As they hiked through the Galway Irish countryside, Shelley Bridges and John Whelpley soon found themselves amid a herd of curious Irish Draught mares grazing calmly around them. Bridges, an endurance rider extraordinaire with a well-known, educated eye for all things horse, noticed one of the mares in particular and said, “What about that one?” and our unlikely story began.
John bought the gorgeous purebred mare from Jimmy and Edel Quinn of Cappa Stud and named her Cappa Aoife (aoife means "beauty" in Irish). As it turned out, "Aoife’s" sire, Cappa Cassanova, was a three-time Irish Draught Champion Stallion, crowned in successive years at the Royal Dublin Horse Show. The dam, Cappa Princess, also carried a stellar bloodline.
Aoife was imported at 2, spending a year of conditioning at Becker College in Massachusetts, followed by another two years at Shelley's ranch on Tehachapi Mountain in California. When Whelpley approached me to take Aoife’s reins at age 6, she had filled out nicely and was strong and mature enough to take on daily training. We bonded immediately up at my ranch in Atascadero, California, so much so that she gets perturbed whenever I receive a hug in her presence from a fellow human. That said, the famous relaxed and willing Irish Draught disposition (our dressage friend Chemaine Hurtado describes them as the “Labrador Retriever of the horse world”) is key to her continued success, and John has promised to leave me this darling mare in his will.
I had ridden a Registered Irish Draught (RID) mare through the two-star level, so I had a little experience with the breed, but I had a lot to learn about this large and lovely purebred Irish Draught. First, for a large animal she was surprisingly well balanced in her gaits. I work with her in the round pen regularly and have noted her naturally moving more uphill as time goes by. Second, the mare can jump. I had my doubts when I first saw her, but when she took a quick hop over a five-foot paddock fence to get into a stallion pasture, my eyes were opened.
She was very green when I started working with her, eventually competing in several dressage shows and starter events at the end of 2022. In 2023, we began working with Andrea Baxter in earnest, and she moved up to Beginner Novice and then Novice. In November, we competed at the Eventing Championships at Galway Downs (Temecula, California), and I relished the chance to see her reaction to a larger environment. She handled everything with ease. Her dressage was outstanding, and she loved the cross-country. While we knocked a couple of rails in the show jumping, I was pleased with her ability to focus among all the hubbub of the championship event.
As for the Eventing Championships, the first thing that hit me upon arrival at Galway Downs was the vast expanse and the impeccable organization of the boarding and warm-up facilities for the competition. The layout not only made things easy in terms of preparation and timely arrival for each phase, but the close quarters of the various barns/stabling allowed for a congenial atmosphere among riders, trainers, and owners. Best of all was the chance to compete in the huge, spectator-lined Grand Prix arena. I found myself becoming nervous in front of the crowd and the big Jumbo-Tron screen, but what a wonderful experience for both of us! To receive a ribbon for the Reserve Championship in the Novice/Beginner Novice Championship division was icing on the cake.
I have been competing in eventing for 20 years now at many levels of the sport. My horses have been mainly Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred-crosses, and they have been wonderful. But the Irish Draught is truly a miracle. My experience with Aoife is that she is a true athlete, a fierce competitor, and a deeply connected friend. We all know that eventing is about building a trusting partnership with your horse; it's the best part of the sport. Having such a horse to ride and enjoy is a true gift, and I appreciate every single wonderful second with this amazing creature.
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Macyn Wolpert and her pony 18-year-old Sport Pony Hallelujah were set to attend the Pine Top Intermediate Horse Trials (Thomson, Georgia) on Feb. 11 with cross-county day happily occurring on Wolpert’s 12th birthday.
There aren’t many riders who can say they competed at five of the world’s seven five-star events in 2023, but the 2023 World Equestrian Brands USEA Rider of the Year Boyd Martin can. With nine starts across the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials (Germany), Defender Burghley Horse Trials (England), MARS Maryland 5 Star, and Pau (France), Martin earned five top-5 finishes.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation has announced the combinations selected to compete in the 2024 USEF Futures Team Challenge at the Carolina International CCI and Horse Trials, from March 14-17 in Raeford, North Carolina. The Challenge is designed to replicate the experience of competing within a team environment and thus is a training opportunity embedded within an existing competition at the CCI3* and CCI4* levels.
Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.