CIAN O’CONNOR: Seven habits of highly effective show jumpers

  • 18 June 2019, 17:49

Cian O’Connor and Good Luck

As part of Horse Sport Ireland’s new blog, STABLE TALK, we sat down with Senior Show Jumping Athlete, Cian O’Connor to find out how he manages his highly successful show jumping business. 

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotl.

If you need an example to verify the above statement then look no further than Cian O’Connor – Ireland’s only equestrian athlete to win an Olympic medal (Bronze, London 2012). Cian also holds a European individual bronze and team Gold medal and has had over 100 caps for Irish senior show jumping teams. He is not only one of Ireland’s most successful athletes, he is also one of the sport’s most successful businessmen.

For almost 20 years Cian has been successfully producing and trading international show jumping horses, coaching riders and competing internationally for Ireland. So we wanted to share with you Cian’s fundamental principles for success in the business of show jumping.


“It’s very difficult to go from just riding at home to setting up your own yard and business, because you don’t have the experience of knowing what it costs to acquire, then keep and maintain good horses. I think it’s very important to learn from a professional.

“When I was younger, I won a Show Jumping Ireland bursary to go training and I went to Roelof Bril’s yard in Holland. I had seen Roelof competing at Millstreet around that time and he had won the derby. I wanted to go and train with him because I admired his style and I went and I worked there and that’s a contact I made and that I subsequently did business with afterward.

“I also went to Paul Schockemöhle’s yard in Germany for three or four months every year to learn and to train there, it was a great experience. Keep your eyes open and learn from watching other people, but you can’t beat getting the practical experience as well.”


“You can get lucky in anything, take a stab in the dark and it all works out, but, if you want to repeat success it’s not lucky. If you want to have success long term you need a business plan and a strategy – then you can do it. It’s not by chance that the same people make their national teams each year, it’s because they know how to get there. It’s because those people have decided how they are going to continuously be at that level and there’s a structure in place to repeat that success. It’s probably the same in all sports.

“Look at a rider like Steve Guerdat, we know that Steve is somebody who is always at the highest level – we don’t have him as being famous for one horse and that’s because he can produce a top performance on any horse. And that’s an interesting thought – he has established a way to get to the top, he’s going to be in Aachen and Geneva, he is going to be at the Championships – he’s got a plan that works and he knows how to get there and obviously he has an excellent team to help him get there. You need to have a plan.”


Cian O’Connor and his European Team Gold and Individual Bronze medal-winning horse, Good Luck (Photo: Erin Gilmore)

“People want to be involved with success. What I realised at an early stage in my career is it’s so important to have a good horse. Obviously I love horses and I love riding, but to compete at the highest level consistently you need to have a good partner and it’s a good skill to be able to find these horses, compete them, do well on them and I’ve managed to sell them as well and then find the next one and that’s a very important part of my business. There are many good riders, but a good rider without a good horse is just a walker – you’re on your own feet.”


There are people who love horses and love the industry and if you can get people like that behind you, who want to help you, then you have to look after those people. I’ve got owners now who are with me since the very beginning and I think that’s important and obviously staff are a huge part of it too. I couldn’t do what I do alone, you need good people and you have to treat them correctly and then hopefully they will want to stay and continue to work for you and be a part of your story.


“You need to bring people along on the journey with you, especially owners, and communication is vital. Everything is fine as long as things are going well, but we all know things don’t always go to plan or go well and that’s when you really need to communicate.

“You’d find maybe some people don’t know how to cope when things go wrong, say for example; you buy a horse and you have the best of intentions, but then the horse goes lame or maybe isn’t good enough – that’s when you need to have a strategy and you need to be able to talk to people and be honest and say this is not what we thought it was but we can do ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’. I think it only gets people’s backs up if you just go to ground and don’t pick up the phone or you hide from it and hope it fixes itself, so I think communication and being up front is really important.”


At the time of interviewing [Tuesday, 11th of June 2019 at 10.00am], Cian had just returned home to Ireland after a show on Sunday in Wiesbaden, Germany where he had three horses competing. Monday was spent coaching and as for today [Tuesday] and the rest of the week, Cian says: “I’m in the office this morning since 6.45am and I’ve already had three meetings today. We’re building the yard here in Dunboyne so there is a lot of work going on, after this interview I‘ve a meeting with my accountant, where we will go through the billing and invoices.

“It’s very important from a business perspective to have the paperwork right, so if I am competing abroad, then I have to bring the paperwork back here to Ireland to the office, we have a good system with accounting to manage invoices that need to be paid. I’m not a great delegator so I like to double check that everything is in the right place.

“Tomorrow [Wednesday] I fly to Stockholm, Sweden to compete on the Global Champions Tour with two horses. On Sunday I fly to Sopot, Poland to coach Peter Moloney who is making his debut for Ireland at five-star Nations Cup level [Ireland claimed an impressive runner-up finish]. Sunday night I fly back to Ireland where I am coaching all day Monday. Wednesday I fly to my base in Frankfurt to ride, Thursday I try horses, Friday I’m teaching and the following Saturday and Sunday I’m in Maryville at a show teaching.

“There is a lot of planning and organising involved in this job. The only way to do it is to keep on top of things and have everything organised. I have a good calendar set up on my phone, I know where I am going to be and that helps me to be efficient. I also write everything down, if I have things on my mind or something pops into my head I write it down and then I will come back to it later.

    Cian O’Connor pictured with Lynn Frain, from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, at the Dublin Horse Show. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

“It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or who you’re meeting, you have to give your full attention for that time. I think that’s very important – you can’t be distracted and only giving something half of your attention.

“You have to plan ahead or else you will be running around like a headless chicken, half doing everything. Always make sure to allow plenty of time for whatever it is you are doing and give it your full attention – then move onto the next thing. I think you have to be careful not to pack too much in to the one day.”

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