I’m originally from Ennis, so I grew up in a townhouse, absolutely no affiliation to horses whatsoever. And then we moved out of the county when I was 13 or 14 and now I live near Corofin, over the road from ‘Father Ted’s house’. My stables are near there along with the Irish cottage rentals with their thatched roofs, which means lots of tourists around looking in at the ponies.

I’m very lucky where I live. I didn’t really want to move when I was a kid but now I’m living my childhood dream.

The ‘day job’ is an insurance broker with Power Insurances, so it’s a very responsible job. Now, I wasn’t responsible when I finished secondary school. I kind of followed my heart and studied Equine Science in UL. I did four years and then thought, ‘I don’t know how I can make a career out of this and stay in the west of Ireland.’

So I said I’ll get a sensible 9-to-5 job and I’ll be able to enjoy my horses before and after work and at the weekends.

I got a pony when I was maybe 16. I wasn’t in Pony Club, nor did I have SJI ponies but I grew up in the riding school in the Showgrounds when it was around. My sister and I walked up from the middle of Ennis and spent the entire summer there helping out. Could you do that nowadays?

When I was a teenager, the plan was to buy a really sensible schoolmaster. I came home with a just-broken four-year-old called Scooby. I’ve had him 14 years now and we’ve literally travelled the country doing everything: side-saddle, dressage, cross-country. We’ve had the best time with him.

Unbroken Connemaras

Once I had my sensible job, I started going and buying project ponies, like unbroken Connemaras just out of the field. The first one I bought was from Mary Connolly in Mayo, an untouched five-year-old and that’s where it kind of started: breaking one every year just on a small time basis.

It was around 2015 that I joined Castle Carraig Riding Club. It was great, especially for me because I never grew up with a group of horsey-minded people and I’ve made some really great lifetime friends.

Everyone has a day job. We’re not here to take winning seriously, horses are kind of our escape and they’re the reason I go to work for 9-5, so I can give them a good life.

I took a punt on Draí when I bought him from his owner who lived at the top of Donegal. So we arranged to meet at a filling station in Co Sligo and one of my Riding Club friends accompanied me as we made the swap over in exchange for a ball of cash.

We laughed about it the whole way home but it really worked. There was something about the pony and sure, how little did we know? Or that three years later, he would be standing beside me in the Dublin ring.

Or that, as a four-year-old and when Scooby went lame, I entered Draí for the national hunter trial championships in Flowerhill. He had never done anything like that before but the size of him didn’t matter, he just has the biggest heart. He’s so clever, he and Scooby are just like giant dogs. The original plan was to sell him but he’s still here.

Dream come true

Being in the Dublin show ring was unreal. The first time I was there was when I was probably 10, watching from the sidelines and never even daring to dream I’d be in there one day; or going to Clifden last year, my first year going during the Connemara Pony Breeders Society centenary. He came fifth in the ridden class.

This year’s Balmoral young horse champion was Paula Howard’s three-year-old filly Tullabeg Hello (Hiello x Nigrasine), shown by Davy Lyons and with judges Angus McDonald and Henrietta Knight \ Susan Finnerty.

I’m just a riding clubber and I’m doing it not for results or to sell them but just because I love it.

The Association of Irish Riding Club (AIRC) Festival is coming up and I can’t wait. It was held in Stradbally, now in Mullingar and I suppose, yes, it is like Electric Picnic for the members.

I ventured into the Connemara performance, working hunter, show jumping and even dressage. Last year was the first time I did a dressage test and he actually came second in his class at the Festival.

There is nothing like driving into the Festival. I’ve booked my half day off on the Friday and can’t wait to just drive in, find the stable, get to sit up and have a ride around. The camaraderie and craic in the stable rows is unreal, everyone helps out and cheers each other on.

There’ll be extra excitement this year as we qualified at the western region qualifier in Ballinasloe for the new 70cms/80cms team championship at the Festival. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter, I’m still bringing home Draí.

He’s a special pony. I knew that from the second I swapped him into the box in that Sligo petrol station and handed over cash to the sheep farmer from Donegal.