It’s been quite some time since we Grilled an Equestrian. Keeping on track with our “Inspirational Women” theme we are so excited to have Michelle Kenny on board to take part.
She has been rolling off the tip of the tongue lately, being a rider many women of all ages look up to, we just couldn’t resist throwing some questions her way and she certainly did not disappoint with her answers!
Want to find out more about Michelle? Her team at Riverlodge? We even found out her riding pet hate! Keep scrolling to get your hands on all you need to know about the lady that is, Michelle Kenny.
How did it all begin? Tell us about Michelle Kenny
I started riding at the age of 6. My family haven’t got a background in horses I actually grew up in Wexford town so I started in Shelmalier Riding School. After a year or so I got my own pony which like many other non horsey families we bought the wrong pony and repeated this mistake many times over!! I progressed into the Wexford Pony Club and had many years of fun trying out every discipline possible. As I got older I began eventing, from there I had gotten the competition bug and progressed through the Junior, Young Rider (winning team bronze at the European Championships in Jardy 2013) and Senior ranks (Nations Cups in Boekelo & Houghton Hall).
In 2010 I started up RLE with my partner Rafael. Building a facility to produce horses to their highest potential was always our first priority and to do this we had to keep producing and selling. Along the way I have had some fantastic horses who have really shaped my career. I am proud of my results in eventing especially placing 5th in the German National Championships in Luhmuhlen along with top tens in Grand Prix’s up to 3* level in showjumping.
Being a female in a male dominated sport, do you feel any increased pressure to perform when competing?
There are great deal of barriers facing women in sport and business, you only have to google the numbers. I try to focus on what I can control like my attitude towards each day, I don’t linger on what other people think. Confidence starts within, let your thoughts linger on your past victories, not defeats, and focus on the milestones you’re set to achieve in the future. Mindset is everything in sport and business.
Tell us about your most memorable win & why.
It has to be winning the CCIJ* at Tattersalls International Horse Trials in 2009 on Frank and Eithne O Gorman’s Golden Orphan. It was my first 3 day International, I ended up winning by a 21 point margin! It was my first major win and it gave me a belief in myself that I could do this. Coming from a non horsey family, it’s not easy to break into the sport but it is possible!!! My parents were always incredibly supportive of me and as clueless as we all were, we made it happen!
You have really shone and made a name for yourself over the past few years, becoming a great role model to women of all ages, do you ever feel pressure to be the best all the times, what keeps you motivated?
It’s heartwarming to be seen as a role model to women. No I don’t quite feel a lot of pressure now I am happy in what I do, I have my own goals set and a system I really believe in. For sure there has been times I have felt a lot of pressure. In the past ten years since RLE began there has been many highs and also some seriously crashing lows. Probably only in the last year I have really understood what I really want in my life and what I want to achieve. I still have a burning ambition to reach the top of the sport and accept that hard work is needed, also to embrace the setbacks along the way. I am doing it for myself and no one else.
Something that is really important is that you must believe in yourself and always be the best version of yourself. This is what keeps me motivated. For example on Instagram etc I don’t feel the need to have a personal account and a business account I strongly believe in only posting what is real. It is important as a woman to do this and spread positivity. The sport is tough enough at the best of times, we get so caught up in its intensity we can forget to remember why we are doing the sport in the first place.
Young horses, what are your go to rules when it comes to producing an all rounder?
TIME, patience and variety of training! I really take my time producing the young horses during their 4 & 5 year old years. I’m very lucky to have a great facility at RLE that gives me the variety of arenas, canter tracks & cross country schooling to produce them without putting them into the pressure of competition too early. If they are a potential show jumper or eventer, I bring them out first of all to jumping shows as I do feel they can learn an awful lot and still see enough to open their minds up.
For the young jumpers I tend to bring them abroad for a jumping tour in Portugal at the beginning and end of the year. Here they gain great experience in top arenas with sensible course building to help the horses grow in confidence.
Your team at Riverlodge, Credit where credit is due! You certainly seem to be the yard everyone wants to be at, Tell us some more about your team & what they do?
It is extremely important for me to provide a fun and enjoyable workplace for my staff and also a daily system that runs smoothly. We have a weekly team BBQ/ Lunch to relax and have a little fun. Something that has been a game changer for us is Equity. An online stable management platform that allows me to plan and organise the daily training/competition/health schedules & invoicing. An organised yard is a happy yard!! RLE would not be what it is without my wonderful team to whom I’m so grateful to. So I’ll introduce you to them.
Rafael Sanctury is my business partner, RLE has many branches from International competition/ Sourcing, producing and sales of young horses/ Client training & mentoring. We even recently began a small breeding program to add to the chaos!!! Rafael plays an important role keeping all theses areas running smoothly and is a huge support to my own career.
Aidan Tector is our yard manager and onsite coach. RLE would not be the same without him. He’s our backbone and always been there for us no matter what. He has a wealth of knowledge from producing horses and can be seen on the ground most days keeping an eye over the training of the horses.
Lucy Hyblova is my Head Girl. Lucy is a huge asset to my team. She has a wealth of experience grooming in many top yards in Europe. She is the queen of clean and organised and also super at keeping the yard running efficiently every day so everyone finishes on time and not working late.
Jess Harper is the latest addition to my team. She is my Show groom. Again coming with a wealth of experience both in eventing and showjumping. Jess has fitted into RLE like she’s always been apart of the team. She has great people skills confident in her job and also enjoys Crossfit like myself!!
Anja Moret is an exciting talent in RLE she will produce and compete the horses alongside me. Something I feel strong about is having another rider at RLE. To be able to bounce ideas off each other to be able to watch the horses myself from the ground really is a vital part in producing my horses to be the best they can be.
I am blessed to call these guys my team and enjoy every day we work together. I value their opinions and feel the each bring something extra to #teamRLE
Eventing has been a huge part of your past and most recently you have had amazing success showjumping if you had to choose one, which one would you choose & why?
I absolutely love the accuracy and elegance of showjumping. Hands down its my favourite sport. There is no better feeling than riding into the ring for a Grand Prix Class. Eventing is a sport I will always hold closely to my heart. I’ve had some amazing days from winning an FEI bronze medal to my Senior Nations Cups appearances. I have unfinished business in eventing so I’m not finished yet!!!
If you could trade shoes with anyone in the industry who would you choose & why?
Darragh Kenny. Darragh combines the desire to keep at the top of the sport and yet maintain an uncompromised business plan, unlike a lot of riders. He combines competing in the sport, training clients, producing and selling top international horses. He also has an ability to bounce back from setbacks and come back even stronger.
In your opinion, what is the most beneficial exercise people should be doing with their horses & why?
Counter canter is one of my favourite exercises to do. This really works the horses through the back and it’s great to get a hot horse to accept your leg and work into the contact. Serpentines are another great exercise to keep the horse supple and accept your leg. You can do so much on a simple serpentine like transitions, leg yielding & counter canter. Keeping the horse supple is key.
If you weren’t in the equestrian industry, what do you think you would be doing?
I have an interest in Marketing and Public Relations, I enjoy the promotion side of my own brand and RLE, I manage all of our social media channels as well as helping my dad with his company promotions.
With the world in chaos due to the Covid19 Pandemic, the majority of horse shows have been cancelled up until July, where does this leave you & how has this effected your 2020 plans?
First of all I’m very lucky that Covid hasn’t effected my family because right now that is the priority for everyone. Professionally speaking it has actually given me the time to produce some of my newest additions to my team. Having sold my up and coming star Ard Emmerdale and older star Juicy in February, we have had to reinvest in young stock once again. I also have two very exciting young event horses in the production line who I really think have team potential.
I have used this time wisely to brush the dust of my dressage saddle and prepare these two to hit the ground running once we can compete. For sure its been frustrating not being able to get the older Grand Prix horses out like Barcelona and Indoctaire. They will now aim for Vilamoura Champions Tour in October all going to plan. I feel really lucky to of been able to compete in Vilamoura at the beginning of the year before everything stopped.
What is your biggest riding pet hate?
Riders not educating their horses correctly and fast tracking them for their own benefit.
You do a lot at Riverlodge, from offering free jumping rounds to people with 4yr olds, (I am not sure if this is correct info!) to last year putting on quite the spectacle with your first big show, do you have plans to do more?
I feel as a rider its important to give back to your sport when you can. Over the years I have developed a wonderful facility at RLE so to be able to make use of the beautiful grass arena was a no brainer.
I have competed at wonderful shows in Europe so myself and Rafael wanted to bring a little bit of that to the Irish shows. Winning “myshowadvisor” Show of the Year was a really great reward. Unfortunately our plans to run the ‘Avonmore Summer Classic’ has been cancelled this year due to the restrictions not being lifted in time to enjoy the show to its full capacity.
Who is your current trainer, tell us a bit about your competition training routines.
Rafael plays a huge part in overseeing the majority of my training. He is on the ground watching the horses progress daily which really helps fine tune the smallest of details. I have been training with Grant Wilson for many years now. I really enjoy his training system. Grant is always available for advice and really helpful with sending me exercises in between training. On the build up to international shows Grant plays a big part in helping me prepare. I am also very lucky to train with Harry Marshall. He’s an incredible horse man and he’s really opened my eyes up and given me a whole new skillset in producing young horses and also being that bit more competitive in the ring. I’m grateful for the opportunity he has given me to compete some of his older horses also.
Do you have any tips for women handling big horses, I sometimes get told I have too much horse for such being such a small woman. Have you ever experienced these stereotypes?
I am only 5ft 2 myself and ride a variety of horses. Sometimes the smallest of horses can be the strongest. No mater the size make or shape of the horse using the simple training scale will help improve the horses rideabilty. Keeping training simple and repetitive will always help improve a horse. And again Im a big believer in patience allow the horse to adapt to your training.
What advice would you give to young women looking to break into the international circuit, what support structures should they be looking at?
To take every opportunity no matter how big or small it is and embrace your setbacks. Keep focused on what you want to do and don’t be afraid to knock on doors for opportunity. Be confident and comfortable with your own strengths and use them to your advantage.
If someone in the industry has helped you, be sure to also give back. There is some highly respected strong business women in our industry in Ireland like Carol Gee (Fernhill Sport Horses) & Marion Hughes (HHS) for example. Both women have had great competitive careers and both run highly successful business’. I always try to think outside the box of an equestrian business. I have participated in Ireland’s Young Entrepreneur, this really opened my eyes and pushed me out of my comfort zone, having to pitch my business to a panel of successful business people was terrifying at the age of 18.
Another piece of advice that I learned later on was to read as much as you can. Reading teaches you something new while it also opens up different ways of thinking of old ideas.
Wow! What more can we say, she is some woman and I think anyone who trains or works with her should count themselves lucky.
A massive thank you to Michelle for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions, you are surely an inspiration and someone we both highly look up to.
Be sure to keep a close eye on the Riverlodge socials over the next few weeks, we cant wait to see what they have planned!
Darielle & Orla