KATE DERWIN: A woman on a mission

  • 18 July 2019, 17:18

Kate Derwin and AHG Whiterock Cruise Down 2019 Junior European Championships (Photo: FEI / Leanjo de Koster)

As part of Horse Sport Ireland’s new blog, STABLE TALK, Horse Sport Ireland’s newly crowned Junior European Show Jumping Champion, Kate Derwin gives readers an insight into the sport of show jumping, how she knew that a professional career as an equestrian athlete was for her and Kate also shares her thoughts on women in sport.

The only way to describe Kate Derwin and the Irish Sport Horse – AHG Whiterock Cruise Down’s performance at last week’s European Youth Show Jumping Championships at Zuidwolde in The Netherlands is: INCREDIBLE.

The European Youth Show Jumping Championships is a grueling, week-long competition where the horse and rider combinations who ride on their national team and manage to claim a place in the individual final will jump a total of five challenging and technical rounds during the course of the week.

A fantastic performance from the GAIN Irish U18 (Junior) Show Jumping team of Athlone’s Kate Derwin (AHG Whiterock Cruise Down (ISH), Wexford’s Harry Allen (Dancing Queen Z), Kilkenny’s Jack Ryan (Essenar High Hopes) and Mayo’s Ciaran Nallon (Cloe GP Z), managed by James Kernan saw Team Ireland take the team bronze medal with Spain clinching gold, while Germany took silver.

Following the conclusion of the team competition, both Harry Allen and Kate Derwin made it into the individual final along with 26 other riders from all over Europe. Holding the overnight lead, Kate was last to jump in the deciding round knowing that a fence down or even a time fault would see her drop down the leader board. She kept her cool to complete a flawless performance and claim the individual Gold medal to add to the team Bronze.

Irish team manager James Kernan (left) and Joanne Hurley from GAIN (far right) pictured with members of the GAIN Irish Show Jumping squad for the 2019 European Youth Championships


But what gave Kate the confidence and the edge needed to secure that gold medal? “Being perfectly honest and straight up with you”, Kate begins, “I’m riding an Irish Sport Horse”.

AHG Whiterock Cruise Down (ISH), or Rocky as he is affectionately known, is a nine-year-old stallion by Cruisings Mickey Finn (ISH)[TIH] out of Whiterock Touch (ISH) by Touchdown (ISH), bred by Ann Gannon Clancy from Co. Longford

“From the first day I sat on him [AHG Whiterock Cruise Down], two years ago exactly, I knew he wanted to do this and when I was going into that fifth and final round I just thought – we’ve come so far, don’t blow it now. Knowing I could rely on my horse helped me to be confident and go out and perform my best”, Kate continues.

“The Horse Sport Ireland High-Performance programme and the whole team are very important, to me and to every rider. To compete internationally with a support network of people who have experience and who you know are good at their job is very important to the success of all athletes.”


Kate Derwin and AHG Whiterock Cruise Down, a nine-year-old stallion by Cruisings Mickey Finn (ISH)[TIH] out of Whiterock Touch (ISH) by Touchdown (ISH), bred by Ann Fannon Clancy from Co. Longford, on their lap of honour after winning individual Gold at the 2019 Junior European Championships
(Photo: FEI / Leanjo de Koster)

“In 2018, I went to the Europeans with the hope of winning a team and an individual medal. To win team Bronze was incredible, but as the week progressed I just wasn’t in the position I hoped to be in going into the individual final. It wasn’t that anything was going wrong, my horse was performing really well, but so were all the other competitors and it just looked like it wouldn’t be enough to clinch a medal.

“I went into the final in 17th place, knowing that my chances were very slim, but my horse jumped clear and we shot up the leader-board to finish fourth, a fantastic result for me and for Rocky, but it honestly made my heart sink a little to know that my horse jumped so well and we moved up so many places only to finish one place off an individual medal.”

To work so hard and come so close must be devastating for any athlete, but it’s something that all athletes have to be able to deal with and overcome, so we asked Kate how she deals with missing out on a medal by such fine margins and what gives her the drive to come back and try again.

“When I finish a competition and my horse has given me his best and he’s sound and in good condition, happy in himself and he comes home safe and well that helps me, because some people aren’t lucky enough to come out of a very tough and challenging championship with their horse sound and in good condition.

“Also having had that team Bronze success – a team medal and an individual medal are equally special to me. To know that I can go out and be competitive as an individual but also that I am able to perform for my team and that my teammates know they can rely on me to try just as hard for them and vice versa is very special.”


“When I finished the Europeans last year and came so close it gave me that extra fire in my stomach to say we can do it, look at what we have just done. I decided that 2019 was going to be the year and I wasn’t aiming for just any medal, I was going for gold. I decided to take a year out from school and to base myself with Carol Gee at Fernhill Sport Horses, basically to try and do what I have just done – for me, my horse and for my dad who has kept the horse for so long.

“Denis Flannelly is my personal trainer and I see him twice a week, but then Carol Gee and Fraser Duffy help me a lot day-to-day on the flat and with pole work. I’m just so thankful to my whole family and to Carol Gee for everything that she’s done for me from the time I decided to persue this full time, everyone has been so supportive of my decision and have helped me work toward what I’ve just done.

“The ambition is to go professional, I want to go and be the next Nicola Fitzgibbon on an Irish Aga Khan team or the next Pénélope Leprevost – to think of me doing what they’ve done gives me goosebumps. It’s how I know that this is what I want to do.”


Kate Derwin (centre) on the podium after receiving her Gold medal at the 2019 European Championships (Photo: FEI / Leanjo de Koster)

“As a woman involved in equestrian sport, where men and women compete equally, I think it’s fantastic to see that the same amount of people will come and shake my hand as a woman after winning a gold medal as they would if it were one of my male team mates who had won that individual medal – it’s a big thing.”

In Ireland there are far fewer female athletes competing at senior level in show jumping, in Kate’s opinion; “I’ve said before that I don’t think it’s anything that Show Jumping Ireland or Horse Sport Ireland are doing or not doing. I just think that the norm is to finish school, go to college, have a career, start a family and progress through life in that way. But, in equestrian sport, the choice to do that must have an impact on progression in the sport and then that takes women away from progressing to the top end of the sport slowly but surely.

“I made the decision to focus fully on my future career as an international show jumper. Maybe if I knew of lots of other Irish women who had made similar choices it would have made the choice to focus solely on sport a lot easier and less daunting. But personally I just had a feeling deep down that this is what I want to do and I believe that if any other female athlete feels the same then they should follow their gut instinct. I followed my gut and I haven’t looked back. “





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