Taking the scenic route to a crack at Olympic glory in Rio
A deal for a sports horse introduced Padraig McCarthy to his future wife and has set him on the path to potentially representing Ireland at eventing in the 2016 Olympics
Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30
Little did Padraig McCarthy know when he sold a horse to British event rider Lucy Wiegersma that he would be not only be meeting his future wife, but also someone who would guide him in the direction of the 2016 Olympic Games.
Modest about his achievements, even Tipperary-born Padraig has to pinch himself at the reality of possibly representing his country on the Irish eventing team next summer.
Having spent most of his life involved in show jumping, and then taking a sabbatical for almost eight years to go back to college, Padraig (38), is now one of over a dozen combinations hoping to represent Ireland in eventing at the Rio Games.
"Some friends still joke about me going down the 'centre line' for the first time in dressage, and to be honest it's not a career I envisaged," he says.
"But I am really looking forward to the season ahead and obviously the goal would be to make it to Rio for the Games."
Padraig is among a growing number of riders who, in recent years, have proven their talents across the various disciplines within equestrianism.
Take the German rider Michael Jung for example.
An Olympic, World and three-time European champion in eventing, the 33-year-old has also competed in dressage and show jumping at Grand Prix level, something which has undoubtedly contributed greatly to his success in eventing.
The combination of the cross-country phase with dressage and show jumping makes it the toughest, and most dangerous of all equestrian sports.
In the early days Padraig also competed in show jumping to Grand Prix level, as did another Carrick-on-Suir local, Kevin Babington, who has since gone on to represent Ireland at Olympic Games.
With neither of them having had deep equestrian backgrounds, one wonders how both could have pursued the sport with such passion in later years.
Padraig explains his own situation: "My sister Yvonne loved ponies so we had a few while growing up in Grangemockler, but I actually learnt to ride properly at Kennedy's Riding School, along with trainer PJ Colville. Kevin was a few years ahead of me."
"For a long time we had no land at home but we eventually bought a field beside the house with the proceeds from a good 128cms jumping pony called Silver Glow."
A stint on the local jumping circuit soon led Padraig to Tim Beecher who offered him a job competing on horses.
From there he was offered a post in Sweden with international rider Rolf-Goran Bengtsson.
"I was 18 at the time and learnt a huge amount while out there, but after a year I decided to come back home to ride horses for Tom O'Shea. That is when I got to ride at my first international at Millstreet on a horse called Pairc Na Clocha."
As Padraig was still learning the ropes in buying and selling horses, the late Max Hauri was also influential in giving him a good grounding, while a few years as stable rider for the Burchers saw him compete on such horses as Belline Tynagh Gold, winner of the RDS six-year-old championship in 1998.
Despite enjoying a successful season at home, a job offer in California through Michael Quirke proved too tempting. However, a year later he returned to Switzerland and hooked up with another Irishman, Niall Talbot.
"At this stage I was in my mid-20s and thinking that there was more to life than horses so I made the decision to go back to college. It was typical though - as soon as I got the place I started winning competitions."
Padraig had already picked up the German language through his travels and so combined it with economics and finance for a four-year degree at the Waterford Institute of Technology. During that time he took an Erasmus year to study in Berne before finally completing his PhD in 2011.
"That summer Paul O'Shea had broken his neck in a fall so I rode some of his horses for a few months.
"I also had a few horses at home, including a two-year-old by Kings Master whom I had advertised for sale.
"One day Lucy called me about him. She then decided to come over to see him as he had superb breeding being out of a Cruising mare."
Lucy did indeed buy the young gelding, but also formed a friendship with Padraig that led to him moving to the UK in early 2013. The couple tied the knot in October. Their young son, Tomás, is now almost nine months old.
"And as it turns out we still have that horse," Padraig laughed. "We named him MGH Kings Street and he did a few novice events last year."
The MGH prefix is an abbreviation of Mullenaglogh, outside Grangemockler, which coincidentally is only a stone's throw from the birthplace of the great Boomerang, bred by Jimmy Murphy.
Like several of the horses now based at Padraig and Lucy's yard in picturesque Devon, MGH Kings Street also boasts traditional Irish bloodlines, but Padraig agrees that they are getting harder to find with each passing year.
"I was lucky to have found his dam Kilnamac Holly several years ago and we have some really nice stock out of her including a three-year-old by Sligo Candy Boy and a two-year-old by OBOS Quality. She is now in foal to Future Trend."
Padraig had originally spotted the mare with owner Jimmy Ryan in Clonmel but he was reluctant to sell and it was some years later when Padraig came across the bloodlines again by accident that he re-approached the owner and eventually secured her for his own breeding programme.
As dam of Paul O'Shea's good jumping mare Instant Karma, and a half-sister to Kilnamac Sally, dam of Joseph Murphy's four-star ride Electric Cruise, she has proven to be a valuable asset and Padraig is optimistic that MGH Kings Street will continue his good form in 2016 having shown much potential last season.
Having only taken up eventing in 2011 Padraig was gently introduced to the sport on such horses as Philadelphia V (Master Imp) and Try Your Luck (Try Time).
However, it was Lucy's former four-star mount Simon Porloe who gave the rider his push to international level, the horse having first gone back to novice after a bad fall in 2013.
"Lucy brought him to Malmo but he wasn't right after a fall there so she suggested I take him back to novice while my good mare Philadelphia was injured," he says.
"We won on our first day out and he's been a fantastic servant ever since."
The pair had their best season to date in 2015 with top 10-placings at Belton Park and Barbury Castle and members of the team that achieved an historic win for Ireland in the FEI Nations Cup in Boekelo in October.
They had also lined out with the team when fourth in Aachen, but a month later they suffered a dramatic fall during the European Championships in Scotland.
Padraig was quickly back in the saddle, though, with some of the many talented young horses in the string, including the 10-year-old Bernadette Utopia.
Sourced in Holland last spring, she quickly rose up the ranks and picked up top-10 placings in four internationals, including fourth in the Camphire one-star in July.
"We have high hopes for her and the plan for next season is to take her to Portugal to do a CIC*** in February or March and aim at finding a suitable CCI*** later in the spring if she feels ready."
Also showing much promise is the seven-year-old gelding MGH Annaghmore. By Heritage Fortunus out of the Don Juan De La Bouverie mare La Juanita, he is a full-brother to the Army Equitation School's young show jumping mare Templetouhy.
Having taken a year off for the birth of their son Tomás, Lucy was back competing in July and took in Burghley as part of her autumn campaign with the 11-year-old gelding Mr Chunky.
With Badminton next on the calendar for this combination, 2016 is already shaping up to be a very busy year for the pair at Warren Farm at Highampton.
"Lucy finished second at Badminton in 2008 so it would be great to see her do well again," says Padraig.
"With regards to my top horse, Simon is in great form and at 16 still loves his job, but of course there's always room for more good horses here and the door is never closed."