IRELAND’s Conor Swail was surrounded by a big group of enthusiastic followers when competing at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final in Leipzig recently where he finished a sensational eighth with the suitably named Count Me In.

There was the horse’s original owner, Sandy Lupton, and her husband Robb Caswell from Springbrook Farm in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. They bought the Hannoverian Count Me In (Count Grannus x Sherlock Holmes) as a four-year-old for Sandy to compete in dressage and she rode him for over two years before he went jumping. Canada’s Beth Underhill competed him until spring 2021 by which time he was already 14 years old.

That’s where Kari Kerr came in. Conor coaches her daughter, Anya Bereznicki, and when Sandy told her last year that she was ready to create a new partnership for the horse, Kari put her in touch with Conor.

The horse is jointly owned by Conor and Connall Murray under the banner of Mannon Farm while Sandy has also kept a share in him. Businessman and farm-owner Connall has known both Conor and his older brother, vet Marcus Swail, for a lifetime and has owned horses with Conor before.

At the moment they have four horses together - Nadal, Final Chance, Count Me In and a younger horse with Barry O’Connor in Dublin. Connall’s farm is “about four or five fields away” from the Swail family home in Darragh Cross in Co Down and his 11-year-old daughter, Niamh, is Conor’s number one fan. She and her cousin watched him compete at the final and they are really excited about helping him when he competes in Dublin this summer.

Connall’s cousin, Paddy, also knows the Swail family well and dropped in to join the group while on business in Germany.

Longtime best friend

And well-known showjumper and environmental scientist Alan Creighton who works at the Irish Equine Centre had plenty to hold his interest during the week.

Apart from supporting his longtime best friend, he saw top Austrian rider, Max Kuhner, competing a horse bred by his sister, Imelda Creighton, in the three-star classes. The 11-year-old Up Too Jacco Blue, by Chacco Blue, competed at the World Cup shows in Lyon (FRA), Verona (ITA) and London (GBR) over the winter months. “I jumped it until it was five, and then Richard Bourns bought it and then Max,” Alan explained.

Golf meeting

Rudy and Ute Steur, who live in British Columbia’s “wine country”, met Eddie Macken and Conor during a round of golf while visiting the horse show in Langley, Canada five years ago and their friendship developed from there. They witnessed the Irishman’s incredible run of form over the past year that has lifted him to fifth in the world rankings.

“Since July it’s been insane, every time he went into the ring it was sensational! He’s got great horses now and he’s one of most talented riders out there - no question. And the nicest thing about him is he is just a normal person,” Rudy said.

James Chawke, who hails from Abbeyleix in Co Laois, has been working with Conor for the last 10 years. “When he got this horse it took them a few shows to get to know each other but since they got going they’ve been fairly unstoppable really! They work great together and Conor gives the horse confidence,” he explained.

James’ Canadian fiancée Jacqueline Colborne came to Ireland 10 years ago to ride with Conor and Barry and a year later met James in Spruce Meadows, “and the rest is history!” she said. The couple will marry in Mount Juliet next month.

Alexis Sokolov from San Diego, California started training with Conor in November last year and competes at two- and three-star level.

Another in attendance to show his support was Martin Healy, who works in the Fire Service and knows Conor from childhood days in Darragh Cross where they were both in the local GAA club. Conor played hurling up to county level and the two friends have a racehorse together with Gavin Cromwell in Meath.

Training relationship

From Calgary, Canada, Vanessa Mannix started training with Conor in 2007 at Barry O’Connor’s in Malahide, Dublin while studying for a business/politics degree at Trinity College.

“I showed up struggling in 1.20s, 1.30s, 1.40s but now I’ve jumped in five-star Grands Prix, been rated in the top 150 in the world and jumped Nations Cups for Canada so Conor has completely transformed me as a rider and competitor. It’s a long-term training relationship and we are also very good friends,” Vanessa explained.

“Conor and I have bought and sold a lot of horses together with great success and it has been a wonderful experience being included in the Team Ireland Equestrian dynamic.

“Lansdowne was one of the first investment horses we bought, Conor occasionally jumps my horses for me and he was third in the Dublin Grand Prix with Grand Cru as a nine-year-old. He was my first Nations Cup horse, I jumped my first big Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows on him and represented Canada on a lot of different occasions. He’s now standing at stud in Adare,” Vanessa added.

Conor, James and Vanessa consistently produce nice horses, buying them at seven and eight years old and bringing them up to Grand Prix level. Vanessa’s top horse at the moment is the 13-year-old mare called Katinka and she’s also very excited by her new acquisition, Kingston, purchased from Harold Megahey.

Nicola FitzGibbon from Cromwellstown in Kildare met Vanessa while studying for her Engineering degree at UCD and they’ve been great friends ever since. Nicola, whose career with the great Puissance saw her compete on the Irish team in Dublin, already knew Conor through the national circuit.

She was delighted to see FTS Killossery Konfusion winning in Leipzig with Belgium’s Jos Verlooy in the saddle. Together with business partner Niall Talbot, she the horse bought as a five-year-old from Vincent Howley.

“We called him Arnold at home. He’s out of Killossery Kruisette who jumped for the army, a really nice mare whose progeny have done really well, and he’s extremely talented. I jumped him as a five/six-year-old and Niall took him to Switzerland and competed in Europe for a few years. Then Bertram Allen bought him last year and now he’s with Jos,” she explained.

One of the horses Nicola and Niall, (who cooperate under the FTS banner), had at the same time as Killossery Konfusion is Errol who is now in Conor’s string, last weekend producing some brilliant results, including a five-star win, at the Global Champions Tour in Miami Beach.

It sure does take a village!