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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘I was not brought up around horses’ – rider, qualified instructor & masters student

Interview: Niamh Mahon

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Niamh Mahon, a masters student, rider and qualified instructor from Tullamore, County Offaly

“I was not brought up around horses and live in a typical detached suburban house with my family, none of whom are anyway horsey.

My mam was the person who sparked my grá for horses. She had ridden a little bit during her teenage years and offered both my brother and I the opportunity to give it a go.

I was four going five when I first sat on a horse during our summer holidays, and the rest is history, and I have not looked back since.

I attended a few lessons over the summer, and it was not until the following year that I really took a liking to the sport.

Honestly, I loved being around them. Just before my seventh birthday, I began weekly lessons at my local riding school, Annaharvey Farm and still, to this day, almost 17 years later, I am still there.

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I fell in love with the sport so much that I decided to give being a horse-riding instructor a go.

I completed three of my BHS exams prior to my 18th birthday and then qualified as an instructor ten days after my birthday following the completion and achievement of my PTT, also known as the instructor exam.

Besides, I taught regularly for five years, and only in the last 12 months have I taken a step back to focus on my masters and my own horses and training.

I loved it, though and hopefully, very soon, I will get back inside the arena as an instructor.

Horses are a full-time commitment for me; however, it is not my sole focus.

I am currently undertaking a masters in primary education and hope to be qualified in August 2024. Having two horses is in itself a commitment, but I am very fortunate to be able to have them on livery in Annaharvey, which helps ease the day-to-day chores.

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2023 season

In recent years, I have competed in a variety of aspects of the equine industry. I have been eventing and competing at dressage the most, but unfortunately, the 2023 season has not quite got off to the start I had hoped for.

I have two horses in work. Archie is a 21-year-old sport horse who I evented up to EI100 but have since focused on dressage due to his age.

Hettie is a 7-year-old thoroughbred who I had hoped to event this year, but unfortunately, after a Kissing Spine diagnosis in late January and surgery in March, we are slowly rehabbing and building her back up.

Archie has qualified already for the Dressage Ireland National Championship in September.

Highs and lows

My biggest milestones to date would have to be placed as a Silver Spurs Finalist in 2019, becoming the Wild Atlantic Dressage Festival Novice Champion in 2019, placing fifth in the Dressage Ireland National Championships in 2023 and being part of the u25 team that won at these championships also.

The biggest challenge to date has been Hettie’s Kissing Spine diagnosis. Those are two words every horse owner dreads to hear; however, with modern advancements, she is on the right road and should make a full recovery.

I have three amazing companies behind me, which have been tremendous support.

PonyTales is an Irish owned and run online horse shop. Ava is an excellent help. Anything I or the horses need, she always sorts us out.

Nug Clothing is also an Irish company that sells unbelievable dry robes, polar fleeces, and waterproof jackets, which I live in when teaching or riding during the winter.

The final company is GudGut. Since March 2022, Hettie has made an unbelievable transformation using GudGut. I swear by the product.

Her coat, her temperament and her weight have all seen significant improvements.

I have two mottos in life. One which is specific to horses is: Suck it up and get on with it – Not every day is going to be a good day. Horses are animals; they will have their bad days too.

And another motto I carry through all aspects of my life is: What’s for you won’t pass you!

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Women in the equine sector

Many people inspire me, but one person, in particular, would have to be Laura Collett. She is an outstanding rider, and I cannot wait to have a lesson with her in August of this year.

Women in the equine sector have been a heavily discussed topic recently.

I feel that the stigma around this topic is beginning to change, and a shift has begun. At my level and throughout my teaching time, females were the predominant gender I encountered in my day-to-day work.

However, the higher up the ranks you go, a divide is visible as men become the more dominant gender on the circuit, especially in showjumping and eventing.

As a child, I watched other people event and dressage their horses and only dreamed one day I would have the same opportunities.


I never envisaged myself having an Instagram page (niamh.mahon.equestrian) and documenting my day-to-day life.

But, I have to say, I enjoy it. It has opened so many doors for me, and I have met the most amazing people through it. Our weekly Livestream – The Bay Bunch, would never exist without it.

This year is very much a take-it-as-it-comes year, unfortunately. I am not putting any pressure on the horses or myself to achieve anything big.

Archie will compete at the dressage championships in September, and the rest we will just have to wait and see.

Over the course of the next two years, I hope to get Hettie back strong enough and get back competing and eventing and slowly moving up the levels.

My ultimate goal was always to compete abroad. I feel like Archie has passed this stage in his career, but hopefully, it is something I can aim towards with Hettie.

If I could turn back the clock, I would change nothing! Everything happens for a reason, and what is meant to be is meant to be.


My life is chaotic. I work full-time, I own, ride and compete two horses, I am studying at masters level, and I help my boyfriend out milking cows regularly and rearing calves.

It is crazy, but I love it. I love the work I do, I love the lifestyle I have and I am surrounded by the most amazing and supportive team.

I really could not wish for more. Yes, some days are harder than others; trying to fund two horses on a student budget is, but why would I spend the money on anything else when it is all I want?”

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