CIAN O’CONNOR: Learning to deliver for your team when it’s important

  • 26 June 2019, 09:35

Reigning European Show Jumping champions Ireland, pictured on the podium after claiming the gold medal in Gothenburg, Sweden (l-r) Rodrigo Pessoa, Shane Sweetnam, Denis Lynch, Bertram Allen and Cian O’Connor (Photo: Sonya Hennessy)

As part of Horse Sport Ireland’s new blog, STABLE TALK, Horse Sport Ireland Senior Show Jumping Athlete, Cian O’Connor gives readers an insight into the sport of show jumping and his career as an international athlete, coach and producer. In this post Cian discusses his early career and offers some advice to Ireland’s aspiring international riders.

If I look back at mistakes that I made over the years, often in my mind the victory was getting on to the team, when actually the focus should have been to try be on a winning team. For a team to be successful the chef d’equipe needs seven or eight solid choices. If you are walking onto a team and you’re not going so well, the team’s unlikely to be successful and so you don’t really want to be there. I think as you become more mature, you start to understand that competition is healthy and everyone will get their turn, so you should be supporting each other and wishing each other well.

Equestrian sport is unusual in that you compete on your own in the arena and that encourages a culture of ‘I hope they don’t go great because then they will get on the team instead of me’. That’s not a good way to be thinking. We as athletes have to believe that if we help and support each other then we will have a stronger team unit and that is what leads to team success. I feel Rodrigo has instilled this into us all.


The 2017 European Gold medal-winning show jumping team of (L-R) Team Manager Gary Marshall, Harry Allen, Abbie Sweetnam, Kate Derwin and Ciaran Nallon pictured on the podium at the European Pony Championships in Kaposvar


The sport has evolved so much over the last few years. There has been a huge increase in participation globally and extraordinary growth and development of particular Jan Tops’s brainchild; the Global Champions Tour and League, which has raised the bar to a different level. It saddens me though to see the Nation’s Cup series diminishing in it’s importance and status within the sport. There are many reasons for this but ultimately it’s up to the FEI to look at their own product and bring it in line both in it’s appeal and financial reward to that of other series which are thriving. The main reason Nation’s Cup jumping is so important is because they offer a different pressure than any other competition which I believe makes riders into Championship and Olympic riders.

The sport is tough and very competitive, but each year it finds people who come through the ranks and it’s evident that Horse Sport Ireland’s High Performance Programmes for underage through to seniors is working extremely well. If you look at the team for example of Harry Allen, Abbie Sweetnam, Ciaran Nallon and Kate Derwin who were managed by Gary Marshall and won gold in 2017 at the European pony championships in Kaposvar, now they are out winning at junior level – so it’s great to  see that the squad is growing and developing to the next level.

In 2018 Max Wachman and Cuffesgrange Cavalidam (pictured above) claimed individual Silver at the European Pony Show Jumping Championships in Bishop Burton

I am involved with the coaching of the Wachman brothers, Tom and Max, and last year at the European pony championships in Bishop Burton, it was a very young team of Max and Tom, Katie Power and Francis Derwin and they just missed out on a bronze medal by one fault. I think there is a good strong group there this year and just last month the Irish pony team of Max and Tom,  John McEntee and Niamh McEvoy were in Wierden, Holland where they finished second and another Irish team took victory in Hagen just a few weeks later which really shows great strength and depth in the squad. There’s a lot more ponies in the mix this year which is good, because only by having competition for a place can you have success.

Rhys Williams pictured on the podium after winning individual Gold in the Under 14 Show Jumping competition at the 2018 Longines FEI European Youth Championships in France riding the Irish Sport Horse CES Cruson


Of course not everybody has the opportunity to have a European 14.2hh pony – they are hard to come by, but you have the option of the Children on Horses competition now and Ireland had a gold medal last year with Rhys Williams – that competition is good because it prepares young riders for the next level, whether that’s going back on to a pony team or moving up to juniors. It’s a really good stepping stone.

No matter what level you are competing at, you are learning all the time to compete under pressure and that’s what the pony trials do or indeed going away to some of these Nation’s Cups competitions – it doesn’t get any different when you move up to senior level, that is what I explain to the young riders I coach. You are getting an opportunity at a very young age to see what it feels like to put on the green jacket and build to a day where you are representing your country and you learn by experience how to prepare properly and deliver when it matters.

Cian O’Connor

Horse Sport Ireland High Performance Show Jumping Athlete


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