Behind the show of showjumping
An Irishwoman’s Diary: Horses on the move
‘It is a long working day for showjumper John Floody, during which he exercises the horses he competes at national level for various owners and teaches competition riders who come from all over Ireland for jumping tuition.’ Above, John Floody with Womack left and Larkhill Cruiser. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
You see him most days, in all kinds of weather, within view of the famous Newgrange monument, riding along the narrow little lane that runs past the quiet, friendly stable yard he built with the help of his father and his brothers. He often drives by, hauling the bulky bales of haylage. It is a long working day for showjumper John Floody, during which he also exercises the horses he competes at national level for various owners and teaches competition riders who come from all over Ireland for jumping tuition.
In the age of salesman super-hype he prefers a quiet approach. He has stabling for 22 horses, and along with the horses owned by competition riders and the owners Floody rides for, are the young horses he trains with his sister, Anne. Ireland’s leading showjumpers tend to ride horses bred in Europe, but Floody does not frequent European sales and is known for developing young Irish horses. He and Anne are also celebrated for retraining problem horses. Many a difficult character has arrived in the Floody yard and has left far happier, jumping well and ready for greater things.
Floody qualified two young Irish horses for the recent Dublin Horse Show at the RDS. The day he set off for Ballsbridge was much as any other. Anne stayed behind in the yard, riding the young horses she works exclusively. One of the two horses Floody brought to Dublin is a seven-year-old bay gelding named Bronson de Reve, one of the most successful young Irish horses of recent years at national Grand Prix level. Floody first saw the horse in 2009 as a three-year-old and felt he would be good; Anne broke him. Despite the name, Bronson is no tough guy, he is sweet-natured and friendly, sensitive, if playful. At Dublin he competed in a class featuring the 20 best Irish seven- and eight- year-olds and 20 top international young horses; and finished sixth in the final. On such landmark performances are future international careers established.
In 2008, Floody featured in an Irish Times Dublin Horse Show preview with a beautiful young chestnut, Larkhill Cruiser, then seven, and known to his friends as Joey. A bit of a charmer with some cheeky habits, as a young horse he had been famously described as more suited for hunting by Floody’s best friend, fellow Meath-based rider Cian O’Connor. Joey’s then owner Michael Smith had purchased him as a foal at the Goresbridge sales and believed the horse had serious potential. He entrusted him to Floody who guided the horse through the various foundation stages of competition. Joey won the national champion six- year-oldtitle and many major events.
In the autumn of 2008 Floody and Joey/Larkhill Cruiser won their class at the World Breeders Championship in Lanaken in Belgium. Cian O’Connor ultimately purchased him from Smith and competed him internationally including on a winning Irish Nation’s Cup team at La Baule and placed in four Grand Prix finals before selling him on to Dubai. It left Floody philosophical but without his great partner and wondering if there would be another special horse. Joey returned to the Dublin Horse Show from Dubai to compete and Floody was faced with having to ask the new rider owner if he could pet the horse with which he had shared such success.
Showjumping is a sport but it is also, inevitably, whenever horses are involved, a business. Success usually means that a talented horse is always for sale which certainly sums up the long litany of Irish horses leaving Ireland. Four years ago Eileen Duggan, an amateur rider and one of Floody’s pupils, impressed by with Floody’s assessment of the then three-year-old Bronson, purchased him and Floody has been riding him with consistent results, including winning this year’s seven-year-old final at the Barnadown leg of the Irish Sport Horse Studbook series. From Dublin the showjumping circuit last week moved on to Millsteet, where Bronson won the second Boomerang qualifier on Thursday and will be contesting tomorrow’ s final.
As Bronson approaches international standard, foreign buyers are already expressing interest in him. Floody accepts the realities; the better a horse becomes, the nearer you come to him or her moving elsewhere. It’s a bit like watching a child grow and leave home. “It is satisfying,” agrees Anne Floody, “but it is also upsetting. You get very attached to them, there’s the feeding and grooming, the ordinary little things, as much as the riding. People forget that.”