THE lush green fields of Ireland are among the best kindergartens in the world for young horses. No one knows this better than Jules Cournane.

Since 2016 a number of top performance mares and young horses owned and bred by US-born Jules and her Irish husband, Captain Brian Cournane, have been nurtured on the best of grassland in Co Waterford under the watchful eye of Richie O’Hara.

Household names in the sport such as Penelope Cruz who took Brian to 1.60m level, and Cabaret who placed fourth under Tiana Coudray at Le Lion d’Angers in 2020, are among those now breeding at Glen House Stud near Portlaw.

In February Penelope Cruz (Ustinov) produced her first foal, a gorgeous colt by Emerald, and in April Cabaret (Clinton) had a smashing filly by Conthargos. Brian’s former 1.40m mare Jelesta (Berlin) produced her first foal, a colt by Vigo d’Arsouilles this spring.

Jules outlines the rationale on keeping horses in Ireland. “We decided to put the horses in Ireland for several reasons,” she said. “Firstly, there’s access to great stud vets and all the top European stallions. I really trust Richie to both look after them properly and let them be horses.

“Ger O’Neill has done a fantastic job producing some of the young horses for us as well. It was important to us to have them somewhere where we have friends and know people. It makes a huge difference.”

Capt. Brian Cournane competed Penelope Cruz to 1.60m level (pictured at the Winter Equestrian Festival, FL)

Starting out

While Brian had an early introduction to horses through his father’s trekking centre in Co Kerry, Jules grew up in Vermont to non-equestrians but became obsessed during her first lessons at the tender age of five. And so began a love affair that has since taken her into the worlds of eventing, show jumping and dressage.

“I always wanted to ride and my parents allowed me to take lessons quite young,” Jules commented. “As time went on I ended up at an eventing barn purely by chance. I think my parents thought it would be cheaper than show jumping!”

One of Jules’ first achievements on the international eventing stage came in 2002 during the North American Young Riders’ Championships where she placed individual sixth on Market Mover. This gave her a taste for more and in 2006 she moved to the UK to pursue her dream.

“I remember my mother saying to me that if I wanted to do it properly, I needed to move across the Atlantic.”

Initially mentored by Andrew and Bettina Hoy, Jules was later taken under the wing of Mark Todd. “At that point my parents were fully behind me and I wanted to go out on my own, so I began looking for a farm. I was lucky to secure Headley Stud in Berkshire.”

Many eventing enthusiasts will recognise Headley as being associated with the multiple five-star champion Headley Brittania who had been bred by the farm’s previous owners Mike and Betty Hounsell in 1993.

“Mark was also based with me at Headley for a time and was hugely supportive. He was instrumental in getting me to five-star level.”

One of the first horses Jules rode to three-star was Grass Valley who was later partnered by Mark to claim individual 11th at WEG in Kentucky.

During her time in the UK Jules also trained with another legend, Andrew Nicholson, and is grateful to them all for giving her such a wonderful grounding in the sport.

Under their guidance Jules worked her way up the levels and in 2011 completed both Luhmuhlen and Burghley on Chapel Amble. The previous year the mare had completed Badminton with Nick Gauntlett.

It was through their mutual love for eventing that Jules and Brian met in 2008 when both were taking lessons with Captain Mark Phillips.

At that point Brian was riding for the Army Equitation School and making his name as an international event rider with such horses as Dunran Castle and Rossbeigh. Twice he completed Le Lion d’Angers – in 2006 with Ballymoney (six-year-olds) and the following year on board Kilcroney (seven-year-olds).

In the early days while at Headley, Jules would often buy young horses in Europe and send them to the States. “I had an interest in breeding but didn’t have any mares at that point,” she commented.

When an opportunity arose to acquire the German thoroughbred stallion Duke of Hearts (by Halling), Jules could not resist. It was there and then her passion for breeding sport horses was born.

“I was always interested in how much thoroughbred blood event horses had. It is hard to find a good jumper with lots of blood.”

Duke of Hearts was unraced but on inspection passed his jumping test with a score of 9.5.

Jules quickly went about getting him approved with the Oldenburg, Hanoverian and later the Holsteiner studbooks. She then began importing semen for UK breeders.

Not only has he since gone on to produce numerous five-star eventers, but also 1.30m show jumpers and dressage horses. He was 17th in the WBFSH eventing rankings in 2022.

Duke of Hearts sired Headleys Daredevil, the former mount of Irish rider Elizabeth Hayden who placed third in the CCI3* at Ballindenisk in 2021.

Among his exciting progeny currently competing are Daytona Beach, 10th at Burghley last year with Cornelia Dorr. Jack of Clubs (Duke of Hearts) is a son of the multiple championship mare Annie Clover. The latter won the five-year-old crown at Burghley last September under Robyn Gray and is now with last week’s Badminton winner Ros Canter.

Jules is noted as the breeder of the eight-year-old Headleys Quixote, a recent runner at Ballindenisk for Julia Norman. He is by Quite Easy I out of Jules’ former three-star mare Pandora X.

Jules is particularly proud of Headleys Deluxe, another by Duke of Hearts who is making waves on the eventing circuit. Foaled in 2015, the chesnut stallion is out of her husband Brian’s former 1.50m ride Colourful Lady.

Ridden throughout his career by Giovanni Uglotti, the now eight-year-old has twice completed Le Lion d’Angers and this year is stepping up to advanced level while also available to breeders.

Giovanni also has two others by the same sire - his 2022 World Championship mount Duke of Champions, and the younger Duke of Champion.

Jules said that over the years she always preferred to ride mares. “You have a better understanding of the mare when it comes to a choice of stallions if you have ridden her yourself. You also appreciate how important the mare is when breeding foals.”

A mare Jules rode to complete Blenheim was the Spanish-bred Sintra BK, a full-sister to Andrew Nicholson’s five-star horse Qwanza.

One mare in particular stands out; Salsa II was ridden for several seasons by the late Francisco Seabra before Jules took over the ride in 2009. “She then went breeding and had a filly by Clinton in 2015, one month after Francisco died in a fall. This made her quite special.”

Boasting a new prefix Jules had registered while based in the UK, that foal was Headleys Chatterbox who was campaigned up to last year by Tiana Coudray. She is now show jumping in the States with Jules in the saddle.

“An interesting story is that Salsa ended up rearing two foals that year when the recipient carrying Headleys Deluxe died after foaling.”

Another with the same prefix is the Clarimo mare Headleys Cosmic Twist ridden to three-star level last year by Georgie Goss.

Jules also rates Clinton highly as a sire. “He’s one of my favourite sires because I think he tends to improve balance and, probably because of that, the horses have self-confidence and are happy in their work.”

Clinton is sire of Jules’ current ride Castlefield Dream, and Cabaret, who was picked up at a Holsteiner auction as a foal. Having finished just outside the medals in the six-year-olds at the FEI WBFSH World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses in 2020, the mare sadly suffered injury the following autumn and was retired for breeding.

Jules Cournane in action at Burghley with Chapel Amble in 2011 \ Tim Wilkinson

Moving on

Jules and Brian got married in September of 2014 and Brian relocated to Headley Stud. Soon after he left the Army Equitation School to pursue a career in show jumping as a civilian. However, he retained his Captain title.

The following year Jules and Brian made the decision to move to Wellington, Florida, to set up Glenbeigh Farm.

After Jules gave up eventing she decided to switch to dressage. It was also around this time she made the decision to ride for Ireland. “I had started competing in dressage, as I thought there would be more opportunities being Irish,” she said. “I did some Prix St George and had a couple of dressage horses, but then I was injured the week before my first FEI show. I was not long riding; I’ve haven’t gotten back to it, but you never know. I enjoy riding dressage.”

Jules faced several operations on her leg before she was able to return to the saddle, this time to show jumping, and has since enjoyed many good outings.

“I have actually declared as an amateur under USEF rules, which means I am able to jump separate national classes to the professionals. One of the requirements for that is not teaching, so I don’t teach anymore.”

One of the first show jumpers to compete under the Glenbeigh banner was Javas Keltic Mist who gave Brian a double clear on their Nations Cup debut in Drammen in May 2015. Brian was also a member of the winning team at the 2018 CSI5* Nations Cup event in Vancouver.

In June 2016 Jules and Brian welcomed their son Bob. Their daughter Saoirse, who was born in December 2017, has followed in their footsteps and is a keen rider.

Glenbeigh Farm – named after Brian’s hometown – has since gained an excellent reputation for producing show jumpers. Penelope Cruz was without doubt one of his most successful rides, with a host of top-five placings at 1.60m level.

As well as now having this super mare for breeding, Jules and Brian also have her half-sister LMK Emma, by Emerald.

Situated in the heart of Wellington which is home to so many other Irish riders, Glenbeigh currently has 15 horses, including a handful for students trained by Brian.

In late 2022 Brian made the decision to declare for the USA. “It’s difficult to get entries into shows with so many Irish riders based here, so by switching allegiance Brian has found it easier,” Jules remarked.

Indeed Brian has been enjoying much success in the ring in recent times - with the Armitage II gelding Armik at 1.60m level, in addition to the 11-year-old gelding Dothraki Warlord. Previously competed here by Derek McConnell, this son of Mermus R was in the ribbons at 1.50m level several times earlier this year.

Brian has also taken up the ride on Sea Plus, a gelding by Catoki produced here by Richie O’Hara.

Under the banner Kilbunny Sport Horses, Richie has produced a host of other good event horses too, including Jonelle Price’s advanced ride Killbunny Andy.

With a host of young horses now enjoying the spring grass at O’Haras, Jules will be hoping for some new stars in the making. “The climate is ideal,” she said, “and the grazing is some of the best in the world. Also Richie’s place is just down the road from the best veterinary clinic in Fethard. Even though we’ve only had to send foals there a couple times, it gives great peace of mind.

“Also, when you are competing horses at a high level you need to have a good team of people around you. Your success largely, if not entirely, depends on them. I don’t find that breeding horses is really any different in that respect. We are very fortunate to have great friends and expertise available to us in Ireland,” concluded Jules.

Capt. Brian Cournane’s former 1.40m mare Jelesta produced her first foal, a colt by Vigo d’Arsouilles, this spring