THE death of John Wright has left a big hole in the lives of many, particularly his wife and constant companion Joan who, coming from the McAuley show jumping family, was introduced to the world of eventing when she and John first met in 2000.
They enjoyed all horse sports together including racing and were regular attendees at their local track, Leopardstown. Like others, they hadn’t been racing for many months because of Covid-19 but decided to go to a mid-week meeting at Fairyhouse in September.
“There was hardly anyone there but we had a great day,” said Joan. “We had a long chat with Jessica (racehorse trainer and Eventing Ireland President, Jessica Harrington) and came out the right side of our €5 bets. As we were a bit nervous about going anywhere to eat on the way home, we decided to have curry chips in the car! John was very happy that day.”
Among those from the eventing world who paid tribute to John was George Russell who knew the Dublin horseman and businessman for many years as he here recalls.
“I first met John when I was about 15 as I kept my horses at Neil Brown’s yard near Trim as did John and his son Cillian. We knocked round together, going to the same competitions and supporting each other and there was always plenty of banter.
“It wasn’t until 2006, when I was based in Dollanstown, that he approached me about taking two of his horses – one for me to compete and Master Hill who he competed himself until he had his accident (suffering major neck injuries in 2007) after which I took over the ride.
“At that stage, John said he would like to own an eventer and bring it up through the levels. So we sold Master Hill and bought Aquila (stable name Tara) who showed a lot of talent and competed to CCI2* level. Unfortunately, she had an accident in the paddock which ended her competition career so, in partnership with Caroline Bjoerk, John and Joan started breeding from her.
“On a personal level, John was like a father to me. He was always someone I looked up to not only for what he had achieved in life, but for the integrity and morality with which he approached everything. He was always someone I could go to for counsel on any topic and, in return, he would often run his stuff by me.
“When I decided to take a break from eventing for a bit, one of the hardest things was telling John and Joan, but they understood my decision and supported it. Then, at the end of 2019, while having dinner with them, John asked me if I was interested in getting back into eventing as he was keen to buy a few young horses with the view to keeping the odd one to compete and produce others to sell. I jumped at the chance and thus Tara Sport Horses Ireland was formed.
“During the early months of 2020, we bought four four-year olds. John was regularly at the yard, watching the horses train, as he loved being involved, while he was also a great asset on the business side of things. The plan is to continue on with Tara Sport Horses Ireland as Joan and Cillian are keen to proceed with John’s brainchild.”
Caroline Bjoerk spoke of her breeding partnership with the Wrights in the mare Aquilla who was by the Selle Français stallion Quiletto. “George was based with us in Dollanstown at the time, so I knew Aquila quite well. She was a lovely, kind chesnut mare with great breeding and was champion mare at the RDS for Brian Mangan before she started eventing.
“So John and I did a deal where I managed and kept Aquila and her youngstock in return for a half share. Her first foal was a colt by Puissance born in 2012, named DSL Tarquin. In 2014, she had a filly by Jack of Diamonds called DSL Allegra.
“All the names were picked by Joan. Unfortunately, we lost Aquila foaling the following year, so John got Tarquin, who went on to event very successfully for him ridden by George, and I kept Allegra who I sold to the Loves for Holly to ride.
“John and Joan were a pleasure to be in partnership with and they used to get great enjoyment visiting Dollanstown to see Aquilla and her foals.”
In her position as president of Eventing Ireland, Jessica Harrington commented: “John was a bit controversial at times but he was a dedicated supporter of Eventing Ireland as a rider, an owner and as chairman and his heart was always behind the society.”
One of Wright’s great friends was Co Mayo-born property developer Joe McGowan who, riding Private Deal, was on Ireland’s bronze medal-winning team at the 1989 European eventing championships in Burghley.
In his book Clearing The Hurdles, the author recalled when John and another good friend, Kevin Molloy, stayed with McGowan and his wife Anne Marie at St Clerans and hunted with the Galway Blazers on horses hired from the late Willie Leahy.
“What John’s horse lacked in looks, he made up for in his jumping over the more demanding Loughrea country. Kevin parted company with his big grey hunter a few times, but his bravery was never in doubt; he jumped everything that came his way. John Wright finished the hunt with the inside of his knees quite raw.... They still recall that weekend – only the jumps get bigger and wider with the telling.”
Commenting further on Wright, to whom he was introduced in 1970, McGowan said: “In all the years of our friendship, I have never seen him show a trace of fear. John, a man with the proudest of instincts, never compromised, his decisions were immediate and unhesitating.”