Special Feature - Ailbhe McGrath

Special Feature - Ailbhe McGrath
Photo by Louise O'Brien Photography

Ailbhe McGrath is an exceptional example of how the amateur rider trains, competes and balances life around horses. Ailbhe’s positive, upbeat attitude and outlook shines through in her horses - who receive the highest level of care and attention in order to achieve their goals. Ailbhe can be found mainly on the eventing circuit with a variety of horses and has even competed in internationals at Millstreet over the years.

Who are you? Tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Ailbhe. I am a 27-year-old amateur eventer from Co.Meath. I am a primary school teacher by day and that helps fund my two horses. When I’m not riding I love reading, although thanks to audiobooks I can do that on the yard too! I grew up riding horses thanks to my Mum's interest and started out showing and doing pony club. From there, I went on to eventing which I have been doing for a lot longer than I care to add up now!

What is your favourite discipline and why?

Can I say eventing as a discipline? I find it hard to choose one as I feel it very much depends on the horse you’re riding! I loved jumping on Raphi. With him, dressage was purely a means to an end, but on previous horses like Copper, dressage was just as fun!

Leo I think will be nice in all three phases but gun to my head... I can’t not jump!

Tell us a little about your favourite event this year and how it went?

Last year was a lot quieter for me than normal. I had my lovely little TB Bonnie going out and about to Killossery a lot. To be honest, I don't think I have ridden in many other places for the last year! They are very handy to have nearby as they run so much! My favourite event location is Loughanmore! I did my first ever Junior 110 there on Copper and had some incredible wins on Raphi there too. International would have to be Millstreet! I do hope I get back there, eventually!

And of course, the horse(s) that helped you with your amazing result this weekend?

I have had the opportunity to ride some amazing horses over the last few years. Raphi is my main man and the one most of you would know! He is the reason I started the Instagram page. He has had his ups and downs injury wise, but at the moment we are on the up and aiming to do lots of dressage and show jumping this year. He has now retired from eventing but most of my big days were with him! A special mention has to go to my junior horse Copper (Major Furisto) and Toby (Bridgemans Cocoa Malt), my sister's horse who I did my first and only Tatts International on! Leo has some very big shoes to fill!!

What kind of training do you do to get ready for events?

I am lucky to have an arena at home so I can ride most days. In the height of the season, the horses would be ridden 6 days a week including a competition day. I have trained with Sarah Ennis for the last 13 (ish?? Too long to count!) years and would go to her regularly depending on the horse and our goals. Leo is seeing her a little more regularly at the moment to help get him going. In the run up to a big event I would be going to her at least once a week! I am very lucky to be able to get trained by Mark Ruddock for dressage as well.

Do you ever get nervous in the run up to events? How do you deal with those?

YES! I can suffer hugely with nerves.

I am terrible for getting things into my head - no new clothes or things for the horses on event day. Although, I can wear them going to normal SJI or DI shows… I’ve been told it makes no sense but nonetheless here I am! I don’t get as nervous going to a DI or SJI show.

Eventing is the one that gives me the real butterflies.

I tend not to eat until I’m finished or I might have something small in the morning when we arrive. I try really hard to visualise when I’m course walking. If I’m worried about something, I picture it going well. I am also very lucky to have a great support network as normally my Mum and Sarah are at the events and I can bounce ideas and problems off them.

What are your goals and ambitions for the future?

This changes regularly for me. I would love to get up to 3* eventing. Raphi won’t be the horse to do it unfortunately, but hopefully in time Leo will be. For Raphi now, I would love to jump a 1.30m track by the end of the season and to have a go at a medium dressage test. A dressage national championship with both this year would be nice!

I have learned the hard way that goals and plans need to be very flexible as horses love to have their best shot at preventing them!

If you could compete in one competition, what would it be and why?

Oooh that's a hard one…. Badminton!?! Although, I don’t think I’d be able to manage cross country morning. I feel sick enough watching Sarah go round! In reality, going back to Millstreet International would be amazing or going to Necarne - I would love them to run an international again! I’d also kill for an RDS sash. The showing kid in me is dying for one!

Tell us about your support group and the people who help you get ready for events?

My Mum is integral to my success with the horses. She has always been there by my side at events and training. She also is the one who helps with the mucking out so that I can ride the horses especially over the winter! My sister Sadhbh has always been there to help out as well, be it ride a horse or walk a course with you! Sarah Ennis has always been there for me too! There have been many frustrated phone calls to her when Raphi has decided to be an arse out cross country and she has always helped solve the problem. There are loads more that I could be here listing them all week! So many friends, who are basically family, have helped pick me up or celebrate over the years!

Have you any big goals for next year?

Things are a lot quieter with me at the moment with Raphi only coming back into work and Leo only being 5. I don't think he needs to do too much as a 5 year old. It would be nice to get him to a dressage national championships in the 5 year old class this year. For Raphi it’s very much a play it by ear situation. I would love love love to jump a 1.30m by the end of the season considering it’s almost 2 years since I jumped a 1.20m, we will see how that goes!

What is next for you?

For the spring season I plan on getting Raphi and Leo out to some dressage shows and some showjumping and to get going properly. It was a very disjointed winter with all the frost so they are only starting to really get going now. Raphi has had his back injected and is now cleared to jump which will be a very exciting day for everyone!

Strong chance I may never stop him again….

Get to know Ailbhe

Favourite programme or series that you like? That's hard but lately I just finished The Recruit and loved it!

What is your favourite Movie? I love a good rom-com or a Marvel or Disney movie but the one I would always turn to is Harry Potter, any of them really!

What is your favourite Song? Cian DuCrot - I’ll be waiting or all of the Taylors Version Taylor Swift songs!

What is your favourite App? Instagram - I refuse to get TikTok as I’m afraid I will spend all my time on it too….

If you were pizza topping what would you be? That’s a hard one, Chicken maybe?! I kind of go with anything but it can be a bit spicy…..

What is the funniest thing your horse has ever done? That’s hard, Raphi used to be best friends with a cat we had and he would let her sleep on his back which for him was a lot! Leo is a pretty good bucket thrower and has managed to fling his bucket and hit other horses with it. I’ve never managed to get that on video though!

Best result or proudest moment so far? Can I say Raphi…. When he came to me he was such a shell of a horse who was scared of everyone wouldn't let a man near his feet and had no personality. Now he tolerates my love and affection, has a fabulous relationship with our farrier (thanks to his shoe removal techniques) and is probably one of the safer horses on the yard to ride, if you can get on…… The four internationals I have completed have been pretty proud moments too!

Ailbhe’s journey and day to day life with her amazing horses can be followed on Instagram @amcg_eventing. Keep an eye out at events throughout the year, you will be sure to see Ailbhe popping up around the country!

Photo by Louise O'Brien Photography
Niamh Mahon

Niamh Mahon

23 year old from Offaly, Ireland BHS Qualified Instructor Primary school Student Teacher Eventing: Hettie // 7 yr old OTTB Dressage: Archie// 21yr old ISH