Conor Swail is in a bit of a hurry, playing catch-up, so to speak.
He is recognised as one of Ireland’s, even the world’s, most talented riders, but it’s not enough for the Co Down native. Now 44, he’s itching to prove, to himself, that he can reach the pinnacle.
What’s different now is that he considers he has the tools at his disposal to carve out a path to the top. For starters, he has set himself the target of gaining a place in the world top 10 this year.
“I had a successful 2015 and I’m currently 31st in the world. The top 10 is a goal in 2016. I have a nice group of horses and good owners and I like to think it’s achievable, assuming things go to plan.
“Not too many Irish riders have achieved a place in the top 10. It’s uncharted waters for me, but I’m determined and optimistic.”
He candidly admits he has a sense that he hasn’t fulfilled his potential, but, even though it’s unnecessary, he is anxious not to give the impression of possessing an over-inflated ego.
“Personally, I don’t think I have fulfilled my potential at all. I feel I’m only really getting started. It’s the first time I’ve been able to ride at the highest level for a sustained period of time,” he says from Florida, where he is preparing for the start of the three-month Winter Equestrian Festival.
“Previously, I would have sold my nice horses and then went about rebuilding.
“Now, I have a few good owners and feel I can stay at the top for a sustained period. I have a lot to offer and I’m riding as well as I ever have. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing.
“I wouldn’t say I have anything to prove, except to myself. People would say I’m one of the best in the world, but I ask myself: Am I? Now, I feel I have the opportunity to live up to that.
“I don’t want to sound big-headed. I know that I’m good at what I do, but also that I’m very aware when I make mistakes and, like all the top guys, I would be very hard on myself. I know I still have plenty to learn and will always learn until I stop riding.
“I’m successful, but I want to achieve a lot more in the sport and I feel I can achieve that in the next five years if the right opportunities arise,” he says.
He certainly made an impression last year, rounding off in style with victory in a $212,000 grand prix in Palm Beach at the end of November on the now 10-year-old Viva Colombia.
Canadian Sue Grange and her daughter Ariel of Lothlorien Farm have been instrumental in his developing success.
“Sue has a great love of the sport and has shown that through her commitment. It is second to none and I am very thankful for that.
“Her vision is to have one of the best stables in the world and she has been a tremendous support to me. We have had many horses over the past few years and are proving more successful every year.
“Ilan Ferder is another good owner, he owns Viva Colombia. He is American, but is Israeli-born.”
Swail also references another Canadian, Vanessa Mannix, who owns Grand Cru VIJF Eiken and he cannot but fail to mention the super-consistent Simba de la Roque.
“He is coming 10 and he has been phenomenal. I feel he can do some more demanding grand prix in 2016,” says Swail, who relocated to the US three years ago.
Like many Irish riders, he loves the Winter Equestrian Festival, but he feels it’s becoming a victim of its own success.
“It’s very popular, in fact, it’s nearly getting too popular. It’s very difficult to win there.
“There are a lot of Mexicans and South Americans who come up for it, especially with this being an Olympic year and they are very competitive. Not to mention the home-grown riders.”
Of note will be the re-emergence of the impressive Lansdowne after more than a year out of action.
“He’s been in work for some time and, thankfully, he’s ready to do some show jumping. I’ll take it very slowly, though.
“He had bone degeneration in his fetlock and it was slow to grow back. I won’t be pressing him until I feel he is comfortable and happy. I’m lucky to have the luxury that I don’t need him to be my top horse.”
Due to cars parked on the lawn at the Mar-a-Lago Club “the turf footing was deemed unfit for competition” and there was not enough time to repair it to a necessary level, according to a press release from organisers Equestrian Sport Productions.
Not many know this, but he was editor of the Sunday World, growing it to be Ireland’s most popular Sunday newspaper. He achieved this after earning his spurs, so to speak, as a journalist in the North during the Troubles.
He brought that experience to bear in his eight years with the Equestrian Federation of Ireland and HSI. A thorough professional with huge commitment we wish him the best of luck and I’m sure his talents will take him down new avenues of success.
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