Bondings: A winning combination - Jessica Harrington and her daughter Kate
Legendary horse trainer Jessica Harrington is delighted that her daughter Kate is showing great prowess as a jockey
Published 28/12/2015 | 02:30
Jockey Kate Harrington has very clear childhood memories of her mum Jessica - and unsurprisingly, most of them are to do with horses. "Mum was always busy working in the yard and riding," says Kate, 25. "Like her, I was riding my ponies Twinkle and Sammy Jo from a very young age."
Jessica, 68, was born in London to the late Mary and Brigadier Bryan Fowler, an officer in the British Army and renowned horse breeder. Mary was previously widowed and had two older children from her first marriage. Jessica grew up on the 850-acre family farm at Rahinston, near Summerhill, Co. Meath, when her father inherited it in 1957. She was riding and eventing from an early age and became renowned as one of the country's top three-day event riders, having represented Ireland at European, world and Olympic level.
While she grew up in Meath, Jessica went to boarding school in England at 12, before going to a finishing school in Paris for a year, which she loved. "It was great fun," she says. "In those days, you didn't have a career, so you grew up and got married. I knew David Lloyd for years in London and I married him at 21. We had two children, James and Tara."
When that marriage came to an end, Jessica brought her two children back here and in 1976, she married bloodstock agent Johnny Harrington. They had two daughters 12 years apart, Emma and Kate. "Kate was a surprise but she keeps me young and having her was a new lease of life for me," says Jessica.
The family live at Commonstown Stables, in Moone, Co Kildare and Jessica took the reins in the late 1980s. She has since become firmly established as one of the top dual-purpose trainers in Ireland. Her name is regularly associated with high-profile winners here and abroad. She has had six Cheltenham Festival victories, including the great chaser, Moscow Flyer, which won the Arkle and two Queen Mother Champion Chase races at Cheltenham.
With such a busy family home environment, Kate became a boarder at Alexandra College in Dublin and while she didn't like being away from home at first and would sob in the car going back every Monday morning, she ended up loving it and made amazing friends. Kate had not harboured a desire for racing initially, but she fell into it at 17 because when Moscow Flyer retired, her mother told the media that she would race him at the charity race in Punchestown. She couldn't back out, but she and Moscow Flyer went on to win the race. Like her sister Emma, Kate went to UCD to study social science and politics and the college was fantastic about accommodating her when exams and racing festivals clashed.
Kate thinks her mum is amazing, but admits she didn't listen to her when she was younger.
Jessica says: "I couldn't teach her as a teenager, because even if I knew more than her teachers, I was her mother, so I didn't know anything. I used to get so nervous when she first started riding. It freaked me out in a big way as I knew exactly what could happen, but I'm very relaxed now."
"It was the usual fiery mother-daughter relationship," agrees Kate, "but I'm better now and I see that she knows a little bit! Her judgement on horses and ability to prove us wrong is what I admire most about Mum.
"She is so strong and if I had her energy, I'd be delighted. One thing I have over her is that she never rode a winner on a race track and I have ridden about 29 winners. She has had so many horses run in huge races, but I never saw her crack until I was at a European championships in Italy, in 2005. Mum couldn't watch and walked so far away that she couldn't even hear the commentator and it was the best thing for me because I was distracted from my own nerves by laughing at her."
While they intend to be at the Leopardstown Racing Festival today, Jessica and Kate planned a lovely family Christmas Day in Emma's house. There were 32 guests invited for dinner, including Jessica's son James, daughter Tara and the six adored grandsons and one granddaughter.
"I'm not a very good grandmother," Jessica confesses. "I'm always there for them but I'm not hands-on and don't do babysitting. I have lots of ponies here for them, so I'm happy doing that and every single one of them rides now."
Jessica's nephews, Harry and Charlie, were among the planned guest list, as her brother John died tragically in 2008 when a tree fell on him at the family farm. Another sad absence was her husband Johnny, who passed away in April 2014 from cancer. "It was such a blow," says Jessica. "Johnny was full of life, a great man and very popular. He loved horses and was a real inspiration to all of us."
While Jessica is the trainer and boss at Commonstown, Kate is the amateur jockey and Emma runs the office, doing all the jobs that her mum hates doing, like HR and admin. It's a family joke that Jessica and technology are not best friends. It's a very busy place, with 90 horses and a large number of staff, some of whom live on the farm. Emma and Kate share the family home, and get on great apart from when Kate leaves the top off the milk - just like her father, says Jessica.
Aside from horses, Kate is Jessica's fashion adviser and they enjoy going shopping and out for lunch together. Kate will be riding most days this week and she and her mum are greatly looking forward to the various festivals.
She goes to the gym twice a week to improve her strength. does a lot of running and finds riding to be a huge adrenaline rush.
"It's amazing when she wins," smiles Jessica. "The best race for me was when she won a big amateur race with Modem, which I had trained, so it was a real family win."
Leopardstown and Limerick Christmas festivals are running until December 29, Punchestown is on December 31 and
Fairyhouse and Tramore are on January 1.
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