Sinead Halpin has conquered the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI**** cross-country, represented the U.S. at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, won countless events and finessed her way through her top horse Manoir de Carneville’s quirks, but she’ll be taking on a new challenge this weekend at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International CCI** (Md.)—Forrest Nymph, a 14.2-hand New Forest Pony.
Halpin took over the ride on “Farrah” this spring for owner Beth Davidson and she’s excited for the challenge of the mare’s first CCI**.
“This is a new thing for me—galloping ponies around nine-minute tracks!” she joked. “I think it will be interesting. It’s very much a fact-finding mission [to see what she’s capable of].”
So how did one of the top event riders in the country end up with such a diminutive mount?
Davidson, Plant City, Fla., breeds Connemaras and was offered Farrah as a 5-year-old when her owner had a family emergency and needed to find her a new home.
Davidson took the mare on a hunter pace and she seemed to enjoy it, so she tried eventing her at the lower levels before handing the reins over to professional Lauren DeNeve, who was renting stalls at her Black Dog Farm.
DeNeve competed Farrah, now 10, to the preliminary level last spring and took her to her first CCI* at Ocala (Fla.) before she moved out of Davidson’s barn, leaving Farrah’s owner with a tough decision. The feisty mare was not suited to the lower levels that Davidson wanted to pursue and she wasn’t a child’s ride.
So she put an ad online offering Farrah for sale, lease or any other situation that came up. “Almost all of the people who approached me about buying her were parents for kids,” she said. “She’s fiery to the big stuff, and you can put a kid on her and give them an up-down lesson. But it’s that in between. If you think you know what you’re doing but you don’t really know enough, you could get in trouble.”
Davidson was surprised to get a phone call from Halpin, who’d recently fractured her ankle in a fall from Manoir de Carneville at Fair Hill. Since she couldn’t ride, she sent her friend and fellow professional Lisa Barry down to try Farrah last winter.
“Lisa came down and we put the jumps up to 4’3” and she said, ‘Well if Sinead says no, I’ll take her!’” Davidson said with a laugh.
“She’s by far exceeded my expectations,” said Halpin. “I think we’re all interested in riding a nice horse. I was very curious and it sounded kind of exciting and fun and Beth seemed really cool. I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s give it a go.’”
Having spent time in England when she worked for William Fox-Pitt, Halpin knew the value of a good pony.
“I think we should have more ponies in the sport,” she said. “It’s huge in Ireland and England to have the pony one-stars. I wish as a young rider that I had a pony. Most want the big, fancy horses, but I think having something like this and making it pretty exciting is great for the sport and for ponies. I think they have a great place in eventing—I’m not sure why we don’t see more of them.”
Davidson worked out a deal with Halpin to campaign Farrah (Forrest Flame—Hoppenhof’s Silvia, Nieuwmoeds Patric) and see how far she could go.
Halpin, who’s 5’8”, took Farrah to her first intermediate in May at MCTA (Md.) and admitted it’s been a learning curve.
“It took me a little bit to get used to how little she was,” she said. “She’s getting much better, but she was really strong [in show jumping and on cross-country]. She’s a little red pony mare, so sometimes you start thinking, ‘Well maybe she’s right!’ From a rider’s perspective on a pony, you’re actually so much closer to the fence before you leave the ground. I don’t notice it that much anymore, but in the beginning I always thought I was on a chip or a miss and I really wasn’t—I was just really close to the fence.”
Halpin, of Oldwick, N.J., got some help from local grand prix rider Amanda Flint, who told her to shorten her stirrups three holes, tuck her body like a jockey and make all of her adjustments from that position.
“It’s been really great for my riding in general because on the cross-country you tend to take the fences on a little bit more instead of over-balancing or over-protecting,” she said. “You kind of have to attack what you’re doing and do it from a very subtle position. She’s such a confident mare that once I got comfortable with my position, I kind of felt like, ‘She’s either going to jump it or she’s not.’ Nothing that I’m going to do is going to make much of a difference!”
After a great intermediate go at the Virginia Horse Trials in May, which ran nearly the same track as the CIC**, Halpin and Davidson decided to aim for Fair Hill.
“I had a couple of intermediate horses at Virginia and she was as good as any of them, so I thought we might as well take a crack at it and see. It just seemed like the logical thing,” said Halpin, 33.
The pair contested their first FEI event at Plantation Field (Pa.) in September, finishing 18th out of 83 starters in the CIC** with a clear jumping round and just a handful of time penalties on cross-country.
Watch Halpin and Farrah’s cross-country round at Plantation…
Halpin came up with a new plan for her dressage warm-up at the event because Farrah is still gaining strength and tires sometimes. She rode through her test, hopped off for 15 minutes, then got back on and went right to the ring.
“She’s very small in height and she may be 800 pounds—she’s incredibly narrow,” she said. “Because of that it’s taking awhile to get her topline built up and she does get tired in her back. The more I warm up, the crankier she gets.
“She really stepped up at Plantation [on the flat],” she continued. “My goal would be to keep her consistently in the 40s on the flat. This is the first season she’s competed outside of Florida and the first time she’s been dealing with terrain, so I think Fair Hill will be a great baseline to see how much run she has in her. I haven’t felt her really get tired [on cross-country] and I’m trying to get her super fit. I think I’ll run her as fast as I possibly can but it will be a good starting point.”
Davidson, an ecologist for a consulting company, hasn’t been able to get to every event to watch Farrah go, but she’s making the trip to Fair Hill because she’ll be able to apprentice with an FEI Steward there as she works towards her FEI Steward’s License.
“I’m probably more excited than nervous,” said Davidson, 45. “I want her to have one of those shows where she puts all three phases together. Being a mare, that doesn’t always happen. If we can have three solid phases, then that would be awesome. I don’t really care where she finishes if she shows Sinead that she can buckle down and do the work.
“She always goes out there, ears forward, like ‘Let’s go, I’ve got it.’ It never looks hard. As long as the pony seems happy, then I’m perfectly happy to let her run around,” she added.
The Chronicle will be reporting all weekend from the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill CCI** and CCI***, with in-depth stories about the action, all the news, and wonderful photos. Don’t miss a minute—make the Chronicle’s dedicated Fair Hill CCI page your go-to for news.