CLONAKILTY-born and bred, I’m one of a family of 12 and live in Ballymacowen, outside the town. A carpenter by trade, I’ve always loved horses. I’d hop up on one of the workhorses to take me home from the fields and by 13, I’d be sent into Clonakilty with a load of corn to get it rolled in Atkins Mills. Health & Safety wouldn’t allow that now!
My father Con had a very good show mare Lough Ine and I’ve carried on the showing tradition ever since.
Ann, my wife, runs Ballard House B&B here on the Wild Atlantic Way and we have a family of six: Fiona and her husband John [Crowley] are very interested in horses; Alan was always involved in ponies, Conrad was a smashing jockey but rugby took over, Gavin and Bernard will always help out and Duncan is still very keen, he’ll often help showing the horses.
1. Proudest moment as a breeder?
It would have to be down to Dublin in 2008 when Ballard Bouncer (Ghareeb - Ballard Queen, by Abdullah) won the Dublin young horse championship.
I bred him and remember well winning my first All Ireland with him as a yearling at Ennis. We called him JJ after Ghareeb’s owner Jay Bowe! That was one of my proudest moments.
Denis Collins was the man who bred the horse that was to win the Laidlaw Cup for me two years later: Ballard Eagle (Master Imp - Carrigroe Princess, by Kildalton Gold).
2. Favourite broodmare?
Probably have to be Ballard Queen, the dam of Ballard Bouncer. Bred by my cousin P.J., she went back to Abdullah and Bassompierre, fabulous lines but sadly, nearly all gone.
She bred four or five All Ireland and Dublin winners.
Peaches & Cream (Kings Master - Ballard Jewel) is a granddaughter of Ballard Queen and while she hasn’t bred as many foals yet as ‘the Queen’, she’s another favourite. Her dam Ballard Jewel won Dublin last year as a 14-year-old for her owners, the Williamson family.
3. Breeding a show horse: gamble, labour of love, profitable?
Breeding is a labour of love. You’re hoping to get the magic one but it doesn’t always happen, maybe once in a blue moon!
It’s probably easier to buy one but it’s not the easiest thing now either finding a show horse.
I’d love to stick with traditional breeding but they’re getting even harder and harder to find. And sometimes you’re asked telephone numbers for foals!
4. How do you think Irish sport horse breeding has changed?
It has changed in the sense that when I went to Goresbridge foal sales, I noticed the warmblood lines and jumping side went very well. It’s leaving showing behind in a sense.
You could be lucky enough to get a foal to do both jobs; showing and say, eventing then.
The first Loughehoe Guy foal I bought was at Ballinasloe Show. Myself and Ann went for a look and saw this foal belonging to Sean Lydon, who we didn’t know from Adam at the time.
The Galway Guy (Loughehoe Guy - Ballycolin, by Colin Diamond) was later spotted at the Dublin loose jumping qualifier in Santrys. A black horse, he looked a million dollars on the day and jumped out of his skin. He ended up being bought by Linda Courtney and went off to America.
I was just lucky that he did both jobs, he was second in the All Ireland and Dublin, a very consistent horse.
Everything has got more expensive; for stallion owners buying their horses, vets paying for diesel, the price of plastic for haylage. They have to charge extra, every cost is going up and you’re getting squeezed on all sides.
You have a lot of expenses now. If it goes straightforward, it’s grand but if it doesn’t…
Family outing: Ann and Seamus with Fiona, John, granddaughter Kate and Tyson the terrier at Bannow & Rathangan Show last July \ Susan Finnerty
5. Describe your winter regime for mare/youngstock.
Both mares - Peaches & Cream and The Galway Girl - are still out, they’ve fed every day with plenty of haylage and have plenty of shelter. Peaches & Cream is foaling the end of March so I’ll bring her in beforehand and increase her feed. The other mare is due to foal in late May so she’ll stay out.
I try to keep down and simplify the workload. If mares have shelter, some dry ground and feed, then they’re way healthier moving around outside.
The foals are in and I’ve a two-year-old as well for the shows this year. From the end of March onwards, I’d often walk them on the roads after work to get them ready for the shows ahead.
6. It takes a team - who’s on yours?
It’s a real family effort, there’s eight of here between Ann, the lads and Fiona and John just up the road. Ann is the secretary, she loves the paperwork part.
7. If you could have bred any horse in history?
Rockbarton, Con Power’s horse. I loved him and when I was lucky enough to judge the All Ireland at Bannow in 2013 with Con, I was asking him about the horse.
I always thought Rockbarton was at least 17hh but Con said he was just over 16 hands. He, David Broome’s Sportsman and Bellevue, were fabulous horses for years and years, household names that never leave you.
8. Do breeders get enough recognition?
They hit the headlines if they breed a good one but don’t if it’s a middling one. So you could say you get recognition on merit. At the same time, you could have somebody breeding horses for years that mightn’t quite make it to the top but they’re still contributing to the economy too.
We use Ballard as our prefix and it has definitely proved valuable.
9. Best advice you got?
My father always said “Keep your feet firmly on the ground.”
I had a two-year-old and three-year-old at Cork Show one year when someone approached me about buying them.
Just after that, the late Ted Kelly, a lovely man, his daughter Joan and Tom Archdeacon from Fermoy arrived in the yard. They wanted to buy the two-year-old but I explained that another man was also interested.
Next thing, Tom just said: “The man in the yard is better than the man on the road!” I sold the two-year-old.
When the other man rang, I told him the two-year-old is gone. He said “I was more interested in the three-year-old anyway”, left a £500 deposit but never took him. He proved that the man in the yard is better!
10. What made Christmas special?
It started off with our 40th wedding anniversary which we celebrated just before Christmas. All the family surprised us with a weekend away at the Sheen Falls Hotel in Kenmare.
Conrad and his girlfriend Kim were home from Vancouver, John and Fiona moved into their new house and we all had Christmas dinner here. Little [granddaughter] Kate totally made it and the icing on the cake was having them all home together for Christmas. It was magic.