In late November, word broke that Lorenzo de Luca’s new partner, Irenice Horta, had been sold by Stephex Stables to Ireland’s Cian O’Connor.
Though previously unknown by most in the sport until a mere six months ago, the 10-year-old Belgian mare had become a hot commodity since she and Lorenzo burst onto the international stage in Nations Cups at Aachen and Dublin this summer. But it wasn’t until Irenice’s top 10 finish at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) in Tryon, N.C. that her rise to superstardom was assured.
On the preliminary day of the individual show jumping competition, the pair finished in the top 10 in their first ever speed class together. By the second round, they’d moved into pole position in a field of more than 120 horses. “For me, [the WEG] was a fantastic experience, because it was my second championship with a horse that I hadn’t known for a very long time – it was my fifth show [with her],” Lorenzo says.
“If someone had told me before it would be like that, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Lorenzo de Luca and Irenice Horta soar over the water at the 2018 WEG. Photo by Sportfot.
In preparation for the WEG, Lorenzo had to make up for lost time with Irenice, a Stephex ride he took over in June after her former partner, Belgium’s Zoé Conter, who produced the mare from a seven-year-old, was injured. At CHIO Aachen this summer, the pair was unexpectedly thrown into the deep end.
“When I was in Aachen [with Irenice], it was our third show, and I was just supposed to do, like, two classes. But then we were missing a fourth rider, so I had to jump the Nations Cup!” laughs Lorenzo, who finished on zero and four faults for the team. “I actually felt comfortable, though, because I had a really good feeling. In that big ring, she felt comfortable, and she doesn’t look at anything.
“At the WEG, [there were] so many walls and strange jumps, and she didn’t look even once. She’s just straightforward – and [also] scopey and careful for sure.”
Lorenzo de Luca and Irenice Horta at the 2018 WEG. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.
That lack of spookiness and technique over the jumps are just two of the traits that make Irenice so good. Her standout mind is another. “She has a big heart and she always wants to do everything [for you] – she’s actually super easy,” says Irenice’s groom, Christine Rohl, who’s taken care of the mare under both Lorenzo and Zoé for the last year.
“I think she would do anything [for her rider]. I don’t think she’s ever stopped or done anything like that training-wise, or in the ring – at least since I’ve been working with her,” Christine says. “She’s always trying and she always [wants] to do her best.”
If Irenice does have a weakness, it might be her sensitivity. According to Christine, even something as simple as dusting the mare’s stall can send her over the edge. And although Lorenzo says this kind of ultra-responsiveness is a characteristic he actually looks for in his horses, it can make getting to know them that much harder. When it came to Irenice, Lorenzo says, it wasn’t until the Dublin Horse Show that he even considered her as a serious candidate for the WEG.
“After Dublin, which was my fourth show with her, it was a proper grand prix, and it was really big and technical,” Lorenzo explains. “She has the big jump, and she was always very careful, but we had really good control in Dublin and were in quite a good harmony together.”
In the days leading up to the WEG, Lorenzo says he spent extra time flatting Irenice, something he does with any horse he’s trying to get to know. “I love horses and I love to find the key to [getting them] on my side.
“I try to understand, in a way, what the horses like and what they don’t like, and I try to find a solution in between,” he explains. “I love to do [flatwork] extensions and transitions and to have everything under control, but in a nice way. If they’re not schooled enough, I take my time. And, of course, if a horse isn’t physically ready, it will never do [what you want].”
Lorenzo de Luca and Irenice Horta flatting at the 2018 WEG. Photo by Sportfot.
Despite the progress they’d made together, Lorenzo says the question of just how ready Irenice would be to jump around a 1.65m World Championship course wasn’t answered until that first round of competition. “For me, in any championship, the first day is a big day, you know? If it starts well, you’re really positive, and if it starts badly, then [you’re less so],” Lorenzo says. “In the warm-up, she jumped [great], and then in the speed class, she was really amazing.”
And she stayed amazing. In five rounds of jumping, the pair never knocked more than one rail, finishing the championship in seventh place overall. They built on that momentum in early November at Doha, the final stop in the regular season of the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT). There, Lorenzo and Irenice completed their final show together on a high note, placing fourth in the LGCT Grand Prix and earning the Italian the final berth in the €1.25 million LGCT Super Grand Prix of Prague in December.
These results aside, a rider of Cian O’Connor’s talent and experience can have no doubt of the caliber of horse that’s been added to his string – and where she’s likely to take him. In the days since Irenice’s purchase, Cian has made his priorities known: securing the Irish Team’s bid for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at the European Championships in Rotterdam next summer.
Of course, Irenice doesn’t need a human to champion her potential in the sport: she’s done that herself. But if she did, Lorenzo would be at the front of the line. “With her scope, she does things easily. She never makes an effort,” he says.
“I’m really lucky, because I have a fantastic [string]. They’re all amazing and they’re all really sporty horses. But she’s the best horse I ever rode in my life.”
Lorenzo de Luca and Irenice Horta placed seventh individually the 2018 WEG. Photo by Sportfot.
Feature photo by Shannon Brinkman.
Written by Douglas Crowe
Nina Fedrizzi spends her days writing about horse sport, food, and travel. She began her career at Travel + Leisure and is a former editor at NF Style. When she's not tapping away on her MacBook, Nina can usually be found on a horse, sleuthing out the local pho, or refusing to unpack her carry-on. Watch her do all three on Instagram @ninafedrizzi.