It was Sophocles who wrote how he had no desire to suffer twice, first in reality and again in retrospect. That’s all very well, but it’s human nature to look back sometimes and wonder what might have been, had different decisions been made or paths taken.
The choice facing Susan Fitzpatrick last year was binary, but complicated. The Kilkenny showjumper and her parents agonised over whether they should hold on to the talented nine-year-old Fellow Castlefield, or surrender to one of the gelding’s growing army of suitors.
Many a showjumper has been faced with this sort of Sliding Doors moment. Hold on to a horse like that, and it can propel your own riding career forward. Accept an offer for it, and the proceeds can future-proof the wider business for years to come.
A lovely quandary to be in, but a quandary all the same.
Their own thoughts would have been mingled with plenty of opinions from further afield. Some will tell you that finding a horse like that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Others would be of the view that this sort of lightning can strike far more than just the once.
What to do?
The horse had been with the family at their Keatingstown House Stud for six years. Bought as an investment, the original idea was to move him on after a few seasons but, while temperamental at times, Fellow Castlefield began to show signs of rare potential in the ring.
It was the win in the two-star Grand Prix in Millstreet in 2018 that made Fitzpatrick first sit up and take notice of the true potential under her and a growing number of notable results
culminated in a fourth-placed finish at the five-star Dublin Horse Show last August.
They opted to sell soon after and one among their reasons in doing so was the suspicion Tokyo 2020 was probably an Olympics too soon for a talented rider still in her early 20s.
This was six months or so before Covid-19 would change everyone’s best-laid plans.
“I had him six years, but I felt like I was only getting to know him at that (five-star) level,” said Fitzpatrick.
“There was a lot more things you could have progressed on. The
partnership could have been made better, but who could know that Tokyo would be delayed for a year?
“I think mum and dad wanted me to hold on to him, but we got an offer we couldn’t refuse. It was a logical decision that needed to be made.
“We’re not the big names in the sport and we don’t have all the money in the world, so we needed to sell and bring on the next ones.”
Indeed. That reasoning was sound at the time and it still stands up to scrutiny. If anything, it’s a decision that has matured even better than anyone could have expected, given the pandemic and the economic reverberations likely to be felt through the equestrian community.
Fitzpatrick feels for some of the smaller stables, some of whom may not have the sort of backing they have enjoyed in recent months from those owners whose horses are among the 13 in a yard which is a direct recipient of the money made from Fellow Castlefield’s departure.
The sale will ultimately allow them to renovate the arena and the paddocks, and more besides. Put simply, it will make the yard a more attractive commercial proposition for prospective and existing owners and they have also bought a new string of horses that will be built up from a two-star level.
“One of those is a horse I will probably aim for Paris with,” she said.
The woman who set all this in motion was Anitha Onassis. The only surviving descendant of billionaire shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, the French-Greek heiress is worth a reported €1bn. She is a showjumper who trains in the Netherlands with Dutch Olympian Jan Tops and wife Edwina Tops-Alexander.
It was Onassis who bought MHS Going Global, the horse Greg Broderick rode at the Rio Games in 2016 and co-owned with the Candian Lee Kruger, in a deal said to have been worth an eight-figure sum. She even visited the
Keatingstown operation in Kilkenny before sealing this particular deal.
Fitzpatrick’s own travels have obviously been curtailed in recent months. At least four, and as many as six, appearances and world rankings points have been nixed as a result of the virus and resultant lockdown but, like so many people, she has discovered some unexpected silver linings.
A home bird who appreciates the
opportunity to travel the world, she has welcomed the extra time spent with her parents, two brothers, and members of staff who she counts as friends — some of whom live on the premises.
Some fishing and exercising has been squeezed into those corners of the day where they haven’t been seeing to those occupying the stables, and the shutdown has fast-forwarded the getting-to-know-you period with that new string bought just a few months ago.
“It’s been quite beneficial, in a way,” she explained. “A bit of a breather.”