IT’S one of those touchdown-takeoff weeks at home in Cuffesgrange for Marion Hughes. Just back from Vilamoura, she leaves next week for California and Florida while husband Miguel Bravo and stable jockey Mikey Pender head eastwards.

“We’ve two horses going to Doha next week: Calais and Catwalk. They’re on their way up from France to Liege, where the horses fly out from.”

The Mach 5-speed life of anyone involved in top international sport. In the case of Hughes Horse Stud (HHS), it’s also about continuing the family business started off by her father Seamus.

There are many cast members in the whole Hughes/Brennan story, from his brother John at Williamstown Stud, their sister Ita at Mill House Stud and aunt Mary, who bred the likes of Special Envoy (King of Diamonds) and Vivaldi (Imperius) from just two broodmares owned by her. That generation left a substantial imprint on Irish sport horse breeding.

“I suppose the love of the horse was there and that’s the main thing to start off with.”

And then there’s the Hauri connection. “My dad was very involved with Max Hauri for years and that really helped,” Marion says, talking about the decades-long association between the Hughes and Hauri families.

“That brought a great insight into the international scene because Ireland is really an island off an island, so we’re very far away from Europe. We’re reliant on information, especially back then, when people didn’t travel so much, didn’t have the internet, and didn’t have any connection. So it was hugely different for my father.

“He had to make a living out of horses, we all have to make a living but it was much harder then. He sold about 120 horses a year as an agent to Max so he travelled all around the country, looking out for horses and showing them to him.

“Max’s father [Max senior] was a dealer too and he originally came over more for army horses and black horses. They came to our place first with Tom Hutchinson and Max was sent to school there in Kilkenny.

“Max spent six months in St. Kieran’s College to learn English and meet people. He was in the same class as my uncle Thomas. Max and my dad were similar ages and he would have considered Max one of his best friends.

“It was just a great friendship and working relationship, everything was very clear. Max was a genius really, he vetted every horse himself. Max would drive into a yard, he’d see 10 horses, might buy two. He’d vet them himself that evening, no such thing as X-rays at the time. He liked a correct horse, it had to be straight and a good mover.”

Whether it was a remount officer or an agent, their criteria of buying sound horses with correct conformation and movement as cavalry types and trooper prospects, was based on longevity. Better-built horses lasted longer.

There was another reason why Hauri insisted on soundness. “For him, everything was longterm. When Max bought and brought them back to Switzerland, he had to stand over them for six months after he sold them to a customer. I learned a lot from Max from going round looking at horses, it was a huge education,” she adds about a key lesson in having faith in her own judgement.

“I also saw horses that I sold him evolve from five to seven-year-olds to Grand Prix horses, so the horses that I liked back when I was 16, 17, turned out to be international horses. And then I was able to have the confidence in myself to think ‘I was right about that one. I really liked him as a young horse.’”

Speed queens

Before Marion moved on to competing those home-breds, she enjoyed the traditional grounding of Pony Club and hunting that has benefitted many Irish riders. Her successful pony career was capped with a team gold medal in the 1984 European championships with Bright Ruby and one size down before that mare, there was the brilliant 138cms Nightingale.

Their win at the Dublin Indoor International was featured on the RTÉ children’s programme Anything Goes, with Marion interviewed ringside by one of its presenters Kathy Parke. “The good old days! That was a fantastic show, I remember the bucking bulls and riding in the pairs relay with Paul Darragh, there’s a picture on the wall at home of me competing in that class.

“For us, it was huge at the time. It would be fabulous if we could get that [an indoor international] back in Ireland again.”

Seamus had wisely built up a bank of old Irish bloodlines, including King of Diamonds, Nordlys and Water Serpent broodmares, later supplemented by Clover Hill daughters.

Flo Jo was one of those early results from the trips to Ringroe that Seamus undertook.

The Clover Hill mare was named after the late Florence Griffith Joyner, or ‘Flo-Jo’ as she was known worldwide after the USA track legend won a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympics. At the same Games, Max Hauri’s sister Heidi won her individual bronze in show jumping with the Irish-bred Jessica V (Candleabra).

1984 was also the year that both the four-legged Flo Jo and another grey filly Samantha IX were foaled at Cuffesgrange. Both were bred on identical Clover Hill – King of Diamond lines. “One [Flo Jo] was a Battleburn cross, the other [Samantha] was a Nordlys cross,” Marion explains.

“My sister Clare rode Flo Jo at Dublin as a five-year-old, so we probably named her between ourselves. The Olympics was everything for people in sport, it was for us anyway. There wasn’t much on television back then so the Olympics was really important. We’re always thinking of original names and it worked out very well because Flo Jo was such a speed queen!”

The pair went on to win back-to-back Queen Elizabeth II Cup titles (1995, 1996) at Hickstead, a course the brave Irish mare excelled at.

It was a case of ‘Breeders plan, Mother Nature laughs’ though, when it came to replicating Flo Jo.

Marion Hughes and Flo Jo competing in Hickstead

“We had no luck with her at all trying to get her in foal. Jessica was the same, she came back from Switzerland to be retired in uncle John’s place and he tried everything too. Even John couldn’t get her in foal!” Marion said about the veterinary surgeon wizard.

An alternative option was to buy back one of Samantha’s offspring. She was originally sold as a three-year-old, through Max to his relative Silvia Röösli-Merz and became her horse of a lifetime.

“I said I’d love to get something back related to Flo Jo, so I bought Cheryl (Chameur), a daughter of Samantha. She’s bred a few horses, I’ve a nice seven-year-old by Sheikh It out of her [HHS Good Times] to jump this year and Harry and Barry Fitzpatrick have another one: HHS Fondue (Heritage Fortunus).

“We actually got back a good few mares from Switzerland over the years that got injured. Max would source them and we did a deal that he’d get the first foal out of them. We’d give him back the first one as a three-year-old, so he got a free horse and then we kept the mare,” she said, explaining the win-win arrangement of sourcing performance mares.

“The grandmother of Charlton [Kilkenny Diamond’s dam] and the mother of Transmission (Gina XIV, by Diamond Serpent) came back like that. The owners were happy that the horses were retired to a good place.

“In Switzerland now, a lot of owners send their mares to Germany or France to foal, they’re not making their way back to Ireland as much. Times have changed.

“You have to keep up and find new bloodlines. Don’t be afraid to change things, that’s the main thing.”


Charlton, foaled in 1990, was from the first crop of a stallion with a new bloodline that did change Irish sport horse breeding: Cavalier Royale.

“Max convinced my dad to buy him. He [Max] said there’s not enough movement in the mares in the country, we need an outcross to bring more movement and presence to the horses. He said this horse has Cor de la Bryère in him and we didn’t know then about Cor de la Bryère, but he said he’s a fantastic stallion and, of course, he was so right.”

Cavalier Royale had competed with Swiss rider Hansueli Springer before Seamus did that deal.

“The horse was probably 12 or 13 then, he’d done some Puissance classes when Max came across him and said you have to buy him. My father bought him but didn’t like having stallions around the yard, we weren’t set up then for keeping them.

“Michael Quirke took the horse first and then my uncle John took him after that. He [Michael] got him going, he’s in a very central place there in Littleton with his dad Paddy and they got the ball rolling for Cavalier. They got a lot of foals on the ground and it all went from there.”

How did the two Cavalier Royales – Charlton and Transmission – compare?

“Charlton...I was 10th in the Europeans in Hickstead in 2009 with him. He was an amazing horse, probably not built as my kind of horse but he was brave and kind, a super horse.

“It was the first time I did really big classes, so I suppose he really started my career. Transmission was a beautiful horse, he was a little bit unlucky,” she says about the horse tipped as a possible Olympic horse in the run-up to the 2004 Games in Athens.

“2004 was the year I did the Olympics instead with Fortunus (Foxhunter), a horse Miguel bought from Schockemöhles. He had produced him and then I took Fortunus over at the right time and got to go to the Olympics.”

Flo Jo, Charlton, Transmission, Fortunus... how would she rank them?

“I think they were all so part of my life. Like, Flo Jo winning the Queens Cup? She started my career. Without her I would never have got to the next step.”

“Charlton was the next move. He got me to championship level which was a completely different dimension because then you were taken seriously as a rider. Being a girl it’s not that easy to be taken seriously,” she remarks.

Similar to Heidi Hauri’s recent story, it was good form at Rome that edged Marion to her place on an Olympic team.

“I got on the team for Rome in 2004, the year of the Olympics and the main reason I got on the team was our Irish chef d’equipe Tommy Wade loved Transmission! But the horse was only nine at the time so he was a bit young for the Olympics.

“Tommy put me on the team as reserve going to Rome. He didn’t particularly love Fortunus but then I had a double clear in the Grand Prix so then he had to put me on the team for Lucerne.

“I did well in Lucerne and then I was on the team for Rotterdam, another clear and four, so I got to go to Aachen. I fought my way to the Olympics and earned my place, going from show to show like that. In Dublin, we had to jump on the Thursday and in the Nations Cup but it suited my horse anyhow. The more he jumped, the more he believed in himself.”


Every four years, Olympic honours fall in favour of three medal-winning individuals and three teams in its equestrian sports. For others, years and months of planning get unhitched as Marion experienced after Fortunus stepped on his shoe during his round.

Still, that Olympic appearance is recorded amongst 16 pages and 778 competitions to date on her FEI file. There’s many more as results from earlier shows – her first FEI record is Charlton’s appearance in the 1999 European championships - tend to be sketchy on many databases.

Charlton was later sold to US rider Clare Bronfman and the pair won the Rome Grand Prix in 2002. Transmission took Marion to her second European championships in Mannheim in 2007 and after a spell with Nick Skelton, he too went Stateside.

One of his final outings with American rider Richard Neal was at Thermal, where Marion is getting ready to pack for.

How does she organise the logistics of a busy household, yard and travel arrangements for the HHS competition horses. Does she have a personal assistant (P.A)?

“My horse P.A on the farm is Brendan Doyle! He’s my right hand man. I have a very good girl, Bruna, she’s been with me on and off for 10 years originally helping me as an au-pair and now ending up as my P.A.”

The initial reason for employing Brazilian native Bruna was to have a Portuguese-speaking au-pair for Miguel and Marion’s three daughters: Molly, Marta and Matilde.

“It kept the language going for the children which is what I wanted. We live in Ireland most of the time but the two older girls are fluent in Portuguese, which is a big advantage.”

Marion Hughes and husband Miguel Bravo

Where did she first meet Miguel? “We met jumping abroad, then he did the World Cup qualifier in Millstreet,” she replies about her husband, who has his own international track record, including two European championship appearances at St Gallen (1995) and Donaueschingen (2003) for his native Portugal.

“Miguel has a great passion for horses. At first he only rode the older competition horses and then he found his forte in producing young horses. We always work great together. He has great patience at producing them. I would ride the horse I could be more competitive with and he would play around with the other ones, getting experience and clear round mileage on them. It worked well.”

Portuguese, also the first language of Brazil, is a tough language to learn. Although dipping into it is an advantage for Marion too, if chatting for example with Brazilian riders Nelson and Rodrigo Pessoa who competed several top Hughes-breds and Hauri finds.

“It is a difficult language. If you can speak Portuguese, then Spanish is no problem. When the girls were young, they went to schools in Portugal, now we just do Ireland. For national school, it was easier to move them around but it was definitely more difficult in secondary.

“Molly is in UCD, she’s doing Ag Science, in second year. Covid suited her down to the ground as she spent the year travelling round with Mikey and doing her online studies as well.”

Another multi-tasker.

Next week: Young blood.