When she is not flying the Cottesmore Leap or trucking across the country with the aptly-named Cossan Lad, she is training to be a teacher and she chats to The Gaitpost about how she successfully juggles studying with stardom.
Her current top horse, Cossan Lad, affectionately known as ‘Bouncer’ to his stable pals, has been with Kirsty since the 2008 season, where the pair completed their first novice together. Kirsty purchased the eye-catching grey gelding from Mark and Tanya Kyle, after he had several completions at intro and pre-novice level with International eventer, Mark.
“Mark and Tanya Kyle brought Cossan Lad over from Ireland and basically, I went to look at a chestnut horse that they had for sale, but I ended up trying him because the chestnut horse had sold earlier that day and we were there, so I gave him a go and totally fell in love him.
“I went back to work for the Kyles’ two years later. I would suggest that any young rider goes away to learn their trade, it was an incredible opportunity. The Kyles’ have an amazing business, probably one of the best eventing businesses in the country, if you consider their producing, selling and training. Well-known riders have established themselves there and that is really why I wanted to go and be a working pupil with them. I saw Lauren Shannon on the Junior and Young Rider teams and I thought that having actually bought Bouncer from Mark and Tanya, they’re probably the best people to help me with him, so I went there for a year. Mark was an amazing person to be jump-trained by and he has really been there for me since I left. He will always walk a course with me and he is always at the end of the phone if I need advice, which is great.”
Kirsty produced Bouncer up the levels quickly, going from novice classes in 2008 to 3* by 2011. Since then, he has become a seasoned campaigner for her at the highest level of the sport, having competed at six 4* events in five seasons, with 4* completions on French, German and home soil.
“When we did a few 2* classes, we all realised that he was a really super horse. Mark and Tanya actually said to me, ‘whatever you do, do not sell this horse’, because we were thinking about selling him to Hong Kong to compete in the Asian Games. The best decision I ever made, was not selling him. To be able to just get around Burghley with ease is just incredible, you don’t often get that and I am really fortunate.
Bouncer is like a red wine; he matures with age! We would love to tick Badminton off the list next year or perhaps sell a few horses (or a kidney) to fly out to Kentucky.
We’re hoping to go to Burghley again this year and hopefully get some FEI points. We need to crack the dressage a bit more and I think we will. I am now based at Team Monart and have great mentors in Niall Griffin and Polly Jackson-Griffin who have been helping me for the past three years now and there has been a real change. Bouncer was a run-away horse, but Polly Jackson-Griffin has transformed us and we are now going in a snaffle at one day events and in the show jumping at a three day. We may make it to Burghley in a snaffle this year, which is such a huge development.
Looking back, perhaps I did move him up the levels a bit too fast, but when you’re young, you don’t necessarily realise that a horse doesn’t need to be going advanced at eight to be a good horse and you don’t always have to go with the age classes.”
Bouncer is somewhat unpredictable in the first phase. On a good day, he is capable of producing a competitive dressage in the low 40’s, but equally, he can produce a high score, which leaves the pair with it all to do going into the jumping phases, which is something Kirsty has to contend with.
“Bouncer does struggle in the dressage, bless him! He isn’t really built for it, but if he would just co-operate a little more, that would be fantastic. To be honest, I just sit there and smile, knowing that the jumping phases are what he loves.
It is quite hard to keep him contained. He is so feisty and fresh on the Sunday, we just keep saying, ‘how do I bottom this horse, is there a way’, because at Luhmuhlen, eleven people made the time and they only kept the optimum time as low as it was because we made it so early on. He is a jumping machine.
Bouncer must be one of the best cross country horses in the country. I often say it, but I am so lucky to have the experience of jumping around these 4* tracks on such a fantastic horse. The 20 faults we picked up at Luhmuhlen this year, were my fault. I didn’t get the right line and he simply didn’t see the fence, it wasn’t that he wasn’t willing to jump it. I hadn’t shown him the correct line, but that is a big learning curve for me. I’m not riding at advanced every week. We once counted that Oliver Townend had done 44 XC runs in the time that I had done four!”
All the horses in Kirsty’s stable are self-produced. She now sources them from the Monart Horse Sale, as they provide a brilliant way to look at vast numbers of horses in such a luxurious environment. The way selection is done makes it a very safe way to purchase a top horse. As Bouncer is reaching the peak of his career, she is already looking to the future. At present, her hopes currently lie with Cortage, a striking nine-year-old, whom she has been competing on the BE circuit since 2014. To date, the pair have six top ten finishes, with one victory on their card and completion at 1* level.
“I’ve taken Cortage slowly, so everything that I didn’t do with Bouncer, I’ve done with him. He is actually show jumping 1.20 metres now and working to a really high level at home. I’m planning for him to do the intermediate at Aston-Le-Walls, the 2* at Burgham, then hopefully the 2* at Blair Castle, followed by the 2* at the South of England and then perhaps finish his season at Little Downham. I’m hoping that next season he may be capable of doing a few Event Rider Masters legs, because I really love that format of the sport. It is such a fantastic development, I am so excited about it.”
She also has several less experienced horses at home, who she looks to develop, as she continues to gain a stellar reputation as a producer of young horses. Given her history of producing Bouncer through the levels and now her success with Cortage, Kirsty is looking to push on with her young string.
“I’ve just finished University and I want to go to Loughborough to do a PGCE to become a PE teacher, but we might be putting that on hold for a while because I have a nice string of horses coming along at the moment. Currently, I have six – Cossan Lad, obviously and then I have Cortage, who is my nine-year-old 2* horse, Kitty, a five-year-old, who is going to start her season next week and then three four-year-olds, who I hope to produce and sell. I’m hoping to get into the swing of buying, producing and then selling younger horses and just having three or so real event horses that I compete myself, fingers crossed, finding the next Bouncer along the way!”