Team Ireland, Pessoa, & Moving Up: A Conversation With Richard Howley

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ichard Howley & Chinook at CSIO Lummen. Ph. ©Dirk Caremans
Richard Howley & Chinook at CSIO Lummen. Ph. ©Dirk Caremans

Brazil’s living legend, Rodrigo Pessoa, and up-and-coming Irish phenom, Richard Howley, had little in common before Horse Sport Ireland appointed Pessoa as the Senior High Performance Director of the Irish Show Jumping team. After failing to qualify for a team spot at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, Ireland reevaluated their strategy moving forward. Now under Pessoa’s expertise, Team Ireland is focused on the future and looking to deliver top team results with the ultimate goal to qualify a team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

In an effort on improving Ireland’s team performances, Pessoa is shifting some focus to young riders and developing talent for the future. Twenty-five-year-old Howley already has an impressive resume and recently cracked the top 200 on the Longines FEI World Rankings. He made his Senior Nations Cup debut for Team Ireland two weeks ago at the FEI Nations Cup CSIO5* in Lummen, Belgium, and will be competing as the sixth-man for Team Ireland this week at the FEI Nations Cup CSIO5* in La Baule, France.

Howley also runs a successful breeding business alongside his longtime girlfriend and British show jumper, Morgan Kent. We sat down with the Irishman to discuss his thoughts on the legendary Pessoa, how he manages his busy life at home and on the road, and his future plans in giving Team Ireland some more luck. Rodrigo Pessoa maintains that Irish teams have been underperforming, and says that his “goal is to transfer good individual performances to better team effect.” How do you think Pessoa will help Team Ireland’s performances in the coming years?
Richard Howley: I think he’s very open-minded about the way you produce the horses and riders for the bigger classes and to get better. It’s very important that all of us use the opportunity that he has given us—it is absolutely fantastic. It has never happened that for the first Super League of the year, three young Irish riders are sent to represent their country. It was a great experience for us. It’s really important to keep the young riders and the best horses fresh and keep getting the results better and better—that’s the overall goal.

NF: You made your first 5* Nations Cup team appearance two weeks ago at Lummen. Tell me about your experience and how it feels to represent Team Ireland?
It was fantastic. It’s a different level of pressure when you’re not just jumping for yourself, you’re jumping for your other four teammates and you want to deliver the best results. It is a little added pressure when you’re on the team and a completely different level than when we get the opportunity to jump at a normal show. I’m out in La Baule this week as the 6th man with Team Ireland. It will be brilliant to watch the experienced lads get together and hopefully have a good week.

In terms of riding under Pessoa, he didn’t get too involved in the warmup with the horses, but stood and watched absolutely everything. He gave his assessment of the warmup—obviously he hasn’t been there for all the preparation of these shows seeing all the horses in the flesh, individually. In the course walk, he was absolutely fantastic. The knowledge, his experience, and his attention to detail were phenomenal. Every show he goes to and sees the horses, he’ll know a little more about the horses and the warmup. Pessoa was brilliant and really showed his experience in that he didn’t feel the need to start giving everybody instructions or giving orders, when he didn’t really know the horses the way that the riders do.

NF: You are relatively young and already have a successful breeding business, produce young horses, and compete for Team Ireland. How do you balance it all?
I have a good background in horses. I started in Ireland with my mom and dad, and was very busy with a successful pony career. I moved to America for nine months and gained a lot of ring experience there, then moved to England and worked for three years under Michael Whitaker. For the past five years, I’ve been running my own stable.

I think the breeding side of it is very important. Every good horse has to be bred somewhere. It’s a good interest and helps me stay relaxed about finding the next horse because I know they’re going to come from somewhere. If they’re coming from the fields, when they come in rough and not so pretty, with a bit of grooming and a bit of time, they all turn into nice horses. Some might be very good and some might be nice horses. The breeding is a bit of a lottery but I enjoy it. My girlfriend, Morgan Kent, and her parents, Mark and Sue Kent, are a big part of it as well and breeding is something we enjoy doing together at our base in Wetherby, Yorkshire, England.

NF: You’re quickly rising the ranks on the Longines FEI World Rankings, recently breaking inside the 200th position. To what do you credit your continued success?
RH: I think it’s down to having the right horses and having the right team that you can trust at home. We have a big stable—85 horses altogether, with 35 in work all year round. We have very good people at home that we trust and rely on to keep the production going on while we’re on the road. When you can relax and trust the system at home, then you can concentrate on your shows.

To have good horses is very important, I have two very good older horses, at the moment—Chinook (Tygo x Wellington), he’s a super horse. He was bought for me two years ago by the Aitkenhead family, and he’s been a massive help for my career. I also have Calmond (Clarimo x Tamira V)—he’s been a super horse the past six months and has really come into form. He’s owned by Neal Robinson and myself. It’s good to have nice horses like that coming through.   

NF: What are your future goals and plans?
In an ideal world, I’d like to move inside the top 100 of the Longines FEI World Rankings, this year if possible. It’s small goals at a time. I also hope to get into Dublin, that’s something I really want to do, as well as the Hickstead Derby—that’s a big one for us. I’d really enjoy if I could achieve those entries this year. The Olympics, of course. It’s everyone’s dream to represent their country at the Olympics, but it depends on the horse you have at the time. The Olympics and all the big championships is what everyone works for and that’s what all the blood, the sweat, and the tears goes into. The most important this is to stay positive on the bad days, analyze it and try to improve.


Written by Lizzy Youngling

Lizzy Youngling has been a die-hard equestrian groupie since the age of three. Although not in the saddle as much as she’d like, Lizzy is a fan of all things horses. When she’s not writing for Noelle Floyd, she can be found at the boathouse training with the United States Rowing National Team in Princeton, NJ with the hopes of competing at the 2020 Olympic Games.