This is a story of a girl and her Connemara pony Cashelbay Joe.
It is about the long hours of hard work, dedicated commitment and above all the bond created between pony and rider which enabled this pair to fulfil a dream.
Emma O’Toole’s dream was to qualify her eleven year old gelding Joe for the summit of Connemara Pony showing. The goal was to qualify for the ’09 London Olympia Christmas Horse Show, to compete in the prestigious Mountain and Moorland Championship there. Joe was a fairly experienced pony, having competed at Olympia with his English owner Amy Smith of Swindon the previous year. But Emma, although a proficient rider, was still only fourteen years old and had no experience of competing at a major London show against selected experienced senior riders. It was all a far cry from her native Clifden in the far west of Irelland. In preparation Emma describes how she and Joe were well-tutored by Judy Cazabon of nearby Cleggan where early morning pre-school lessons outdoors in the rain became the norm!. The pair were often seen riding through the busy traffic of Clifden or cantering on the beach and swimming in the sea, all activities aimed at producing a bomb-proof Joe and Emma.
The determination paid off in late June when the long drive north to Carrickfergus in Antrim, to compete in a Mountain and M oorland class with twenty other ponies, resulted in a Championship and Olympia qualifier for the surprised and delighted Emma.
A subsequent first in their Connemara Class at the Dublin RDS Horse Show was yet another exciting precursor to what was to follow a couple of months later at Olympia.
Emma takes up the story. ‘When we walked down the dark tunnel towards the ring I couldn’t believe that I was actually about to ride at Olympia! I looked up, and all I could see were bright lights and seeing me on the big screen! The whole place was beautifully decorated and lit up and the arena was packed. It’s a feeling that I will never be able to describe to anyone, only the people who have had the honour and experience themselves. You really did feel like you are on Top Of The World! Joe walked, trotted and cantered around the arena so well. I have never ever felt him trot out as well as he did, it felt as if he was just showing off, I just sat there and enjoyed every minute of it.” (Here Emma describes the judging system where the various native breeds are assessed) At 3 o’clock all 35 ponies entered the ring in trot for the final time. Joe must have known it was the last time because, ‘he floated’, down the long side. Everyone lined up for the results. The ‘Best of Breed’ were called first, and all of these went forward to getting a chance at becoming Champion Large/Small Breed. Then the Top 6 ponies on the day were called in. Knockanroe Champ was announced Best of Bred in the Connemara Section. The whole experience was something that I will never ever forget, and I know I will be telling my children when I’m older, all about it. It is for any showing rider, the highlight of anyone’s career, and I hope that many more Irish riders and owners will get this once in a lifetime experience in the not so distant future.
“Again I entered the ring knowing that this is IT . All our hard work has come down to this one half an hour and I was going to do everything in my power to make us look and go as well as possible in the group. Again Joe went around the ring foot perfect, I couldn’t have asked him to do anything more. All the ponies lined up to do their individual show. Then, it was my turn. I was so determined to do the best I possibly could and show Joe off as the brilliant pony he really is. Everything was going lovely in his trot work, and then the canter work started. He seemed to be getting ever so slightly strong, so I tried to take him back to trot. Unfortunately, Joe did a flying change before he started trotting. I took him back and started cantering on the other rein, and finished my display with a short gallop, extended trot, back to a walk, then saluted the judge. I’m not going to say I wasn’t disappointed because that would be a lie. It just seemed so unlike Joe. At this point, I knew my chances of becoming the Connemara sections Best of Breed 2009 were gone. I finished my in-hand at the top of the arena, saddled up again and took my place in the ring.
Emma finishes by thanking all those who made possible her journey to Olympia, in particular her family and all those who taught and encouraged her along the way.
According to Pam Clingan writing in the Irish Field, the pair “produced a confident and precise display, which showed Cashelbay Joe’s ability to produce super elevation”
N.B. Cashelbay Joe is by Village King X Mountain Ash by Catamaran. He was bred by Joe Nee of Tullabrick, Oughterard, Co. Galway, bought by Robbie Fallon of Cashel, trained and produced by Galway’s Pascal Crawford, sold to England and is now back – not too far from his native place – with the Castle Stud in Connemara since Jan ’09.