‘I have one horse and they have three or four each’ – meet the family of show jumpers as the Dublin Horse Show looms

Holly Sweetnam. Picture: Laurence Dunne/jumpinaction.net

Abbie Sweetnam. Picture: Laurence Dunne/jumpinaction.net

Abbie, Ryan and Holly Sweetnam

thumbnail: Holly Sweetnam. Picture: Laurence Dunne/jumpinaction.net
thumbnail: Abbie Sweetnam. Picture: Laurence Dunne/jumpinaction.net
thumbnail: Abbie, Ryan and Holly Sweetnam
Seoirse Mulgrew

A Cork family of high performing show jumpers will star in a new series focused on the world of Irish Sport Horses.

Holly Sweetnam (22) stars in Horse Country, a six-part documentary series on RTÉ alongside her sister Abbie (21) and brother Ryan (18).

Show jumping is a major part of the Sweetnam family’s way of life and Holly’s uncle Shane Sweetnam competed in the Olympics last year.

The Irish Sport Horse is an Irish breed of warmblood sporting horse, used mostly for dressage, eventing and showjumping.

The series documents the lives of the people and their horses who make up that world.

Holly said her earliest memory of entering into this world was when she was just four years old.

“I couldn’t imagine my life without horses, even the community and the horse world, like all my best friends are who I’ve grown up with and have been competing against each other since we were eight years old,” she said.

“It’s phenomenal, it’s just an amazing sport to be part of and horses in general they’re such an interesting animal and I really couldn't imagine life without them to be honest.”

Ms Sweetnam is a final year student in food marketing and entrepreneurship at University College Cork and has taken a step back from riding to complete her studies.

“I don’t ride as much myself anymore, but I go everywhere with my brother and sister and help them out with everything. I just have one horse myself and they have three or four each so I’m always helping them out at the horse shows nearly every weekend,” she said.

Ms Sweetnam said it was a “great experience” to take part in the documentary to highlight the Irish Sport Horse world.

“They came down to the yard here in West Cork and spent the day and spent time filming and watching and talking to us, and then when they came to the horse shows with us the cameras were in the background and after we competed, we’d just have a few words with them,” she said.

“It was an experience even like after competing and talking about your round and trying to explain it, it was good to analyse everything and take a step back and see it from everyone else’s point of view.

“I’m glad we did it because it is a huge part of the Irish industry, Irish Sport Horses is huge all over the world and not many people know about it.”

The series was filmed during the summer of 2021, but Ms Sweetnam said the family’s life didn’t change too much during the pandemic as they still had the horses to tend to every day.

“When Covid hit, our lives didn’t stop because every day you still had to work the horses and you still had to do everything,” she said.

“We live out here in the countryside in West Cork and we spent every day with the horses and riding the horses and it was just so lovely to be so consumed in them for such a long period of time.

“It wasn’t a shock to the system in that sense because it was just natural for us to keep going with everything, it was just normal life down here we had things to keep us busy.”

Ms Sweetnam said the Dublin Horse Show at the RDS is the main calendar event of the year for her family.

“Since I can remember, every summer it’s the show you look forward to. It’s incredible to watch all the international riders compete, it’s an incredible show that everyone looks forward to every year,” she said.

“It brings everyone together, this year my uncle Shane will be competing in it, he lives in American so he’s coming over for it and it brings our family together for a week in the year.

“Abbie will be competing in it and my brother Ryan and Shane, it’s a phenomenal show and I’m so glad it’s back to normal this year.”

The first episode of Horse Country airs on RTÉ One Tuesday, August 2 at 7pm.