For a man setting off to the Olympic Games in less than a month Greg Broderick seems very calm. But, as Ireland's sole representative in showjumping, he is also delighted to have been selected with his horse MHS Going Global for the individual place.
Ireland's qualification was secured by Bertram Allen, his Germany-based fellow Irish international showjumper, who earned the place on his mare Molly Malone. But Broderick was then selected to take the slot, based on his current form, by Team Ireland's showjumping manager, Robert Splaine.
"I'm very grateful to Bertram. He's been an absolute gentleman about me being picked," says Broderick. "Now I need to concentrate on having myself and my horse in the best possible shape. You dream about getting to the Olympics. "
Within days of Broderick’s selection, on June 8th, controversy began to emerge.
According to the International Equestrian Federation, the sport’s governing body, any horse competing in the Olympics must be registered, by January 15th of the year of the Games, to an owner of the same nationality as the country that the horse represents.
The federation received an anonymous query about Going Global’s eligibility under this rule. Did this upset Broderick? “Not at all. I never took it seriously,” he says. “The paperwork was all in order. There was no doubt.”
Rich vein of talent
Robert Splaine had had a difficult decision to make, as he had an embarrassment of talent to choose from. “Ireland has an abundance of good riders,” Splaine says. “Greg is an exceptional horseman and has established a great partnership with MHS Going Global. It is an exciting combination, and I think it can pull off something special in Rio.”
Did the fact that the bay gelding – by the French stallion Quidam Junior out of Gowran Lady, a Cavalier Royale (Holstein) mare – was bred in Ireland influence Splaine's decision?
“No. Yes, the horse is Irish bred, but the breeding was not a factor. Of course I am pleased to see an Irish horse, but my job is about the best results, and I picked the best combination. ”
Broderick is also open-minded about breeding. “Going Global is a tough horse, but he has a fantastic instinct for the big occasion,” he says.
As Broderick stands studying his imposing horse, he sounds like a proud parent talking about the stages of his child’s development.
"I tried to buy him when he was three. I'd gone looking for him, because I'd heard he was the half-brother of my very good mare Ballypatrick Flight. But he wasn't for sale then. He was a big, raw young horse. He took time.
“But, you know, you really get a feel of a horse once you sit on it. And I knew from the beginning he’d be good. We’ve been together five years now. The mare is here” – at Ballypatrick Stables, his yard near Thurles, in Co Tipperary – “retired from jumping and involved in the breeding end of things.
“It is great to see Irish horses coming through, but when you are looking for potential competition horses it is about their ability, not where they’re born.”
Broderick is disappointed that an Irish jumping team is not going to Rio. “That shouldn’t have happened. We performed very well at the World Equestrian Games in France in 2014 – I wasn’t on that one – and Ireland was one place off qualification. And then, at the European Championships in Aachen, to have missed out by 0.3 of a fault.”
There have been consistent performances in Nations Cups, including Ireland winning the Aga Khan Trophy last year. "We are the first reserve team for the Olympics, but that means nothing. It would have been great: we have four fantastic horses and really good riders. It is such a shame we don't have a showjumping team going. This is a golden age for Irish showjumping. It is very frustrating. "
Broderick, who is 30 but seems older, is disciplined and organised. He seems at his most relaxed when his gregarious seven-year-old nephew, Max, wanders in, offering cake, and reveals that he wants to be a soccer player and “an international showjumper”.
Broderick gives a rare smile when, after reminding Max that he has not yet ridden his pony Jessie, the boy sighs theatrically: “There just wasn’t time.” Life’s like that.
Horses dominate Broderick’s days; he also goes to the gym, and watches what he eats.
When he stands up straight he is 5ft 11in tall and not overly dwarfed by Going Global, who is 16.3 hands high. The horse – Junior to his friends – is a handsome character with attitude who greets me by checking out my pockets.
Much of the commentary about Broderick celebrates the fact that he is an Irish rider who is based in Ireland, that Going Global is Irish bred and, most important of all, that Broderick has produced his world-class horse in Ireland.
But he is faced with an ongoing dilemma – a traditional Irish problem, in fact: the tension between competing at the highest level and running a business to help support it. It is quite a balancing act.
“Making a living in Ireland, where the prize money is small, is not easy,” he says. “And running a professional business means having sourced and produced young horses. I then need to sell them on. I’m an international showjumper, but the selling side of the business is vital,” Broderick says.
“The practical side of things, which means being able to continually improve and develop the facilities we have here at Ballypatrick, depends on having to sell horses.”
He has about 40 in active competition at any time; his sister Cheryl runs a breeding yard based on 25 quality brood mares. It is an essential part of the Broderick operation. And operation it is: relaxed and unintimidating yet highly effective.
Ballypatrick Stables is his family home. “My family has been here for four generations, my father’s family,” he says. His mother, Maureen, is from Gort, in Co Galway. Broderick lives in a small house that he built next door to the family home, “making me the fifth generation”.
It is a very comfortable complex: a series of farm buildings, some converted into stabling. Additional stable blocks have been added. There are adjoining paddocks and a magnificent indoor arena filled with natural light, probably one of the largest privately owned facilities in Ireland.
Broderick plans to build a barn beside it with a further 16 stables, “giving us 56 in total”.
He has eight full-time staff, as well as students and 200 horses. The yard has a spacious, relaxed atmosphere. There is a sense of it constantly evolving. Radios are playing throughout – “the horses like the music,” he says.
It all began to come together for Broderick about 10 years ago, when a Canadian buyer, Lee Kruger, bought a mare from him. She was so pleased that she came back, and has continued to return, becoming a good friend. Most crucial of all, she has been involved with Going Global throughout.
Without Kruger’s support, Broderick says, he’d be in a very different position. “I’m lucky, and lucky with the horse.”
But Broderick is also very determined. He is the youngest of three; he has two sisters – as well as Cheryl there is Olga, an environmental scientist who is the mother of Max and little Gavin.
Broderick’s father, Austin, was a farmer. “We were involved with beef and sucklers. So I come from a farming background and was always interested in horses. I fox-hunted from age 10 or 11 with the Golden Vales and the Scarteen hunt.”
But Broderick is also interested in hurling. He points to some team photographs. “This is a very strong hurling county, and I played with the local club, Drom & Inch, and was in a county final. I always played at forward.”
He went to the local national school and then on to St Joseph's College in Borrisoleigh. "I used to dream about walking out in Croke Park on All-Ireland day. The thing about sport, it makes you competitive no matter what you're at."
By the time Broderick sat the Leaving Certificate he knew what he was going to do. “The showjumping got serious when I was about 16. Before all that I’d been in pony club. I never wanted to go to college, much to my mother’s disappointment.”
The GAA and the Irish language, the notion of a home place, are central to him. At times he seems to be in another world, politely detached, but he looks directly at me when he says he is very proud to be Irish.
The rider he most admires is the German Olympic team gold medallist Marcus Ehning.
Before Rio next month comes the Dublin Horse Show. Broderick is bringing three horses to it next week, including Going Global.
Dublin has been good to him. In 2014 he won all three young-horse championships. Last year, in his Aga Khan debut, he and Going Global went double clear.
Is the Dublin Horse Show still special for him?
“Oh, yes, Dublin is big, especially as I ride so many young horses. The Aga Khan has a great history. But, you know, the big problem for my sport is the lack of media coverage.”
How about the pressure of Rio, particularly having secured the lone place?
“It’s the Olympics, of course – that’s huge. But it is a big event among many big events, and all you can do is your best.”
Riders in reserve: Bertram Allen and Cian O’Connor
Twenty-year-old Bertram Allen, who is based in Germany, is an instinctive and gifted rider who quickly moved from ponies to adult competition. Number 10 in the world, Allen earned his ranking with points from riding a number of horses. He secured Ireland’s qualification for an individual showjumping place at the Olympics through his performances on the English-bred mare Molly Malone. But Greg Broderick was selected on current form.
Thirty-six-year-old Cian O’Connor, who is at present based in Belgium, took individual gold at Athens, in 2004, only to be disqualified when Waterford Crystal, his German-bred horse, failed a dope test.
Eight years later, in London, he won an individual bronze on the Belgian-bred Blue Lloyd. Recognised as the ultimate competitor, O’Connor is tenacious and resourceful. Good Luck, his flamboyant Belgian stallion, is one of the most exciting horses in showjumping and widely regarded as the sort of horse that wins Olympic gold.
By the way...
Irish show jumpers are feared throughout the world as outstanding which make it all the more ironic there is no show jumping team. However, if showjumping is a Cinderella sport, where exactly does that leave Irish Three Day Eventing?
Among the finest achievements of recent Irish sport was the magnificent fifth place of the Irish eventers at the London Olympics.
Ireland will be represented in Rio by a team consisting of Mark Kyle, who competed in Athens in 2004 and London in 2012, and rides Jemilla, the only mare on the team.
His fellow London team mate Camilla Speirs and her Just a Jiff are travelling reserves; Jonty Evans returns to championship eventing in making an Olympic debut with Cooley Rorkes Drift; Also debuting at Olympic level are Clare Abbott riding Euro Prince (Sparky) and the third newcomer is Padraig McCarthy, the only rider named with two horses - Simon Porloe and Bernadette Utopia.