brother Alan are fortunate to have a super team behind them which makes the 240ac Abbeyfield Farm the success it is today.

Both Daragh's wife Grainne and Alan's wife Susie play active roles in the day-to-day running of the equestrian outfit, which has been in operation now for some 30 years.

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Mary O'Neill, too, makes sure to keep in the loop with the running of this busy enterprise which, for over 25 years, was overseen by her late husband, Charlie.

"Only for Dad we would not be here today," said Daragh.

Back in the 1980s the farm thrived mainly on hirelings for local hunts, but Abbeyfield has had to change its focus to ensure a constant cashflow.

"As a business we have faced many challenges and so we have become very self-sufficient with feedstuffs for the horses.

"We now make our own haylage and, together with a local farmer, produce our own oats.

"In the past few years we also found that the hireling business was not so viable any more.

"I had to pick and choose where we went to make it pay. The livery business, on the other hand, was constant, so we decided to concentrate on that.

"We have some 50 horses and ponies in livery at the moment, but if we lost a few, we would look to replace them quickly.

"These liveries are our bread and butter, so to lose a significant number at any time would be disastrous. This is a family-run business that depends on it."

Over the years Abbeyfield has built up their cross-country course and each March they host some 600 competitors during the South County Hunt Hunter Trials.

However, as it's on an all-weather surface, the course is in use 365 days of the year.

Corporate

In recent years Daragh has also tapped into the corporate world and many companies in the locality are now using Abbeyfield as part of their team-building programmes. "Some enjoy the horse riding, but, as you would expect, the men mostly enjoy the shooting."

In keeping with family tradition, Daragh has followed in his father's footsteps by overseeing the North Kildare Farmers Hunt Club throughout the winter months.

"It was Dad who originally founded the club and over the years it has raised thousands of euro for charity," he said.

He recalled his father's well-publicised motorbike ride across Alaska in 2006 to raise money for the Beaumont Hospital Foundation. Charlie's fourth anniversary falls on June 26.

"He was always looking at ways to raise money for local communities and that is why we have kept the hunt club going strong.

"On any given weekend we could have 100 riders on a cross-country ride, and that money is donated to various charities in need."

Looking ahead, Daragh is now busy preparing for their next charity event at Abbeyfield on June 19th.

"This will be a fun evening with show jumping and a barbecue and everyone can join in on the fun for just €15.

All proceeds will go to the ARK Cancer Centre Charity and all are welcome," he added.

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