Cian O’Connor took an absolutely scintillating win on Sunday evening at the annual Horse of the Year CSI3* show in Birmingham, England, keeping an Irish/English rivalry alive and coming out triumphantly on top to be named the HOYS Leading Show Jumper of the Year.
Better, O’Connor rode a horse he hadn’t competed for nearly 10 months, and edged out British legend John Whitaker by four hundredths of a second for the win.
“I’m delighted, this is a very prestigious grand prix, especially between Irish and English competitors, and it’s one that I’ve always wanted to get my hands on,” O’Connor commented.
In a Round 2 jumpoff that saw eight pairs return, there was plenty of competition with five double clear scores. Whitaker rode his Olympic mount Ornellalia, an 11-year-old Holsteiner mare (For Pleasure x Calato) to a clear in 32.53 seconds. It was nearly an unbeatable time for the rider who was cheered on by his fellow Brits, but O’Connor then proceeded to find the edge in 32.49 seconds.
O’Connor was aboard Super Sox, the talented, 10-year-old Hannoverian gelding (Salito x Silvio I) that is normally ridden by O’Connor’s student, Lillie Keenan.
“Sox is an extraordinary horse. I train the girl who owns him, the American rider Lillie Keenan. Last month at 19-years-of age, she jumped clear in the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona. And my job is training Lillie and also managing the horses. She’s at school at Harvard and I keep the horses ticking over,” O’Connor described. “But I rarely compete them in the ring. The last time I jumped Sox in the ring was Olympia, last December. So to just basically have a catch ride this week shows you how good the horse is.”
The talent of Super Sox was evident, but O’Connor revealed that he went for Sunday’s win with deeper motivation than just capturing another prize check. O’Connor last showed at HOYS two years ago, but that year, he left the show early upon receiving the news that his mother had passed away. A woman who O’Connor described as “the type of person who would give you her last cent or do anything for you,” O’Connor choked back his emotion as he shared, “I just thought this morning, you know what, I’m going to win this grand prix tonight, and if I do, I’m going to dedicate it to my mum.”
Win it he did, and in the most spectacular style.
See the full results list of the Leading Show Jumper of the Year Grand Prix at this link.
-Quotes via Lloyd Bell