If you didn’t know much about Irish eventer Padraig McCarthy before he won both team and individual silver medals at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) in Tryon, North Carolina last year, that’s probably because he had only completed one five-star beforehand. But with former top British rider Lucy McCarthy (née Wiegersma) as his wife and right-hand woman, success was always in the cards, as Lucy soon discovered.
While plenty of top riders are fortunate to have a spouse or partner whose own equestrian talents contribute hugely to their success, by the time they’ve got 60 horses at home, the administrative team has usually grown, too. Jobs such as social media coordinator, payroll, and sponsor liaison are often outsourced to allow the team at home to focus on the horses. But this isn’t the case at the McCarthys’ England-based yard — where the focus is on dealing and breeding horses as much as competing them — at least, not yet.
“It’s me, all me,” sighs Lucy when I ask who handles these things. “I’d kill for a PA. But finding staff is a real headache and all the riders in the U.K. are finding this. ... We get through each day as it comes, prioritizing what is most important. In the meanwhile, if I don’t get to spend too much time with my children, they’ll just have to lump it.”
A morning with the McCarthy’s swiftly sets aside the illusion that Lucy’s role might focus only on the administrative side of things, even though she should be taking it easy having given birth to a second son just last August. “I was carrying poles [to build show jumps] within a week of having Gus,” she admits — definitely not in the C-section recovery handbook.
Gus is safely parked in his pram beside the arena as Lucy builds more fences for Padraig during my visit to the yard. He’s schooling a smart four-year-old with a great natural jump — a recent acquisition from Barcelona, Spain. “We’re always adding to our stock; we want the nicest possible horses to show to clients,” Padraig explains.
Taking a Step Back
A former British team rider herself, though no longer competing, Lucy is integral to the team at the McCarthy’s MGH Sport Horses business and was a driving force behind Padraig’s WEG medals. Having produced his world championship ride, Mr Chunky (owned by Huw Lloyd and Christopher and Sarita Perkins), to the five-star level before handing over the ride to Padraig, it was Lucy’s incredible efforts that launched Chunky and Padraig’s success. It was she who did all his canter work before Badminton last year, who designed intimidating simulations of difficult cross-country questions in the arena, and was the one who helped them “turn a corner” with the dressage.
Yet it’s clear Lucy hasn’t always found the transition from ‘elite rider’ to ‘elite rider’s wife and assistant’ easy. A couple of years ago she wrote an eloquent and rather moving Facebook post explaining, with a hint of apology, that her life supporting a much-loved partner and son still left her feeling a tad unfulfilled. Her solution was to scan the fields for a promising youngster, stick a saddle on him, and start competing again. She named the horse MGH Tokyo Phil (aiming high) and updated her followers on their progress via his own Facebook page through early events.
“Phil” (now owned by Karla Pugh) is a large horse standing over 17-hands and is now competing at the intermediate level. But with the arrival of another baby, he too is Padraig’s ride now, and Lucy is content with that.
“Last year, when I was pregnant again, I became a little bit more at peace with my new role as a mummy,” she reflects. “It took me a couple of years. Necessity has dictated that my time is deployed doing other things that just need doing.” She’s emphatic that she wants to enjoy motherhood without abandoning her boys every weekend as she races across the country to compete.
“If in a couple of years something comes along that’s really exciting, and I have the opportunity to ride it, you never know, I may start again. But a horse like that would probably go Padraig’s way! He is still in his riding prime and enjoying it. ... I’ve got to keep him in horses, basically.”
Remarkably, Mr Chunky is Padraig’s only advanced-level ride, and two shiny medals in the cupboard doesn’t necessarily change those prospects immediately.
“It’s one of those things that always takes a lot of time to filter through,” Lucy says. “I remember in 2008 and 2009, after I came second at Badminton, thinking ‘Surely now I will get some more horses and owners?’ But it doesn’t happen overnight.”
“Certainly there have been a lot more people wanting interviews,” Padraig adds. “But if anything, I find it a bit of a burden because I just like riding horses!”
In the meanwhile, making your own future Olympic horse may be the best solution. I admire Phil’s terrific paces and pop as Padraig schools him over some fences in the school. “I don’t quite know if there’s enough of a tiger in him to be top-class,” Lucy muses, questioning his bravery for the highest levels. “Padraig has more belief in him than I do. We’ll see…”
Based at the 150-acre edge-of-Dartmoor farm originally bought by Lucy’s late father, Hendrik — himself an eventer — this stunning part of the world can nevertheless be a hindrance when it comes to recruiting new owners, hiring staff, and persuading riders to view horses for sale. It is some distance off the beaten path and the main U.K. horse trials circuit. On the other hand, with MGH horses now producing top results with British Olympians Gemma Tattersall and Kitty King, riders “generally trust us and come down if we call to say we’ve got a nice horse we think will suit them,” Lucy adds.
With two degrees and a Ph.D. between the pair of them, Lucy and Padraig are unusually scholarly event riders, and it’s clear that their appetite for teaching and learning pulses through their veins. Padraig is, by all accounts, insatiable in his research to find quality, up-and-coming, well-priced stallions to put to their mares for their breeding program, and both of them very much enjoy teaching. This is where they see their long-term future.
“I’m doing quite a lot of it now,” confirms Padraig, including teaching various clinics internationally. “When people are keen, or when you see something really click, it’s very rewarding. I know when I was young I really appreciated getting help.”
Establishing a Legacy
The ongoing improvements at the farm aim to develop the facilities needed to become a top-class training and breeding center. Padraig shows me the smart new “front feeders” he’s recently fitted on some small barns where young stock mingle happily, allowing homegrown hay to be fed in front of their box without getting mixed in their bed. And a large outdoor school is gradually becoming an indoor one — an invaluable resource on the edge of the moors — though with Lucy’s brother in charge of the build, it’s taking longer than planned (cobblers’ children being the ones with holes in their shoes).
"I became a little bit more at peace with my new role as a mummy."
The fields below the outdoor schooling ring are strewn with an array of cross-country fences, which for many years were used in horse trials held on the property. Lucy habitually jumps a few at the end of a training session in the school, and she plans in the longterm to have all-weather footing around them so they can be used year-round. “It’ll probably be ready just as we’ve both stopped competing,” she laughs.
While Lucy views her eventing career essentially over, it’s harder to know if Padraig will win more championship medals in the future or not, as Mr Chunky is 14 years old and aiming for Burghley rather than the flat European Championship track at Luhmühlen. “We’ve always felt he is a Burghley horse,” Lucy explains. Though Padraig hopes to have two more horses at the advanced level by the end of this season, he knows neither will be in Chunky’s league.
Yet, my bet is the McCarthy name will be associated with future medals, be that as a rider, trainer, or the breeder of podium-placed horses. Padraig’s success has less to do with “the luck of the Irish” than sheer hard work, a constant desire to improve, and the support of an equally talented wife.
The story of the McCarthys and the curiously named Mr Chunky continues in Issue 14 of NOËLLE FLOYD Magazine.
Feature photo by Jo Hansford Photography.
Written by Lucy Higginson
Lucy Higginson made a small piece of history by becoming the first woman to Edit Horse & Hound magazine, a role she held for 12 years, campaigning ardently for hunting and for horse welfare, and collecting numerous awards along the way. Now a freelance and PR consultant, she’s also a regular rider in Windsor Great Park, close to her home in Eton College where her husband is a housemaster.