When Irish Rhythm first entered Rachel McDonough’s life, she was looking for a horse that might make it to the preliminary level. Not in her wildest dreams did she think that her 15.1-hand, off-the-track Thoroughbred would one day be running at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****.
McDonough, 22, grew up in Toronto, in a family without equestrian roots. But after a week of horse camp when she was 7, McDonough caught the bug.
“I just loved horses because I was a 7-year-old girl,” said McDonough, who then begged her parents to enroll her in riding lessons.
At the age of 14, McDonough was outgrowing ponies and searching for her next partner at the Fort Erie Race Track (Ontario) with her mother and her then-trainer Linda Hauck of Tapestry Equine Services (Ontario). “My mom just wanted me to find something safe that could go training, possibly preliminary,” said McDonough. “We picked him up for $1,200.”
But Irish Rhythm, now 15, wasn’t her first choice. McDonough had been ready to vet another horse before it was sold to someone else. It was actually McDonough’s mother, Laura Hearn, who brought her attention back to Irish Rhythm (Vice Chancellor—Dawnsari). They were encouraged by the fact that the small bay gelding was the only one that didn’t come out with a chain over his nose.
They were also drawn to the fact that “Oliver” would be retiring from racing completely sound. After spending some time in the stables with him, McDonough knew this was the horse that she would be taking home with her. “I just fell in love with him,” she said. “He raced on a Monday and came home on a Wednesday.”
Patience Builds Partnerships
McDonough first purchased Oliver with the intent of simply transitioning from ponies to horses and didn’t expect much. To her surprise, she would embark on a journey that would lead her to Rolex Kentucky on the same horse that she brought up through the levels.
“We never had the goal of going to Rolex—I mean it’s always a dream, but he just kept coming along the way with jumping bigger and better,” said McDonough.
|Irish Rhythm is at his best on cross-country (shown
here at the Jersey Fresh CIC***), so Rachel
McDonough can’t wait to get out on course at the
Rolex Kentucky CCI****.
Photo by Megan Brincks
When it came time for the pair to compete at preliminary, Oliver excelled and made the jumps look small. They went on to complete the CCI* at the 2010 Adequan FEI North American Junior Young Rider Championships (Ky.). After that, McDonough started training with Momo Laframboise who is based out of Ontario, Canada, with a winter home base in Aiken, S.C.
After only two starts at the intermediate level in early 2011, Oliver injured himself in a pasture accident during some down time after returning from Aiken. “He had extra energy after two weeks off he was out in the pasture bucking, rolling, and running around,” she said. When McDonough brought him in he was three-legged lame and so began the process of diagnosis.
On first examination, the vets thought that Oliver had lymphangitis because of the swelling throughout his right hind and a fever. “He couldn’t bend his legs,” said McDonough. “He went to the clinic for two weeks and was flushed with antibiotics and nothing changed.” After getting a second opinion, they determined that he had in fact ruptured his peroneus tertius tendon. The peroneous tertius is a tendon in the hock which coordinates flexion of the hock and stifle joints.
Thus began the long process of nurturing Oliver back to full health. “We had to do a lot of walking, and walk hacks are the worst for him because he doesn’t like to simply just walk,” she said. Luckily they didn’t have any setbacks during the rehabilitation process. ““It took six months for him to simply walk, trot, and canter,” she said.
The long process strengthened their partnership and McDonough’s patience paid off when Oliver made a full recovery. They came back and qualified for the 2012 NAJYRC CCI** (Ky.), where they earned team bronze for Canada and finished 10th individually.
In 2013, they were eighth in the CIC*** at Jersey Fresh (N.J.) in the spring and completed their first CCI*** at the Dutta Corporation Fair Hill International Three Day Event (Md.) in the fall. With those results, they were selected to the Equine Canada National Eventing Team short list.
First Time At Rolex
Before this year, McDonough had never even witnessed Rolex Kentucky. “The first time I watched a full round of Rolex was probably a month ago,” said McDonough in early April. Her best friend, Chris Talley, brought her tapes of previous years to use as study guides. Talley is also McDonough’s groom at Rolex.
While McDonough is excited about Rolex Kentucky, she is more nervous than anything. “I just have to remind myself that it’s just another FEI event,” said McDonough. “There’s a lot of hype around it.
“The dressage is the most difficult because he gets a little tense and nervous,” she said. “I also get a little tense and nervous, which probably doesn’t help.” McDonough and Oliver put in a solid test on Thursday to place 28th in the first day of dressage’s results with a score of 67.8.
But once the dressage saddle is put away, Oliver is in his element. “It’s my dream to do Rolex cross-country,” said McDonough. “I’m really excited to do all the phases, I just have to stay focused and stick to the plan,” she said.
The support of her family and friends is probably the most beneficial thing in McDonough’s equestrian endeavors. “So far everything has been on my own—it’s just been me and my really supportive family,” said McDonough who worked as a bartender at Hey Lucy on King in downtown Toronto last year to help fund her eventing endeavors.
McDonough’s whole family made the trek down from the great-white north in order to watch her ride in Kentucky and cheer her on. Although it took a little bit of time to get her father on board with the idea of McDonough deferring school for horses, her mom has been her biggest supporter all the way through.
“It’s just as a really big thing for her as it is for me,” said McDonough.