AS yards and farm settings go, the scenery around Shore Farm doesn’t get much better. In clear sight of the all-weather arena, overlooking the Moy River, are the ruins of the 12th-century Rosserk Friary, one of the landmarks on the Monasteries of the Moy cycle route.

It was low tide last Monday morning so the Moy is more mudflats than the salmon-rich river it normally is but the scenery is still majestic with islands and sandbanks dotted along the Moy as it meanders north to Killala Bay.

“Enniscrone is over there,” Ita McDermott says, pointing to Co Sligo on the opposite bank. There’s quite a convergence of counties in Shore Farm, her husband Shane Quinn’s home place, as Ita is from near Roscommon town, “just out the Lanesboro road.”

Waterlogged fields, seen on the way up to Ballina, are proof of what a wet winter it has been in the west. While the surrounding views are spectacular on a dry day, the couple are fortunate to have the essential all-weather arena and an indoor school when the Wild Atlantic Way lives up to its name.

Mondays are typically a quiet day in many yards, particularly after a weekend at shows. “It’s as close as you get to a day off!” agreed Ita, as Shane checks on a group of horses circling on the walker and their young daughter Annie, trots around the yard after one of Shane’s sisters Emer, who runs Shore Farm Pony Therapy from the family base.

And, as it happened, it was Shane’s birthday so all the more reason for them to take an hour off to hear this hard-working couple’s story. They’ve known each other since they were jumping ponies on the western circuit, Ita often competing on four-legged finds spotted at fairs by her father Jimmy.

A renowned horseman, he was often accompanied on fair days by good buddies, such as Joe Flynn and Mickey Gormley.

“Dad would always buy a load at the fairs and bring them home. He used to hunt with the Roscommons, farm cattle and sheep as well and he always had a stallion, Emoe Bertie (Silver Cloud) was one.”

“There was always families coming to buy ponies. Even when you’d go to secondary school, you’d meet girls and they’d say, ‘We bought a pony from your dad!’ I went to Lanesboro, over to Oliver Flemings for Pony Club, Tommy Harold was there as well,” Ita said, recalling her Longford Hunt Pony Club years and Tommy, who owned the famous jumping pony Tully Grey.

Eddie Macken, Jessica Kürten and Paul Darragh are just some of the household names Ita remembers watching during RTE’s Dublin Horse Show coverage.

She got her opportunity to compete there herself in 1998 with the 128cms mare Brookvale Country Girl, by the late Frank McCormack’s show pony stallion Brookvale Super Trouper. “Dad actually bought her at Cavan Mart. We qualified for Dublin at Mullingar, then I think I was sixth in one of the classes there and we got to the main arena. I definitely got my rosette and that was the start of it all!”

“I was so excited because I’d never been to Dublin before, I’d only seen it on the telly.”

“My brother Sean still is horsey, he actually works at the prison in Castlerea with the rehab unit with thoroughbreds,” said Ita about the new Horses of Hope prisoner rehabilitation project that opened there in April 2022.

Shane Quinn and Izzy, winners of The Irish Field National Discovery four-year- old Final at Millstreet Horse Show 2017 \ Justin Black/Millstreethorsephotography

Love of horses

Once operated as a dairy farm by Shane’s dad Donnacha, Shore Farm is now ruled by horses. “It came from my mother’s side, Frank Gordon is her brother,” Shane remarked on where the love of horses’ gene stemmed from.

“There was a gang of us competing around Mayo back then: the Duffys, Jack Dodd, Thomas O’Brien, the Corcoran boys, Deane Rogan, it was very competitive! I rode in Dublin in ponies, 12.2s, 13.2s and won a lot on a pony called Shreddar. Then I had a 13.2 that went to Darragh Kerins in America.”

Shane’s mother Patricia is a now-retired national school teacher, Ita’s mother Mary a nurse. Jimmy McDermott encouraged his daughter to follow a similar steady career path.

“Dad always told me to go and be a teacher, have the school holidays and keep the horses as a pastime. I didn’t know what I was going to do after school but it was always going to be horses.”

Meanwhile, Shane studied Civil Engineering at Sligo IT, although horses were never far away either.

For Ita, who opted for the Equine with Business course in Gurteen College, there was an added bonus in bringing along a new buy.

“Such a shame the course is gone. Gurteen was a great facility, it was class. We had Liz Scott - she’s a rare one!, Susan Minion, Anna Camon, Tony Ennis as our instructors and I brought Emoe Bailey with me to college.”

“Dad bought her at Puck Fair, everything we had came out of the fairs basically! No breeding, she had a full-brother with her that day, she was three and he was four.

Puck was in August, I was just starting in college in September so I brought her to Gurteen. She was just lightly broken, the league started down there and I told Dad she was very good.”

“She was a 15.1 dark bay mare and won everything for me: all the 1.10m classes, a lot of 1.20s. The Ballymaloe ladies league was on at the time and she won that. She made me really,” a grateful Ita said about her reliable ‘diesel money’ horse.

“We still have her, she must be 22 now and she’s impossible to get in foal!”

America calling

At that career stage, young riders often go east or west to Europe or America.

“I actually went to America for three months. I did two months in Florida and one in Kentucky,” recalled Ita, who was to discover what a small world the horse one is.

Although the Florida scene wasn’t a match for down-to-earth Ita, she “loved Kentucky, it was more horse people. I was working in a jumping yard there and had a friend from college who brought me around to all the racing.”

“It was funny, Shane was telling me about this pony he had and that she was gone to America.

It was Frank Cunniffe’s nephew I was in Kentucky with and Frank goes, ‘I’ve a pony from the west of Ireland’ and I said, ‘What’s her name?’ He goes ‘Ginger Dawn’ and I was like ‘No way!’”

“That’s the pony he bought off Darragh Kerins! She was by Ginger Dick, a pony stallion that Jackie Judge, Padraic’s father had. He bred an awful lot of good jumpers,” added Shane about Whipstick Farm’s mare competed by Ailish Cunniffe, Roscommon-born Frank’s daughter.

“After college, I had to do work experience and that’s how I came down here,’ said Ita, explaining her move across the Mayo border.

“We knew each other from 12.2s, we used to come down to the jumping in Turlough. It was a circle! I came first to do work experience with Richie and Sandra Fallon, their Ciaran was only a little tot at the time.”

“He was 21 yesterday,” revealed the second birthday celebrant.

Ita McDermott's Emerald Emoe (Lot 21), a four-year-old mare by Orestus in action at the Goresbridge Go For Gold Sale 2018 \ Tadhg Ryan

A medal is a medal

Since then, the young couple have built up a strong business at Shore Farm. One of their earlier residents was none other than Ardcolum Duke (Gypsy Duke x Clover Hill), bred and owned by good family friend Joe Flynn.

“Joe mentioned he had this six-year-old stallion so I said bring him down. He was broken when we got him,” Ita recalled.

Shane produced Billy Twomey’s future international horse at the start. “We said, ‘Come down and see your horse Joe, he’s good!’ Joe came to watch him jump at Turlough.”

Ita’s Dublin rosette collection continues to grow, most recently with Aoife and Colm Cuffe’s Dunard Lady Dominator (Dominator Z x Captain Clover). She was fourth in the opening four-year-old round at Dublin last August, having topped the Meadows EC qualifier.

Then there was a notable double-hander in 2018 when Ita qualified a pair of four-year-olds for Dublin: her own Emerald Emoe (Orestus x Touchdown) and Cathy Cuffe’s Katorevel (Quaid x Satisfaction) and finishing second with both in the Mo Chroi and young event horse finals.

Emerald Emoe, a blend of the Quinn and McDermott prefixes, was bought at Goresbridge as a three-year-old. “I said she was a jumper, you said she was an eventer and you went off eventing!” Shane reminded Ita.

“That was class, a little bit of a departure but I really enjoyed the young event horse classes. She was sold at the Go For Gold sale.”

To round off an outstanding year, Shane received an award at the Horse Sport Ireland breeders’ awards that December for breeding Emerald Jonny. Winner of a silver medal in the six-year-old final at the WBFSH young event horse championships at Le Lion d’Angers with Piggy March, the Waldo van Dungen gelding is now competed by Italy’s Susanna Bordone.

Le Lion or Lanaken? Any preference for his breeder whether a horse turns out to be an eventer or show jumper? “It doesn’t bother me, a medal is a medal!”

Cavan is a lucky hunting ground, both for results and sales. Back in 2012, Shane won the four-year-old final with Patrick Murphy’s Lismon de Reve Cream (Hermes de Reve x Penistone). At the same show, Ita recorded a one-two in the 1.10m final with Emoe Tiramsue (Limmerick) and the ever-reliable Emoe Bailey.

Two years previously, she won the five-year-old final with Suir Safari (Harlequin du Carel) a celebration that Emer just missed out on.


“I was part of their gang! I was jumping in amateurs, then I went to college [DCU] to study Adult Education and specialised in Additional Needs. The way the semester started, I did the Cavan September show and then on the Sunday night, went up to Dublin on the bus to start college the next day. The first year was 2010 and that was how I missed Ita winning the five-year-old final.”

“I loved Dublin. I finished college in 2013 then Mum saw an advert for a course in Festina Lente near Bray, so I did that next.”

Inspired by what she learnt at Festina Lente’s equestrian learning centre, Emer set up Shore Farm Pony Therapy.

“It’s mainly individual families coming here, we’ve got some autism and special needs units as well. Horse riding can be overwhelming if you haven’t done it before and some of our visitors don’t have many social outlets. There might be tears at the start but the tears soon stop because they love it.”

“The empathy that ponies have is a big part of it. It’s wonderful when you see the connection and the therapy sessions are going from strength to strength.”

Visits consist of on the ground and in the saddle sessions. “It’s mainly leadrein, sometimes along the beach. Some adults start off on the ground but the kids just want to go. Even kids that are non-verbal, they’re kicking the pony to go!”

“We’ve two purpose-built sensory trails, we do games to encourage communication, body and motor skills and the beautiful Festina Lente gardens are something I’m trying to replicate here.”

“My army of ponies is growing! We all merge together here, there’s an assortment here from foals to young horses, up to retired ponies and horses,” added Emer.

Ard Chuain and River View are now their nearest equestrian centres running shows and then there’s more favourite shows during the outdoor season.

“Millstreet is a special show and Cavan, but probably Louisburgh. Louisburgh is a dress rehearsal for Millstreet and Dublin. There’s just something about it and the ground is good,” explained Shane.

“The bouncy castle, the kids running round, just a good atmosphere,” Ita agreed.

The show jumping rings at the little show with the big views are held on undulating sandy soil next to the Blue Flag beach at Carrowmore. “I’d send videos of a round and people would comment how you’d disappear into a hollow and then reappear up the other side!” said Shane, who like many riders find those smartphone videos are invaluable for showing a horse to prospective customers.

Changing times

There has been quite a phenomenal growth in some buyers buying a horse online on the strength of videos on a social media channel. “It’s savage,” remarked Shane. “Someone could see a video and then they’d ring you about buying the horse. It cuts out the middlemen, all the dealers will tell you that themselves. But if you don’t sell them, you won’t stick at this business.”

Some buyers still prefer to see a horse in the flesh and they find Cavan’s end of year shows are good for trade. “Cavan has been very lucky for selling, especially the four, coming five-year-olds,” noted Ita.

Whether online or realtime customers, horses still need vetting before sales go through. What are their thoughts on the X-rays issue and some buyers need for a ‘perfect horse’ at vetting?

“It’s more understanding than 10 years ago, it could be something that can be managed?” suggested Shane.

“Which is good, because horses were being missed over sometimes stupid things,” agreed Ita.

Shane Quinn accepting an award on behalf of Donnacha Quinn, breeder of the ISH Silver Medal winner at Le Lion d'Angers 2018 for Emerald Jonny (ISH) at the HSI Breeding Awards 2018, from Edward Doyle \ Laurence Dunne/

Dream horses

Hank, Annie’s favourite pony, is one of the therapy ponies. What about her parents, if they could have any show jumping horse in the world in their stables? “Itot du Chateau!” was Ita’s instant response.

“Milton! The shortest way to win a million,” her husband replied.

They say the way to earn a million from horses is to start off with many. This young couple are lucky in many respects; beautiful Moy views don’t directly pay bills but hard work has built their yard, facilities and new house. Would they encourage Annie or young riders to follow their career choice?

“They’d want to really love it, if they really love it, then do. There are easier ways of life, maybe not as nice but easier!” said Shane.

“It wasn’t always easy,” said Ita frankly. “We’ve been lucky with horses, we’ve had good people in our life that helped us all the way, so you can make a life out of it.”

Good people. Just like the river Moy, water finds its own level.