THE future is looking bright for Killian Gaffney. His horses are settled in their new home at the Halford’s Copper Beech yard in Co Kildare and he is getting ready to begin his new job as CEO of EquiTrace, an app which allows owners keep track of a horse’s health and identity by scanning their microchip.

Killian sat down to discuss his plans for the future and his journey with horses which led him to this point. “On the day I was born, my father called my great uncle Martin Kyne to give him the news that I had arrived safely into the world. Martin happened to be at the Connemara Pony sales at the time and he bought me a pony named Snowy to mark my birth.

“It all went on from there really. We always had Connemara ponies growing up. I was born in Dublin but we had a house in Galway and that’s where we spent most weekends,” Gaffney told The Irish Field.

“When I was in second year in school we made the move permanently to Galway. Pony Club was a big part of my youth. I did my Pony Club exams and competed locally with the Galway mid-county branch.

“We were lucky that the club brought in great instructors, we had lessons in show jumping and dressage and it was there that I first developed the basics and fundamentals. When I was about 13 years old, I got a nice working hunter pony on loan from Vida Tansey named Barney. Her daughter had competed with him in dressage and he was my first passion for getting something ‘on the bit’.

“Helen Nolan from Headford would have really given me my start with regard to horse care and management and the transition from ponies to horses.”

Country move

Gaffney continued: “When I was 15 we moved from Ireland to Madrid. The system in Spain is very different. The juniors have to be able to jump about 1.40m and they don’t really have that much eventing.

“So dressage ended up being the best option and I started training in Madrid with a Dutch lady named Brigitte van der Hagen who had brought a lot of horses up to Grand Prix level. We went to Holland and bought a six-year-old gelding. I trained with her for almost three years and within that time we got him up to medium advanced level.

“When I was 18 I decided that I didn’t want to stay in Spain, so I went to study at Hartford College in the UK. I did a degree in Human and Equine Sports Science. So that was really the next step for me.”

From there, Gaffney got the chance to train with some experienced British Olympians. “I was lucky enough to get into the Elite Academy in the college and that opened up a really good raft of trainers including Carl Hester. It also gave me access to the horse world in the UK.

“It really opened up my eyes. Alongside my studies I began to ride for a few people locally. I rode a few youngsters for Laura Bechtolsheimer (Tomlinson) and it was very gratifying to see some of them go on to the top level.

“I trained with Charlotte Dujardin for almost two years; I learned a huge amount. I was in the UK for over 10 years and had a great time there.”

Killian Gaffney

Professional life

“When I left college I began working in the pharmaceutical industry. I worked for three different companies over the 10 years and gained lots of experience.

“Alongside working full-time, I began buying event horses with my partner Tom Searle. We would buy five to 10 horses a year in Holland and Tom would produce and compete them. I thoroughly enjoyed being an owner and watching from the sidelines.

“It kept me involved from a personal and professional point of view. At one stage we had 30 horses in work. Unfortunately Tom passed away in 2017.”

Gaffney has spent the last number of years working for Galway-based pharma company Chanelle. “About five years ago I was approached by an Irish company called Chanelle and they asked me if I would take on the role of head of sales and marketing for the UK and Ireland.

“I found I was travelling more and more to the office in Ireland so after a few months I decided to move back. I brought three horses with me; one was Icco, who I sold to Micheal O’Toole and who has gone on to three-star level with him. The other horse I sold abroad and the final one, who is a really special horse to me, I kept for myself.”

Work-life balance

“I had taken a break from competing for about 10 years and when 2020 came along, I said this is the year this is the year that I’m going to get back into it. I made a commitment to myself. I wanted to get the enjoyment back and some of the work-life balance.

“I was very lucky that Mark Duffy had a stable available in his Claregalway yard and I brought the Dutch-bred five-year-old Coretto there. Coretto was one Tom and I bought as a foal in Holland. We thought he was the nicest one we had ever bought.

“Before Tom passed away he was so excited about him I thought to myself; this is the horse I’m going to do Tom justice on. I said to Mark: ‘Can you teach me how to jump?’ At the first lesson he put up a 90cms track and I said ‘no, poles on the ground is where we’ll start please, really start from scratch.’

“That was only two years ago and we went from poles on the ground to jumping 1.20m in the space of about three months.

“I started to event in July, once Covid-19 restrictions had been lifted. I had a short season, I went from the 90cms to one-star at the international in Ballindenisk that year. That was me getting back into it and I don’t know if it’s brave or foolish but I wouldn’t have thought at the start of the year that I would be where I am now.

“Last year I found a lovely three-year-old which I bought from Tommy Considine in Co Clare. He is by Dignified out of a Womanizer dam. He was 16.2hh when I bought him. I broke him in June and he was riding well, but was a little weak so I threw him out in the field. When I brought him in after Christmas he had grown to 18hh! His registered name is Gleneden Justified.

“While he was out I got bored and decided to look for another youngster so I went to Goresbridge and bought a four-year-old by Cougar. His name is My Bishophill Rolex. I was on the way home from Goresbridge on the Thursday and I entered him in for the Arena eventing in Claremorris on the Sunday.

“He was really good and did a nice test and jumped round no problem. Then I decided to enter him into the HSI development series last year and he won three of the four classes for four-year-olds.

“I then, maybe stupidly, entered him into the eventing final as well. He had never done a cross-country. There were about 30 people in the class and he was as green as grass. I felt like I was hunting him around, but to be fair he did a good job and ended up finishing fourth and, to be honest, it felt like a win.

Juggling act

“I’m doing this alongside a big job doing all the global business for Chanelle. I’m doing that all day long so to be able to have good results is the icing on the cake for me.

“Horses, as always, are the great leveller and we’ve had our fair share of bad luck with minor injuries causing all three horses to have time off recently. Thankfully they are all back in work now so I’ll be heading to Barnadown for the dressage National Championships next weekend with the four- and five-year-old, as well as with Coretto.

“The long term plan for him is to hopefully have him show jump for the winter and then work up to Prix St George for next year.

“My most recent purchase is a six-year-old ex-racehorse and he is an amazing jumper so that’s really exciting, I think he has real potential.

“I’m also really looking forward to starting to work with EquiTrace in October. I think it’s an invaluable tool for horse owners; no matter how far they are from their horses they will be able to see where, and how their horses are doing just by looking at their smartphone. It’s something I’m really passionate about. The joy of fitting it all in is the challenge, but that’s the joy of it,” Gaffney concluded.