Riding Under Skyscrapers: Captain Brian Cournane & Dino Take on New York City

Riding Under Skyscrapers: Captain Brian Cournane & Dino Take on New York City
Captain Brian Cournane & Dino at the 2017 Rolex Central Park Horse Show. ph: RedBayStock.com
Captain Brian Cournane & Dino at the 2017 Rolex Central Park Horse Show. ph: RedBayStock.com

In the international show jumping circuit, there are an array of jaw-dropping venues that set the stage for high level equestrian competition. The annual Rolex Central Park Horse Show in New York City is no different, and for Ireland’s Captain Brian Cournane and the nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Dino (Vingino x Coriano), it will be their first time competing in the city that never sleeps. Cournane, along with his wife Jules and 16-month-old son Bob, spends his winters in Wellington, Florida and relocates to South Salem, NY during the summer. The family will be expanding in December of this year with the addition of their first daughter.

On the eve of the first show jumping event in Central Park’s Wollman Rink, we caught up with the Irish rider to discuss his eventing roots in the sport, the benefits of training with George Morris, and the thrill of competing in New York.

NoelleFloyd: Have you always been a show jumper?
Captain Brian Cournane: When I joined the Irish Defense Forces in 2002 I did a little bit of show jumping for two years. We then had a patron buy event horses, so I did eventing for about 12 years and I went to the 2007 World Championships in France.

NF: How long were you an active member in the army?
CBC: I was in the army for 14 years as a riding officer in the Army Equitation School, and during that time I had a great groom, Sarah Moore, who was a big part of the team. When I retired I wasn’t able to compete in uniform anymore, but I was able to keep my title of Captain.

NF: When did you move from Ireland to the States?
CBC: I retired from the army in 2014 when I married my wife Jules. After that I was in the UK for two years, and then around this time last year I moved over to the U.S.

NF: What made you commit to show jumping after retiring from the army?
CBC: I’ve always really loved show jumping and I always wanted to be a show jumper at heart. Eventing is a very tough sport and it’s really hard on the horses, so show jumping appealed to me much more.

NF: Do you currently run your own program? 
CBC: Yes. It’s a private set up and I currently have six horses, with my oldest being 11 and my youngest being six. I started training with George Morris in March of this year after having been introduced by our mutual friend Mark Todd.

When I was in the army, the riding style was very upright, dramatic, and European. Since riding with George he has really helped me ride in a more light and forward seat. He has an excellent system that has been tried and tested for a very long time in so many places and with so many differnet riders. He really gives you a system that you can reproduce when you’re at the shows by yourself or when training horses by yourself; you don’t have to have him with you all the time. I love that American style of riding and the system that he’s teaching me.

NF: What influenced you to compete at this year’s Rolex Central Park Horse Show?
CBC: I went last year as a spectator and it looked like a great class and the prize money is very good. Dino is based in Wellington for most of the year, but we’re in South Salem, New York for the winter. He [Dino] likes a big atmosphere and it’s just a wonderful venue. We actually have an apartment in the city so it will be nice, and it’s handy for my family to come and watch. My in laws — Bob and Christine Stiller — own him, and Bob will be in attendance to watch him jump!

NF: What do you think of the venue?
CBC: It all looks great. On Wednesday I got to look at the stabling, the warm up arena, and at the main arena. There is going to be a five minute walk from the warm up down to the main arena, so that’s a little bit different but I’m sure it will be fine.

Dino has jumped at Olympia in the small indoor arena there and he’s jumped at Geneva, so he has a lot of experience. He’s also jumped at Tryon under the lights, so he likes that type of atmosphere and he’s good in a small arena. He’s very laid back and I think he will be fine.

NF: How do you think it will feel competing under the skyscrapers?
CBC: I think it will be a little bit surreal. When we’re competing we’ll just be concentrating on our jobs as usual, but I think exercising the horses on Thursday is going to be quite something.

NF: Where did Dino last compete, and how have you been preparing him for this event?
CBC: My last show was the Hampton Classic and he jumped really well there and placed in the grand prix qualifier. In the grand prix he went late in the class. The ground got a little torn up and he got stuck in the mud and had a couple down, but I was really happy with the way he jumped.

We have an indoor where I am and I’ve been riding him a lot there. Georgina Bloomberg has an indoor 30 minutes up the road from where we are and we schooled there during the week. She had some different jumps up and had more of an atmosphere just to get ready for this.

After this show, Dino will have a little bit of a break and then he goes to the CSI5* at Tryon. In November he’ll do the CSI4* in Kentucky.

NF: For a spectator, what do you believe will be the most thrilling part of the Rolex Central Park Horse Show?
CBC: You don’t see horses in such a built up city unless they’re police horses. You have the nice atmosphere of being in New York City and you’ve also got some top show jumping sport as well, so I think its going to be very special for someone who is going to come and watch.