Cian O’Connor has been a regular face on Irish teams at Nations Cups, European and World Championships and Olympic Games. He secured the individual bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics and repeated that performance five years later at the European Championships in Göteborg as well as helping team Ireland win gold. But his thirst for achievement is far from quenched. In between his busy show calendar, training program, business engagements and family commitments, he found the time to build an incredible new facility by his home near Dublin, Ireland.
You have recently moved into your new facility in Ireland. Can you explain to us what makes Karlswood Stables so special?
Seven years ago, my wife and I started building a brand new facility for our home just outside Dublin. In our eyes, Ireland is a synonym for horses and education, which is why we wanted to build a centre of equine excellence just outside the big city. Our location makes it convenient as we want to attract equestrians that come to Ireland for business, holidays, work or college to give them an experience they won’t get anywhere else. We guarantee success to people who want to put in the work, which is why we, at Karlswood, want the best horses for our clients so they can get results at whichever level they aspire to.
Can you describe your facility and tell us which part of it makes you most proud?
I wanted to have facility that is like nowhere else. Having visited so many yards throughout Europe, North America and the UAE, I tried to isolate the best parts from each of them. It was clear to me that to make people come as far as Dublin, the facilities had to be unquestionable, second to none. So I think the jumping field is the part that makes me most proud as we modelled it like a mini version of the legendary arena in Aachen. It is completed with two water jumps, a double of ditches, a lake, a devil’s dike, a hedge fence, a stone wall, and as a cherry on the cake we have a beautiful gazebo where we can organise lunches for clients. We really try to create a unique ambiance where people feel comfortable.
We also have the usual facilities: a 80×100 sand arena with ebb and flow watering system, our grass ring is 140×100, a loose jumping arena, a lunging arena and an indoor. This way we can actually do a lot with our horses without having to leave home.
Is there a particular reason you decided to base yourself in Ireland as opposed to the mainland?
For me, home is home. I have been studying the model and what strikes me is the increased global participation paired with the amount of big shows with high prize money. The flip side to that is that no one seems to be producing horses anymore. There used to be a time when we would go to national shows, followed by a small international show, then a Nations Cup. After that we could regroup and go to a small national show again. Nowadays, top riders are just travelling from show to show at the highest level, which increases the need to develop horses. That is why, at Karlswood, we try to create a conveyer belt of horses of all ages coming through to suit any client. It is my aim to try to buy the best four year olds, the best five year olds and the best six year olds etc. I also breed horses, I buy foals, I buy embryos to get the best we can find.
If you have the best, you are going to provide the best so people will have to buy from you to get the best. Often you see some riders get unstuck, because they are competing every week, but as soon as those horses age out, they are left with nothing because they didn’t plan ahead to bring along the next generation. I think that’s something that needs to be done, and I think Ireland is perfectly suited to that. It is close but yet far enough away from the hub of the sport in Belgium/Holland which is nice because we can develop horses in a cost-effective manner, slightly off the radar and when they are ready we can bring them onto the market place.
How many horses do you have in training currently and how many members of staff have you got?
We have about 20 horses based here full time. Normally we’ll have two members of staff looking after non-equine matters, like the general maintenance of the farm. Then we’ll have about four riders, each with their own groom for those 20 horses, overseen by our head girl and then two office staff as well.
You started a breeding operation with Andrew Hughes of Ennisnagh Stud.
I have always been involved with Andrew over the past couple of years, he is a good friend of mine. The breeding is something I didn’t have time for and we work well together. Either when horses retire or when I see a nice mare, we might buy it for the breeding program. These top horses are getting harder to find and even more difficult to afford so we are looking to bring them in from all directions. And even though I like to buy every age of horse, you never know where the next star is going to come from, so the breeding program together with Andrew is another chapter in our book.
Andrew is also a trainer of racehorses. Do you personally have an interest in racing ?
I have a good interest in racing. I also coach the Wachman family whose father (David Wachman) was a very successful race horse trainer and their grandfather is John Magnier of Coolmore, so with their unprecedented success in the racing going on around me, I follow it with great interest and awe of what they have accomplished and continue to do.
Talking about the Wachman family, you have bought some very well bred colts and stallions, can we be expecting a stallion operation for showjumpers, perhaps in cooperation with Coolmore?
The colts and stallions have just been the horses that I’ve found jumping the best lately. I don’t go out to find stallions, it’s just the way it has happened. Do I want to breed from them? Not particularly. I think if they are valuable I wouldn’t want to risk it. We had a very good horse last year, named Claudio that I sold and there was a lot of interest in him as a stud, but I just find that the risk versus what they are worth doesn’t make it worth my while when I need to sell them. So it is just a coincidence.
In September 2018, you were elected as an FEI athlete representative, but one year later you resigned this position. Can you tell us why?
I supposed I am so used to doing my own thing, calling the shots and living or dying by them. So I probably wasn’t suited to a committee situation. In my business, I make my own decisions and whether they are good or bad, I only have myself to blame. But when you work in a committee situation, you put a lot of time and effort into something that seems so obvious to you, but doesn’t seem so to others which makes it hard to make real change. Also, given my business, personal commitments and my own career, it is probably something that I entered too soon, but would be interested in doing later in life, when I have more time.
As a final question, recently you acquired M Quality, born as Miss Quality. The founder of Hippomundo is also the owner of Quality Stud, therefore the breeder of Miss Quality. How is she doing?
She is doing very well! Tom Wachman is riding her, he jumped her here yesterday. She is a very nice mare, she looks good and scopey. She will probably jump her first Grand Prix with him in the next couple of weeks here in Ireland. She is only 8 years old, but I’m very excited about her and I think she’ll be a good Grand Prix horse for the future.