Waiting for his turn to ride the jump-off in the $50,000 Restylane Grand Prix at Split Rock’s Sonoma International CSI2* in Sonoma, California, Sept. 2-6, Ireland’s Mark Kinsella had faith in his mount Stern Dei Folletti.
“He’s a really nice horse,” said Kinsella of the 9-year-old bay Holsteiner gelding (Toulon—Atonka, Caspar). “He’s nice and energetic with a great canter and a good length of stride. All around, he’s a beautiful horse, and it makes my job easier.”
While Kinsella has been showing Stern Dei Folletti for about a year for owner Karie Rufer, it’s only in the past few weeks that he’s made the move from Toronto to Elk Grove, California, where he will coach Rufer and manage her Morning Star Sporthorses. Kinsella will also produce some of the younger horses in Morning Star’s string, including Stern Dei Folletti.
In addition to winning the Sunday grand prix, Stern Dei Folletti won the $2,500 1.35-meter speed class at the beginning of the week, and Kinsella won the $5,000 Morning Star 1.35-meter aboard Morning Star-owned Quite An Art, an 8-year-old chestnut Holsteiner gelding (Quiwi Dream—Marleen III, Concerto). Rufer did some winning of her own, capturing the $25,000 Hyaluronex National Prix on Mr. Europe, her 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Mr. Blue—Z Livia RV, Cassini I).
After four years living in Toronto and coaching Canadian rider Nicole Walker, Kinsella was ready for a change of scenery and a place to put down roots. “Canada was great, but it’s a little far out,” said Kinsella. “I was looking to make one last move, and I like it in California. I had some friends and some connections, so that makes a difference. The competition is pretty good, and there is access to good shows without traveling too far. The shows are nice for riders and nice to produce and develop younger horses.”
One of the deciding factors in the relocation was that the family of Kinsella’s fiancé, professional rider Sophie Reiter, lives nearby in Napa Valley. “We were apart for over five months, and it takes a toll on a relationship, especially newly engaged and planning a wedding,” said Kinsella, 32. “When we start a family I want it to be California-based, so that influenced my decision a lot.”
While COVID-19 concerns have limited some show offerings, Kinsella and his new team plan to attend Sacramento International and then the National Sunshine Series in Thermal, California, before heading to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida. “Everybody had to have a little bit of a down year right now due to coronavirus, but everyone is in the same boat,” he said. “No one could have predicted what happened this year.”
Spending the winter in Wellington is an important component of Kinsella’s development strategy. “It’s a good place for horses and riders to gel,” he said. “It sets new combinations up for success; when you leave Wellington after the season the new partnerships are very well developed.”
Kinsella got hooked on horses as a child when his older sister started taking lessons at the Broadmeadow Equestrian Centre in County Meath, Ireland. “I used to do a little bit of Pony Club but not many competitions, he said in an interview with Irish reporter Aimee McClenahan. “The real thing that opened doors for me was when Cian O’Connor moved to Broadmeadow and based himself there. That interested me a lot. I’d see him at the corner of the ring, watching and seeing what was going on. From there I asked Cian for a summer job one year and bought a horse off him and based myself there. That was it. From my summer job I never left. It was a great place for me to start my career.”
After eight years with O’Connor, Kinsella started his own business in Ireland, spent some time in Belgium, and eventually moved to Canada to help Walker in 2017. He met Rufer around the same time at Spruce Meadows (Alberta), and they continued to cross paths at horse shows over the years before deciding to work together.
Kinsella is looking forward to building a training and sales program in northern California in addition to working with Rufer and Morning Star. “Of course I’d love to win an Olympic medal, but right now I’m more focused on the business side,” he said. “I want to train and produce good horses for the industry and have a handful of nice quality horses to be able to sell.”
With travel currently restricted, Kinsella is relying on contacts in Europe to source prospects, and he has a close friend in Ireland who can help develop young horses until they’re ready to come to the United States. “I feel like when they come to this side of the world they need to be ready to go because the cost is so much higher over here,” he said.
While Kinsella hopes he has all the elements in place for a solid foundation, he knows it won’t happen overnight. “I’m not going crazy trying to do everything at once,” he said. “The plan is to spend a year building up to the level I’d like.”