The Monart Sale (4th & 5th November) is the finest selection of Ireland’s 3 year old and upwards event horses brought together on the one day at the one venue, the purpose-built Monart Equestrian Centre, which offers some of the finest equestrian facilities in Ireland.
The sale is the only sale in the world where the horses have been selected by a panel of 4 star Event riders, Clayton Fredericks (AUS), Polly Jackson (GB), Sue Shortt (IRL), & Bill Levett (AUS) and vetted by Olympic team vet Marcus Swail.
The Gaitpost caught up with selector Polly Jackson Griffin and organiser Niall Griffin to find out more about the forthcoming sale that is run by riders for riders and to find out about some of the Monart graduates.
What made you decide to set up the Monart Sale?
Niall: It wasn’t long after the 2008 Beijing Olympics that Polly decided to move to Ireland temporarily to help me establish Monart Equestrian. For the first few years we tried to buy and sell horses in Ireland and to be honest, we struggled hugely with the process unless we went through agents.
From talking to friends and colleagues doing the same, there was a common trend that people were struggling to connect with buyers without having a middle man. From our own experiences and talking to other riders, the idea for a sale started to take shape.
One of the reasons we started the sale was when Polly decided to sell her really good horse that the alarm bells started ringing. A purchaser had been to try the horse and we knew they really liked him. We then received a strange call from their agent telling us that the purchaser did not want him but the agent now wanted to buy him. We didn’t sell him to the agent as we wanted to know who would be riding the horse. A few weeks later we received a email from the original purchaser who told us the agent was asking double what we were selling him for. If this can happen to us it stands to reason it’s happening to others.
Back in 2009 I had also noticed that a lot of riders had moved away from riding Irish horses and were riding more foreign types such as Selle Francais, German, Dutch and even Australian and New Zealand bred horses. Polly was also riding predominantly foreign bred horses at the time.
I couldn’t understand why the Irish horses were losing popularity. Our research showed that people were afraid to come to Ireland because of bad experiences. There was talk of extra zeros being added to the price and that sellers were being out priced by some agents. It wasn’t what was really happening but Ireland is a difficult country to get around. You can easily travel a full day and have only seen 3 horses! That’s a lot of wasted time driving in a car, especially if you don’t find what you are looking for!
We thought that with our own experience of various sales both in Ireland and Germany, we could run a truly different sale that would be more suited to riders like ourselves and their owners. At the same time it would give Ireland’s best breeders and producers of horses the opportunity to showcase and sell their lovely young horses. This is what Ireland does so well – it is the land of the horse after all.
When we started the sale back in 2010, we were two riders who didn’t know anything about running a sale so we recruited the help of a sale company that we knew ran horse auctions.
We got mislead at the start when we partnered with this other company as we had different visions, mainly with regard to the selection and vetting process. For us the product had to be as good as it could be, as we would be selling to our friends and colleagues, people we would be seeing and competing with on a weekly basis.
WATCH VIDEO FOR LOT 45 Barnadarrig Boy 4yr old by Shannondale Sarco:
What makes the sale different to other sales?
Niall: In 2011 we ran our first solo sale with a vetting process that had to be infallible and was run, and still is, by Marcus Swail, the Irish Olympic vet and I have done 6 championships with him as team vet. He set up a panel of 6 vets and time after time, the quality is the same due to Marcus’s fastidious approach where no corners are cut.
We have lost a lot of good horses due to the vetting process but it has stood us in good stead as only horses that have passed the vet go into the sale. If they don’t pass the vet, we don’t sell them and that is what makes us an elite sale – it is not elite if the auctioneer announces from the rostrum that the horse has failed but is still for sale. That doesn’t make any sense.
We are also cutting out the middle man so that sellers can get to the buyers. It is a system that is working very well. Also, the Monart sale just isn’t like going to any other sale. Over 90% of buyers return each year and our customers are our colleagues – they see us warming up next to them each week – we have to be accountable and we have to get it right.
What are the trial facilities at the sale?
Niall: The Monart Equestrian Centre has run many unaffiliated and affiliated events. The cross country course is from Intro to 2* and there is an indoor and outdoor arena as well as grass and sand gallops. It is a fabulous establishment and at the sale there are plenty of occasions to try the horses.
On the Wednesday afternoon, the ridden horses get shown jumping round a short show jumping and cross country track and after that the 3 year olds get introduced in hand in the indoor and while that’s happening we serve everyone a hot mug of mulled wine to help keep everyone warm.
When it starts to get dark most people head down to the hotel to enjoy a fun evening in the award winning hotel & spa. It is one of our favourites nights of the year as we get to socialise with our friends and colleagues without the added pressure of going eventing early the next day. The bar stays open very late that night or should I say until the early hours of the morning! It is also the perfect time to reflect on the horses you have seen that day and discuss them over dinner in the award winning restaurant.
Thursday morning, we showcase the ridden horses again but this time just on the flat and then they are there ready for anyone wishing to try them. The three year olds get show cased after loose jumping in the indoor arena.
Our vet Marcus Swail is onsite during the days and at the time of the auction to offer his advice on any veterinary matters such as X-rays etc.
4pm is the start of the action and this is held in the warmth of the beautiful Monart Hotel. This is when you get a large drink to steady the nerves and plan your bidding in hope of buying your next future star.
After the auction most people enjoy dinner in the restaurant or bar celebrating hopefully their new purchases, it’s always a great atmosphere in the hotel and a lot of fun.
Niall: It was really important to us that we chose a panel of selectors who always had good horses and Clayton Fredericks and Bill Levett were perfect examples of this. Both of them, and Polly, had got horses from Pre-Novice to 4*. They have all done it time and time again. All of us have finished in the top 5 at 4* level and the panel had to showcase their talent for producing nice horses, picked at a young age, and got the results to prove it.
Can you tell us about the vetting process?
Niall: It is a full 5 stage vetting, which takes place the day before the sale. All the horses are X-rayed from 3 weeks before the sale and they are all sent to Marcus for a thorough examination.
Are there some stand-out horses in this year’s sale?
Niall: Quite a few actually. We were having dinner with Bill and Jenny Levett last week and discussing this. Most years we would have about three or four real superstars, that you would be really excited about, but this year we have between 15 and 20 that are very exciting prospects. The buyers are really spoilt for choice this year.
WATCH VIDEO FOR LOT 03 Unnamed 3yr old by Voltaire
How are some of the Monart graduates going?
Niall: You wouldn’t think we would get attached to them as they are not our horses, but I take their progress very personally.
Cooleys Rorkes Drift, with Jonty Evans, is going really well and has a big future ahead. Prince Mayo, ridden by Paul Tapner, was fourth at Chatsworth and Tattersalls; Monarts Masterpiece is going really nicely with Flora Harris. Lassban Diamond Lift won Gatcombe CIC 2* with Bill Levett as well quite a few intermediates. Charlie Tango with Heather Morris has won two CCI 2* in the US. I think you will see many more top eventing horses coming from the Monart Sale as it is still early days for many of sale graduates due to their age.
The Monart Destination Spa is literally down the lane, how has this helped to make it a not to be missed date in the calendar?
Niall: It’s funny as back in 2010, no one really used the spa, which is a very interesting concept and pushes the boundaries in what it offers. It doesn’t do weddings and parties and although it operates as a hotel, it is a pure retreat in complete luxury.
Over the years, people have started to use the facilities more and more and it is very normal to see the riders having breakfasts in their dressing gowns. Buyers now bring their non-horsey friends, who would never usually go horse shopping, to enjoy the Spa and it has become an integral part of what we offer. Although the spa is now full for the sale, there are other hotels within 4 miles including the Spa’s sister hotel.
How do you both see the sport progressing?
Niall: The trouble with the sport is that there isn’t enough money in it. Especially in comparison to other horse sports such as racing, show jumping and dressage.
The prices for good horses in the other sports I have just mentioned is that you can sell horses for millions. I cannot say the same for Eventing. You are lucky if you get back what you have put in in the first place let alone a profit! There are various reasons in my view that the prices of horses is far less.
1. There is not enough big prize money to win on a monthly basis like in racing and showjumping where riders can earn on their top horses.
2. The new qualifications set by the FEI also means that even if you buy a horse at four star level and you have also ridden at four star level, you cannot automatically compete at that level. You would have to qualify as a combination and that could mean going right back down the levels again, unless you are rated as a category A rider by the FEI. Producing top level horses now for sale is a no brainier as 90% of riders eventing can’t compete them at the level anyway. You are better off buying a horse at 2* levels, which is cheaper.
Polly: I firmly believe that the sport of eventing needs to desperately progress in order to entice bigger sponsors, more owners and TV coverage. In my opinion it is still viewed as a luxury or hobby sport. It is certainly not like golf, rugby or athletics where you can live like an athlete. And as Niall has mentioned, the prize money, in most cases, does not even cover the basic class entry fee, let alone the ever increasing start fees.
I remember reading somewhere that the cross country days at the big 4*’s, attract over 130,000 people on one day. My maths was never brilliant but if the average car is paying approx £50 to drive through the gates, then that is some serious revenue. Even if half that number came in one car, you’re looking at over £3,000,000 on just one day at one event, so I think there is money there somewhere.
£65,000 for 1st place at a 4* shared between owners and riders is laughable in my view. It should be at least in the high hundred of thousands if not a million. More prize money in the sport will entice more owners, bigger sponsors and the one it most needs is TV coverage, which inevitably brings more money to any sport!
It would be great if the sport would brighten its image and not be seen as elitist when the majority of riders are normal people who get up every day, ride horses that are a bit wild and really graft to get where they are. You wouldn’t see the rowers and runners at the Olympics in woolly jumpers and tracksuits! They have embraced the new hi-tech sports kit that is available whereas we often have to compete in the midday sun wearing wool jackets with a shirt and tie.
Now more than ever, riders are athletes. The tradition of boozy lorry parties are long gone and we have all got very hot on our fitness plus social media has made a huge difference and the sport is having to move with the times.
Let riders wear their sponsor names or team colours with big logos on the clothes. Again I say look at what other sports do, such as horse racing, formula one, tennis, golf…it seems every other sport is doing it…even tennis has moved on from the traditional white! The traditions are making it look elitist.
I have many more views about the sport of eventing but I will bore your readers!
How will you spend the winter?
Polly: The early part of the winter will be spent hopefully breaking in our newly purchased 3 year olds from the Monart Sale plus also bringing on our younger horses. The top horses are due back in from their winter break soon enough to start their winter of dressage training as well !
We will have some down time as well enjoying some long weekends with family and friends and hopefully we will get away on our over due honeymoon. We both love skiing so I am sure sometime will be spent on a snowy mountain some where in Europe.
What is your greatest fear?
Polly: Getting old
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Polly: Life is too short so live it.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Polly: The life that I have built and am lucky enough to lead today with so many opportunities to build on for the future is definitely my greatest achievement.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Polly: I would love to have is the ability to make people laugh.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Polly: To not to worry about things I cannot control.
How do you unwind/relax?
Polly: I love spending time with family and friends but probably most of all I enjoy a good meal on the sofa with my husband Niall with a good glass of red wine or a gin and tonic with an open fire blaring out in the winter months.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Polly: Nelson Mandela for his tenacity for making a better life for everyone and his talent to forgive. Race horse trainers Jim Bolger and Vincent O’Brien for their ability to know how to pick great horses and Michael Jung for his ability to make every horse and XC course he rides look easy.
Where would you like to live?
Polly: I love where we live now, here in Kinoulton Nottinghamshire and also our other home from time to time in Niall’s homeland of Ireland at Monart in sunny Wexford. Later in life I have always loved the idea of living in the south of France, some where near the mountains and the sea.
What would be your perfect weekend?
Polly: We don’t really do weekends as we are normally away competing or it just like any other day of the week riding and training horses. But when we do get a weekend off, I love spending lazy lunches or long dinners with friends and family and enjoy doing what normal people get to do on a Sunday reading newspapers, watching TV, generally enjoying having nothing to do!
What are you reading at the moment?
Polly: I have just finished reading is a book called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and I have just started to read Usaine Bolt’s autobiography.
What are your top indispensable pieces of kit, for you or your horse?
We could not do without our wonderful horse box.
Full video playlist: