• 21 June 2023, 16:56

Abbie Oakey and Boutade Ste Hermelle

Abbie Oakey is having a season most riders dream of, aged 16 she continues to go from strength to strength. Dubbed the ‘Rookie of the Year’ and having a fairy tale season, Oakey is proving she is one to watch.

Speaking to Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), she explains how her love of horses began as a child: “I’ve always had a love for horses from a very young age. I started riding when I was six in Warrington equestrian in Kilkenny.

“One lesson a week went to two then to three and I eventually convinced dad to buy me my own pony. That’s when I found my competitive edge and determination, I always wanted to win every time I went into the ring.

“I didn’t have great 128s growing up, I had more bad days than good. One day I was in the line-up for prize giving, the next day I was on the ground, but they’re apart of how I became the rider I am today, they make the good days more memorable.

“My last year of 128s was when I got the taste of success. I was fortunate enough to be given the ride of one of the best 128 ponies in the country at the time. I was in the mix with some of the best riders my age at the time, it was great. It all kicked off from there.”

In 2020 Oakey began training with Denis Flannelly and bigger goals were put in place. Oakey credits Flannelly with her transformation and development as a rider.

“The work that went in back then and to this day, being in the correct system, doing the right exercises during training, the correct way of going, the list goes on – it’s what has made me the rider I am today and was one of the reasons I was able to go and produce two clear rounds in the nations cup.”


Stepping Up a Level

In 2021 Oakey’s dreams started to come true, little did she know it was only the beginning of a very special journey.

“In 2021 I achieved a dream of mine I had for a long time – I got to jump in the main arena in Dublin and placed 2nd in the Children on Horses class. At the end of 2021 I was lucky enough to compete at my first competition abroad in Sentower, and I wanted more of it. We realised how high the standard was abroad and knew then we needed a good pony.”

With the help of Flannelly, Oakey found the pony to bring her to the big stage – Boutade Ste Hermelle, a now 12-year-old Selle Francis bay mare. Oakey details how it was an instant match for her, even if it may not have been for her father James.

“We fell in love with her in the first ten minutes, although it took dad some time to fall in love with her.”

Oakey, with the guidance of those around her, has taken a very mature approach to her progression with Boutade Ste Hermelle, or Bou Bou as she is known affectionately at home. Despite being in her last year on ponies, there has always been a clear plan in place.

“The aim was always 2023 so it gave me time to really form a connection with her but that came quicker than expected. The end of 2022 we went to Lichtenvoorde and jumped a big technical Grand Prix, was the biggest course I’ve ever jumped at the time. We were one of only 6 clear rounds, unfortunately adding a single time fault. It was then we realised if we stuck to the plan, we could have a chance for 2023.”

Oakey is very aware of the many elements that are needed to get top results and she has put a great deal of effort into building her relationship with Bou Bou.

“A relationship with a mare goes a long way. Bou Bou made me realise this. Crossing the finish there was so much emotion, it was the relationship that we’ve formed in the short space of time we’ve been together, it’s remarkable. She wants to jump clear rounds as much as I do. And it’s the days when I may not be perfect with my stride that she does help me,” Oakey explained, beaming from ear to ear with pride for her pony.


Abbie Oakey jumping clear in her Nations Cup debut

Fairy tale year

Oakey has moved up another level this year, producing clear rounds at the FEI Youth Nations Cup in Zuidwolde and Hagen.

Reflecting on the season so far, Oakey said: “I think the trials in Mullingar came as a shock to everyone, I didn’t expect to be coming away being in the top 5 with the best 148 riders in the country. It was then I was selected for the teams in Zuidwolde.”

Once again, Oakey shows great maturity when speaking about her Nations Cup debut, she had a plan in place, trusted the plan and knew the only person she had to beat was the course builder. Weeks, months and years of training was coming together for this day.

“All the training that’s put in behind the scenes is what makes it possible. The amount of detail that goes in is unbelievable. Every day in the arena riding down to poles on the correct distance, stride, canter, balance, rhythm etc. Working in accordance to the training scale on the flat and bringing that into your jumping.”

Her trust in the training process not only gave Oakey confidence coming into the ring, but helped create such a successful relationship between horse and rider.

“I kept going through the course over and over again before going into the ring so when it came to going into the ring I could ride as smooth of a round as possible. There was pressure on me to jump clear to set the team up as I was first to go, if anything this pressure helped me as I wanted to jump clear even more.”


Looking Ahead

This is only the beginning for this rising star and the more she tastes success the bigger her goals become. Her focus now turns to selection for the European Pony Championship for Show Jumping, taking place in France next month.

“The standard of 148 riders in Ireland is very high compared to other countries in Europe. There are a lot of good riders who are fighting to get on the team, including myself.”

“If all goes to plan I’ll hopefully be able to go to the Nations Cup final in Sentower and then try to get to some World Cup shows (pony trophy) the end of the year.”

“Besides from abroad shows another goal, along with every rider in Ireland is to qualify for the Dublin Horse Show and hopefully get some good results up there.”

Oakey is very grateful to have such opportunities, she gives a special mention and thanks to her parents, Denis Flannelly, Gary Marshall and her fellow pony riders and team mates.

When asked if she had a word of advice, Oakey said: “To the young riders who are just starting in the sport or have been in the sport for a while, you don’t need a ‘household name’ as we would call it to be successful in the sport. It sure does help but if you’re dedicated enough to stick at it and put in the hard work, have the right team behind you and if really fight for it anything is possible.

“If you were to tell anyone 12 months ago that a year from now I’d be even on a Nations Cup team they all would have laughed, and that’s the truth. Apart from a selected number of people, nobody believed that I’d be good enough. And on that day I proved everyone wrong. Anything really is possible.”