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Darragh Kenny

From the heart of Offaly, Ireland, comes our next rider, Darragh Kenny. This Olympic show jumper’s unparalleled talent, precision horsemanship and extraordinary bond with horses define the essence of equestrian excellence, resonating as one of the best horsemen on the current equestrian scene.

The start of Darragh’s career

Son of horse trainers parents, Darragh’s story with horses began when he was just three years old. Surrounded by wide-open fields where horses roamed freely and everyone seemed to have a connection to these animals, Darragh’s life became entwined with the world of horses. 

Speaking about his childhood in Ireland, Darragh confirms there’s a cultural linkage to the equestrian world, “We were always around horses. Even if you didn’t have one, your neighbor probably did.” 

Learning from his parents, Darragh developed a style of riding that focused on understanding the horse rather than forcing it. “Understanding what they like to do and how to do it was the best way to get the most out of them,” he said, recalling his mother’s advice.

When he was ten years old,  Darragh started participating in show jumping. As we ask him what his advice to that young Darragh would be today, he states  “To be patient”

The Key to Success 

Over the years, the showjumper has accumulated multiple victories under his belt but  helping the Irish team win the Aga Khan trophy in 2019 was a significant achievement for Darragh “it a massive childhood dream” he confesses “I think the first round that I jumped in in Dublin in Aga Khan was a really major round. I had to be clear, I was the last of all the team, I had to be really clear and precise and that kept us really in the moments of the competition. The horse was really talented but he wasn’t the easiest to ride. I think that was for sure one of the most pressured rounds I had to ride.” the olympic rider confesses. Although that was not the last pressure round Darragh would do to help the Irish team to achieve victory. He produced a double clear round during the World Cup Final in Barcelona that secured their spot at the Olympics in Tokyo. “Qualifying for the Olympics was a really big thing for me and my career. It was an amazing achievement”, Darragh recalls. 

This amazing triumph was made on the back of VDL Cartello. Who also brought a lot of successful rounds to his career. Darragh comments that when this Holst horse came into his life, it was the first time he learned a lot from a horse “In the end we were a great team” he proudly says.

If we question Darragh about what he thinks is the key to his success, he comments “Knowing your horses really well and relying on them is the most important thing”. Managing pressure in competitions became easier for Darragh when he trusted his horses. “Knowing them well also takes away a lot of pressure,” he explained. 

Darragh’s secret for finding and developing such talented horses also comes from forming the strong bonds he has with the horses. “I’ve been fortunate with the horses I’ve worked with in the past. Some of them were at a lower level, around 145 or 150, and I’ve helped them progress to even higher levels. Others, I’ve started training from a young age to bring them up to the top”. Explaining his approach, Darragh emphasized the importance of tailoring their growth to suit their unique personalities. “I try to create the best conditions and methods for each horse,” he said. “I just try to build a good relationship with the horses and try to produce them in a way I think it’s the right situation for each horse and try to get the most out of them that way. I never do what isn’t right for the horse, I always try to do what’s right for the horses and what suits them best. But the most important feature to look for in a horse is intelligence”, according to Darragh.  

More than only riding 

Apart from competing, Darragh found joy in mentoring young riders. At his own Oakland Stables he trains students to compete successfully in a range of classes from children’s jumpers to Grand Prix, both in the United States and Europe. At Oakland Stables they provide a tailored programme that suits the student’s goals and needs. “I like helping younger riders achieve their goals,” he said, remembering how others had supported him when he was starting with his career. 

That part of his stables are based in the United States doesn’t come as a surprise. When Darragh was 20 years old he made the big step of moving to the United States, where he got the opportunity to work with Missy Clark and John Brennan at their North Run Stables. During his time there, he commuted between Europe and America for his career, as the American competitions were all national, he had to spend his summers in Europe to compete in higher levels.  

When being asked about the differences between European sport and American sport, Darragh explains, “For a long time the European sport was very ahead of American sport. Not even the riding, but the shows that were available, the competitions, the prize money that was available etc. Everything was really different in Europe than in America”. But according to Darragh, the last three years there has been a big change happening. There are now a lot better shows in America, like five star shows and four star shows. The level in the United States is getting higher. “I think that’s great for the sport in America. It’s going to make it more professional and strong. Which is a really good thing”. Although he also acknowledges that there’s a cultural difference when it comes to horses and breeding “If you go to Belgium, Holland, Germany, Ireland or England, no matter where you drive down the road, you see horses. So I think they have a bit of an advantage in that situation because they are always brought up with horses, taught about horses and riding, even from a very young age. I think, hopefully with the better shows in America and the competition level of getting better, more people at a younger age will be brought into the sport.” he concludes. 

To commute between all the competitions in different countries, Darragh uses his Roelofsen Horse Truck. “It’s a super strong brand and the stability of the trucks is brilliant. The trucks hold their value and they are super safe for the horses. They are super strong so you’re never going to have too many issues with them. And that is very important for me.”, he explains while emphasizing why he chose to work with Roelofsen.

When being asked about what life lessons the equestrian world has taught Darragh, he explains that horses teach you to have a lot of patience. “If you don’t take your time and you don’t respect the horses, then you’re not going to get anywhere. This is the same thing in life. If you don’t respect the people around you, then it’s never going to go very well”, explains Darragh. 

The future

Looking forward, Darragh has two big goals—to lead the team to the Olympics in Paris this year, and he would like to be on the Dublin team the coming year. Beyond those goals he wants to keep improving his horses and keep getting good results with them. 

His vision for the Irish equestrian world is that it keeps on getting better. “The direction that Irish show jumping is going, absolutely blows my mind. We have so many talented young riders that are getting to the high level so quickly, that it’s unbelievably impressive. I think the system right now in Ireland is really really good in producing riders from a very young age with good flatwork, good riding skills, and good talent. I think it’s just getting better and better. And I think that’s fantastic to see as an Irish rider”, concludes Darragh.