JIM O’Neill has proved he is made of tough stuff. After a scary accident towards the end of 2021, he is right back in the swing of things, working in the yard and looking after the horses at his Castlefield Breeding Farm in Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny.
Jim has been involved in horses for most of his life, but it was when his children, well-known show jumper Ger, and Susan, got involved that he went down the show jumping route. While Ger runs a hugely successful international show jumping stable, Jim has his own bunch of horses nearby.
“In the beginning we got involved in the jumping side of things when the kids, Gerard and his older sister Susan were small. I really enjoyed the pony jumping,” Jim told The Irish Field.
“We did have horses before that, I had mares going back to about 1984. The horses I have now all go back to those original mares. The two foundation mares, if you like, were thoroughbreds which I bought as foals in Goresbridge.
“I brought them to sport horse stallions and then their progeny are the line from which I continued to breed. I can trace pretty much all the horses I have in the yard now back to those mares. I think the thoroughbred is very important in the back line.
“Ireland didn’t have enough good mares on the half-bred side back then, but we did have a very good standard of thoroughbred mares which could be traced back all the way for generations.”
Jim is still a fan of using thoroughbred blood where possible. “We had a successful jumping mare here named Castlefield Sapphire (Dondoctro Ryal K x Heritage Fortunas) and her grandmother was a thoroughbred. She won three out of five classes in Spain with Jason (Foley).
“I still wouldn’t mind having a thoroughbred here for breeding; and then once she had a foal, to move away in the half-bred direction and have the bloodline stem from the pure thoroughbred line.
“I have two half-sisters to Sapphire here who are just starting their competition careers and are looking like they will be nice horses that can be traced back to that thoroughbred mare. I think the sire has about 10% to do with the whole lot. If the mare is no good he won’t breed anything.”
What does Jim look for when picking a stallion? “I’m not really looking for a performance record when picking a stallion, moreover I’m looking at conformation and movement and that type of thing.
“One of the foals from that first crop in 1989, Cloghala Lass, was by Diamond Serpent and out of the thoroughbred mare… she was second in Dublin as a six-year-old. I kept her until she died in her late 20s and she bred a bunch of successful horses for me including Castlefield Maximus (1.60m) and Castlefield Gucci (1.45m).
“She is also the grand dam of Castlefield Cass (Cassidee) who, out of the Pussiance mare La Moette, is enjoying success on the national Grand Prix circuit at the moment,” he said, mentioning the 10-year-old gelding that won the Spring Tour Grand Prix in Cavan two weeks’ ago.
Jackilynn Breslin and Jim O'Neill's Castlefield Cass won the 1.35m TRM/Showjumpers Club Spring Tour at Cavan recently \ Laurence Dunne Jumpinaction.net
While Jim runs his own yard with the help of rider Jackilynn Breslin, Ger, who also stands sport horse and thoroughbred stallions now, is never too far away. “Ger set upon his own about five years ago but he’s just up the road and we still do a lot of work together.
“They have lots of horses of their own. My system is quite different to theirs. I’m never in a hurry. I don’t mind if they get to six or seven years old and haven’t done very much.
“If a horse comes in and looks really good that’s all I want to see. I think if they don’t do a huge amount until they are about nine or 10 you have a much better chance of keeping them going and enjoying a long career.
“We have 16 in work at the moment and Jacky (Jackilynn) rides them. It’s a busy place here; it always was.
“We have Castlefield Cass and Castlefield Miss (Pacino x Puissance) for the Grand Prix classes. Two seven-year-olds who only started jumping last year, Castlefield Bishop (Kannan x Guy Cavalier) and Castlefield Blue (Plot Blue x Puissance).
“We have two six-year-olds - Castlefield Butterfield, who is by Fiero and out of Like a Butterfly, and Castlefield Chanel (Fiero - Little Miss Puissance) - and three five-year-olds, one of which is Castlefield Jen who looks very promising and we’ll probably aim at the qualifiers. With the six four-year-olds, we will probably do a few training shows.”
Jim is a firm believer in allowing the horses’ time to develop.
“We will let them tell us what they are ready for. If we feel they are ready to do qualifiers we will but we are not in any hurry. We can take our time with them, it’s what they are ready for, we won’t put them under too much pressure.
“We have two mares in foal this year; Castlefield Bella (OBOS Quality x Puissance) is in foal to the seven-year-old stallion Calvador Z who was fourth at the World Breeding Championships in Lanaken last year with Jason Foley. The other is in foal to Dondoctro Ryal K.
“I also have five horses of various ages which I part-own with Clare Hughes who I’ve known since she was in ponies with Ger. One of them is an eight-year-old Castlefield Hera (Plot Blue x Puissance) who is competing in Spain with her son Seamus Hughes Kennedy at the moment.
“The plan now is to concentrate on getting the young horses out to do some training shows this week and then to head to either Wexford or Ballinamona for the Spring Tour Grand Prix. Sure I’m straight back into work… the show must go on!” added Jim.