THIS coming Thursday, Feel My Pulse, a horse I retrained after being gifted by my boss Gordon Elliott, will compete at the Treo Eile Christmas Show at the Emerald Equestrian Centre near Enfield. A point-to-point winner as a four-year-old, subsequent injuries prevented the gelding from ever making the racecourse but he has recently been enjoying a new lease of life as a retrained racehorse.

I am really looking forward to watching Jack Kennedy ride him next week, as they compete for the Horse Racing Ireland Perpetual Cup.

My father, who did a lot of hunting, introduced me to horses. I had my first pony when I was no more than two or three. Having learned the basics at home, I went on to attend a local riding school. Thereafter, my primary school and teenage years were spent hunting and competing at show jumping competitions.

Towards the end of secondary school, my Dad arranged for me to spend a short spell with trainer Ger Lyons. I think he hoped that the hard work might put me off a life working with horses, but if anything, it only reaffirmed my desire to do so!

After finishing my Leaving Certificate, I went on to do a degree in Equine Management at CAFRE in Enniskillen. In my second year, I spent three months on work placement with trainer Gordon Elliott in Co Meath. It was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, so much so, that even after returning to college, I continued to go in to Gordon’s at weekends and during holidays.


After CAFRE, I went on to complete the ITBA Next Generation Apprenticeship Scheme. During the course of that year, I was sent out on three separate work placements: Rathasker Stud, Coolmore Stud and Tattersalls Ireland.

I worked on the ground at the first two, while I was employed in the office at the latter. Having always had it in my mind to go back to Gordon Elliott, I returned to Cullentra full-time after the ITBA scheme.

Initially, I worked on the ground for the guts of a year, as I wasn’t confident enough to ride out. With upwards of 40 horses per lot and some of the top jockeys in the sport, it can be quite daunting at first, but eventually I took the plunge and asked to ride out.

At first, I only rode some of the quieter more experienced handicappers such as Bless The Wings, but after a time I felt confident enough to ride out others. It wasn’t too long before I was riding out six or seven lots a day; the same as everyone else.

Then, about five years ago, I was promoted to Barn Manager, meaning I oversee a string of some 30 horses. It is my responsibility to check all those horses over before riding out, feed and water them, as well as checking legs after exercise.

Exciting horses

Although I never led him up at the races, three-time Grade 1 winner Abacadabras has been the best horse I have looked after in my barn to date. However, I have two really exciting horses in my care this year: Firefox and Halka Du Tabert.

The former, who won three bumpers, made a winning debut over hurdles at the weekend and is already a leading fancy for the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas.

The latter made the perfect start to her chasing career when winning at Cork last month. I have a particular affinity for Firefox, as I also look after his half-brother, The Bosses Oscar.

I brought that horse hunting and to the beach in the run up to his recent point-to-point second at Lingstown. It is wonderful to get the opportunity to work with those older horses and help rekindle their interest in racing and/or a subsequent career.

I had never retrained an ex-racehorse before Feel My Pulse, so the last year has been a real education for us both. Since starting with Gordon, I have been away from the show jumping/eventing scene for upwards of eight years, so it was almost like starting again from scratch.

After giving Feel My Pulse some time off, I started back hacking and doing cross country/hunting. Treo Eile, who do such great work for retired racehorses, recently arranged a show jumping lesson with Captain Geoff Curran, something that I really benefitted from. If all goes well over the coming months, the intention would be to qualify Feel My Pulse for open competition at the big shows next year.

Riding racehorses is very different to hunters or ponies. When I first started in Gordon’s, I found it quite daunting but the girls in the yard couldn’t have been kinder. In recent years, I have tried to follow their lead, by helping teach new recruits to the stable how to ride. I genuinely believe that anyone can get going once they are given that initial encouragement.

Riding school

During the summer months, I run a “riding school” at Cullentra, teaching the younger staff the basics in the sand arena. It is something that I really enjoy - it is a source of pride to see the lads and girls improve and progress to riding out with the string.

Pip (Philippa Proctor Quinn) in the office nominated me for this year’s Godolphin Irish Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards, something I was surprised to receive.

Obviously it is very satisfying to be put forward by your employers and acknowledged by your peers. To win an award was just incredible, something that I am very proud of.

Godolphin deserve to be commended for their initiative, as should Punchestown racecourse for their Up The Yard Challenge.

The latter event, which affords stable staff the opportunity to compete in a race, is something that should be both applauded and taken up by other tracks.

I was fortunate enough to be involved this year, riding Gevrey for Gordon. Lisa O’Neill led me up on the day - something of a role reversal! I really enjoyed that whole experience so hopefully I can compete again in future races for stable staff.

Caitriona Bolger was in conversation with John O’Riordan