Rags to riches story for abandoned Life of Reilly horse, transformed by racecourse manager

The Life of Reilly and Sue Phelan
The Life of Reilly and Sue Phelan
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Six years ago Sue Phelan, manager of Waterford and Tramore Racecourse, received a call that there was an abandoned pony in bad shape on one of the fields belonging to the racing venue.

She was sceptical but decided to investigate, and sure enough she came across a pony which she subsequently named The Life of Reilly, or Reilly for short.

"He was riddled with worms and covered in sores. He had been there for some time and was in a really sorry state," says Sue.

"I contacted the owners and eventually bought the pony for €26. I called him The Life of Reilly because that's what I had promised I would give him."

Sue brought Reilly to her home in Dungarvan where she keeps other horses and had him microchipped, gelded, vaccinated and got him a passport. While his manner has improved in recent years, it has taken time to tame him.

"He was very hard work at the start and very wild, and wary of men and hated when people wore high-vis jackets. He soon became better and followed the example of the other horses," she explains.

Sue adds that the making of Reilly was his stint at Shanakill Riding Centre in Kilmacthomas where the interaction with children did him "the world of good", but he can still have off days.

"I brought him down to the Clonmel Show last year because I wanted to enter him into the Rescue Pony class competition there, but he was acting up in the car park and I knew he would upset the other ponies so I took him home," laughs Sue.

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Reilly's rags-to-riches story is set to take another turn when he makes his debut as the racecourse mascot at Waterford and Tramore's family fun day on Sunday, August 19.

Sue is hopeful that showcasing Reilly to families will raise awareness of the problem of abandoned ponies around the country.

"I'd always had it in my mind that we would make Reilly our mascot. I want to highlight to people that if they see an abandoned pony that it's not okay, and to encourage them to contact the Irish Horse Welfare Trust," she says.

Hailing from Clonskeagh in Dublin, Sue took the unusual decision (for a city dweller) to study Agricultural Science in UCD and now feels that she could never go back to the fast-paced living of the city. "I had wanted veterinary but didn't get the points so I did Ag instead. I went in not knowing anything, but loved it and got a job with Waterford Foods in the 90s and have been down here ever since," she says.

For more information visit The Life of Reilly Facebook page.

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