I LIVE in Tulla, Co Clare with my wife Erica, a vet who owns Ceithre Cos, a local large and small animal mixed practice. Our daughter Aoibhinn is in her second year in NUIG so we are empty nesters.

My parents moved from just outside Shannon to Tulla in 1976, after we sold our previous farm to Shannon Development. Dad bought two farms and the house from the late Jim White of show jumping fame, so there was a great tradition of horses here before us. Now Erica has ended up owning Jim White’s practice and living in his former house.

My maternal uncle, Michael Corbett, was a pharmacist in Limerick and got involved in National Hunt, he became very successful as an owner/trainer until his premature death. My namesake Willie Nicholas, from Murroe, is Dad’s first cousin and another relative is Pat McNamara, who sold a young Clover Hill to Philip Heenan.

1. Congratulations on a phenomenal run of success for your horses - Express Trend and Nikey HH - with Jessica Burke?

The UAE Tour was amazing. On the first Sunday at the Abu Dhabi four-star, ‘Trendy’ was second in the 1.50m, then Nikey HH was fourth in the World Cup class and had a clear/four faults in the five-star Nations Cup.

On paper, Trendy is 13 but he’s had a very interrupted career between Covid, EHV, an injury for a year and a half but him winning a 1.55m class at five-star level was a real highlight.

2. Tell us more about your team of horses.

I met Jessica by accident, even though she’s only just the other side of a small mountain from me! Francis, her dad, was in my yard to buy cattle and we got to talking horses. He mentioned Jessie had a show jumping yard, I’d a horse to break and the rest is history. Jessie was only 20 at the time but clearly an enormous talent.

She’s taken Trendy from an unbroken three-year-old to five-star level. He was incredibly difficult in his early days and would not have worked out without a serious rider and a very patient owner!

Jessie is very smart, talented and ambitious and we get on extremely well, which is really important. Her family are lovely people too.

For sourcing horses, I’ve known Linda Olson Slattery for over 35 years: an amazing contact, super judge and boots on the ground. First horse she found in Belgium was Nikey HH, an incredible mare. From the next trip, Linda sent us a video of LuLu, or Ashdale Divine, and we both loved her. She’s Luidam x Lux Z x Concorde and from a 1.60m family. In the same yard was Namamia (Fantomas de Muze x Berlin x Lord). We bought both.

LuLu was the All-England champion as a six-year-old, selected for Lanaken at seven, got to the final 41 and had just one fence down. At a young eight-year-old, she scores at 1.50m level.

Namamia won a 1.40m class at the start of her eight-year-old year, lost the rest of the year to injury but went on to represent Ireland in three Nations Cups as a nine-year-old. When you go to Belgium or The Netherlands to buy horses, you could assume they’ve been rejected by the local professional producers. You’ve to make your own calls though. The horses she’s guided us to are a very powerful testament to Linda and I’m permanently in debt to her.

I’ve progeny and embryos to look forward to from those mares.

3. An added bonus then was breeding Express Trend yourself. Tell us more about him.

I bought Chrisma, Trendy’s great-granddam, many years ago. She was a very successful half-bred Irish show jumper in Switzerland and returned to Ireland when she went lame. I’d two Cavalier Royale daughters I thought very highly of from her, including Soviet Express, Trendy’s granny.

She had an amazing canter, phenomenal scope and was desperately spooky so I retired her to breed at four. I bred her to Douglas and Condios.

I really loved Trendy’s mum Condios Express (Condios) and think she’d have been a serious jumper. I have a Tyson six-year-old from her with incredible scope and my breeding in Ireland is mostly based on her.

4. East Clare has produced many famous horses and horse people.

Unquestionably! Just locally there’s the Whites, Blakes, Willie Boland, Mulconroys, Jimmy Flynn and the late Pat McNamara to name a few. Then there’s Tom Foley and David Blake, both pros in the US.

5. How do you think Irish sport horse breeding has changed?

The dog days are over! Cavalier, Guidam, Lux Z - top stallions - were imported and it worked. James Kann Cruz, Pacino Amiro, Kilkenny, Sea Topblue (also bred in Co Clare by the Meades) are all recent Irish-bred success stories.

Then you’ve really top notch establishments like the Hughes, Ballypatrick and Ger O’Neill’s, not to mention all the smaller breeders that together produce the goods.

6. It takes a team - who’s on yours?

At home, my brother Anthony is great to handle horses. Erica is very good on the vet side and I’ve had great help from vets like Felim McEoin, Philip McManus and Liam Flynn. Kylemore Stud is world-class in terms of available stallions and track record for getting mares in foal.

In the UK, I’ve a fantastic partnership with Louisa Church from Arion Stud and we combine resources to fly under the Arion banner.

Aaliyah Philips, from Galway, is the show groom and she minds those horses so well. Then there’s so many to mention: Atty, the home groom; Gabriella, the talented home rider; dressage coach Jez Palmer, vets Vasco Lopez and repro vet Kate Bandy, Amy Frost of Cross Trees provides grass livery for the horses downtime and Roger McCrea, the Billy Stud manager, who coaches and mentors Jessie.

Together, with William Funnell, they’ve given us fantastic impartial advice from seasoned pros.

7. If you could have bred any horse, which one?

Pacino. Double clear in the Aga Khan as an eight-year-old. Gorgeous! A top stallion. It was really sad what happened to him but delighted that Clem and his family have a three-year-old clone.

8. Do breeders, and owners too, get enough recognition?


9. Best advice you ever got?

Jessie came to my farm one day and I asked her about the possibility of getting an embryo from a good mare she was riding. She advised me to buy good jumping mares and do my own embryo transfers. Obviously, Jessie assumed correctly she’d get the rides but, with the help of Linda, it was super advice!

10. Good news stories like the Nations Cup partnership of Nikey HH and Jessica are rare but it must be a big commitment for an owner to keep the show on the road?

It is. They are the dream team, a great ‘girl power’ story. However, there’s no state support or sponsorship from the private sector, so it’s how to now keep the partnership together?