MY name is Weán van der Westhuizen and I am an equine student at Kildalton Agricultural College in Piltown Co. Kilkenny.
I was born in South Africa and grew up in Johannesburg. When I was four years old my mom brought me to a pony camp during the summer holidays and that was when I learned I had a love for horses. I started lessons straight away and I haven’t stopped since.
After high school, I left my family and friends behind in Johannesburg to go and pursue my dreams. In March 2018, I moved to America to study equine gnathology (equine dentistry).
After completing a few courses I went back home and started working with equine dentists around the country but I soon realised that there are far more opportunities outside of South Africa.
I looked at equine jobs in Ireland as I knew that Ireland is a gem in the equestrian world and perhaps the gateway to greater success. My long-term dream is to compete internationally in show jumping.
I found a yard in Co Sligo where I trained young and green horses and got them ready for the sales. At that moment, I knew that this was only the start of my journey in Ireland as I had fallen in love with the country.
Just before I left to go back home, I found Kildalton College online and I immediately made contact with the equine course director, Rosemary Gaffney who explained what the course had to offer.
I then applied for a two-year course that would start the next year in September.
I arrived back home in December 2019 and spoke to my family about my plan to start studying again. I was responsible for paying for the course myself and I knew that there was a lot of hard work ahead.
My 21st birthday was in September 2020 and I received the best gift ever, a one-way plane ticket to Ireland. I had all the support from my parents and even during a pandemic which made international travel very hard I still managed to accomplish my goal.
I arrived in Ireland in September and finally my journey at Kildalton College began.
My first impression of the college was wow! The buildings look like they are from a fairytale with beautiful grounds full of nature. The facilities are fantastic, with multiple arenas, barns, a cross-country course, modern classrooms and a great canteen.
A normal day at Kildalton starts at 7.30am. The first task is to check on the horses and give them their breakfast and a hay net to keep them happy, we fill up hay nets and check the water drinkers to make sure everything is in working order, then we each have about three stables to muck out.
After finishing the stables we sweep the yard and then have our own breakfast.
After breakfast we have our first couple of classes – one example of a class we have is lunging. This involves learning how to work a horse correctly on the lunge, both on the flat and over poles and fences. We develop a feel for a proper contact and how to improve the horses way of going from the ground.
At the end of a lunging class we often long-rein the horses. This gets us ready for the breaking and training module in second year where we will be given a three-year-old to break from start to finish. Long-reining the horses over cross country fences is brilliant fun, for the horses and the students.
After class we skip out, top up haynets and sweep and then head for a break and back for an afternoon class, such as clipping. We learn to clip all types of horses, and how to keep the nervous horses calm. It’s a challenge to keep the lines neat, but practice makes perfect.
On a typical day, after lunch the riders would have a jumping lesson where they might practice grid work. They will walk distances and help set up first which is a great way to learn stride patterns and how build different exercises.
The stud students work on loose schooling, learning to move a horse around the arena and develop their technique over fences.
Every day is different and classes could also involve plaiting, stable management, bandaging, sick nursing, dressage and cross country
Evening stables start at four where we groom, skip out and feed.
After a long day at the stables, we all head back to our accommodation and get our own dinner before going to bed early.
While we are in lockdown, I have had the privilege of riding with Michael Coulter who runs MC Sport Horses at Rafeehan Stud. It has been brilliant to be able to work with him and see how the young horses are produced and how Irish shows are run. With the combination of my experience with Michael and what I am learning in Kildalton, the future is very exciting.