"It's the million dollar question," Alex Duffy smiled two weeks ago when we asked him if he would be able to hold on to Living The Dream after their success. "He's the best horse I ever had, so I hope so!" Well, this week he got the answer to our question: Living The Dream moves on to be competed by his previous owner Cameron Hanley, who's sponsors Quinoa Stables have bought the talented nine year old gelding following an enormous interest for the horse after Alex's third place with him in the Amsterdam Grand Prix at the end of January. Alex has produced yet another fantastic horse from youngster to top level that changes hands just as it breaks through to the international scene.
"You get over it, focus on the next one and bring them on. It's a thing I always had to cope with; as my father was a dealer and selling my ponies was a part of the business. It's kind of a bitter sweet thing. It's great to have them and be able to produce them to that level, and a little sad to see them go – but also satisfying to have done that job," Alex says about how he has learned the name of the game despite being only 24 years old. "But, the good thing is that there is always more coming through here at the yard as my boss Carl Hanley constantly buys them as young horses. So, I suppose it's a thing we can pride ourselves on – that we can bring them to this level and hopefully someday we will be able to hold on to them a little longer. I want to make it in the sport; that's the most important thing for me. And Carl has a big interest at having horses at top level," he says.
The ability to deal with the bad days, and to not get disheartened. That's Alex's answer to what has gotten him to where he is today. "No matter how tough things are going, you have to remember that you don't know when the turning point is going to come. It might be just around the corner – so you just need to keep going," Duffy says. "Let me give an example; around lunch time on the Thursday before Jumping Amsterdam I was trying to figure out what to do with my weekend, and then a few hours later I was driving my truck there after a late call-up." And that Alex has the ability to deal with the downs is something Cameron Hanley – who Alex works close with – is willing to sign on; "There are a lot of good riders out there," Cameron says. "But, it's not enough to be good – you also have to be prepared to work hard. Alex is a good rider and a hard worker. And, if things are not going well he just works a little bit harder. He is very dedicated and ambitious."
That a good horse breaks through, and then is sold is nothing new for Alex – who takes the sale with calmness. "Our idea here is to buy good five, six and seven year olds, and bring them on until they break through at the international stage. At this point the horses are usually sold; I have had a lot of good horses that that has happened to. The first really good horse I had – Tampa, who I was on the winning Nations Cup team with in Lummen – was just breaking through into that scene and he was sold to the States as a ten year old. The same happened with Ucorado B, who was sold to Abdullah Sharbatly. Then the next one I had was Antello, and after I won with him in Paris he was sold to Michael Whitaker. And last year I had Corona, who I rode in St. Gallen – and she was sold to Lauren Tisbo in America. And at least now with Living The Dream, he goes to Cameron next door – and I am happy about that."
As to Living The Dream, who now will be seen with Cameron, Alex only has praise; "Dave, as we call him, has such a character – he is never ever in bad form. Every day when I came to the stables I found him up on this little ledge in his box that he would stand up on, so that he had a better overview of what was going on and also could make himself look bigger than he is," Alex laughs when talking about the horse he has been riding since it was a six year old. "Everybody who knows Dave loves him. His attitude towards work is second to none; like for example in Amsterdam – he came there after jumping three days in Drachten and then went straight in the big class on Friday and then the Grand Prix on Sunday. And he was still bucking around, he just can't get enough of it! As we say in Ireland; he's hardy!" Dave's previous groom Charlotte, also only has praise when it comes to Living The Dream; "I love Dave. He has such a character. And the more attention he gets the better!"
There are more stars in the making waiting for Alex though. In the stable is also the beautiful eight year old Heartbreaker-stallion Bocello who won the Youngster Final in Treffen last year, the amazing eight year old Bling Bling that won the Youngster Tour Final in Verden and the promising ten year old Felix owned by Connor and Susan O'Shea – a horse Alex is hoping to start to jump in the bigger classes this year. And the list goes on. Even though Living The Dream is gone, the future looks bright for Alex.
That Alex would end up as a showjumper is maybe not such a big surprise. When he was a kid his older brother and two sisters rode. Not so strange maybe considering the fact that their father is a big horse dealer in Mayo, Ireland – as was Alex's grandfather. "Horses were always in my blood," Alex smiles. "Funny enough I really didn't have that much interest for horses at a young age, but I used to love going to the shows with my brother and my sisters because I had lot of friends there. But I never rode. So when I was ten my parents – who were getting a little tired of this – told me that if I wanted to go to the shows I had to start riding," Alex laughs. "I was kind of blackmailed into it!"
The blackmailing worked wonders, and from there on it quickly progressed for young Alex. His brother had two very good ponies; Turbo Boy and Blue Boy, which Alex took over. After qualifying for Dublin, and competing there Alex was hooked. From there it went on to the Junior Europeans with Courtown, and to the Young Rider Europeans with Tampa.
Even though no longer based at his father's yard in Mayo, Ireland – it's still a little bit of a family affair at his base at Nadja and Carl Hanley's yard in Ostercappelen near Onsabrück, Germany where Alex has been working for the past 2 ½ years. "My mother worked for Carl's father, and that is where she met my dad – and she was also Cameron's first riding instructor. So I kind of have a home away from home here," Alex smiles.
Moving from Ireland to Germany was according to Duffy not a decision he would ever have been able to make. Instead it happened by pure coincidence, and – in many ways – through Carl's brother Cameron Hanley's misfortune. "I had been at a show in Bourg-en-Bresse in France, and was heading for the Nations Cup in Drammen, Norway – and there was a week in between the two events. So, I looked at a map and decided to call Carl to ask if he had stables so I could stay for a week instead of going home to Ireland. I arrived here at eight o'clock in the morning after driving throughout the night, and Cameron arrived at the same time – he was coming back from St. Gallen. That evening Cameron invited us over for a barbeque, and we were out playing with the kids – and this was the evening Cameron got injured. Initially the doctors said he would be out for three months, so I told him that if it helped I could stay for a couple of months and help out keeping the horses ticking over for him.
But as the next couple of months went down, Cameron's situation got quite complicated and he realized that he possibly never was going to ride again. Alex's stay was prolonged. "Carl took over all of Cameron's horses and I joined up with Carl. Carl, Nadja and I did Cameron's horses, Carl's horses and my horses – altogether we had something like twenty in the stable. I thought I would stay until Christmas, but by then we had sold all the horses and had a great year. Carl said; 'There are two options; you go back home to what you were doing, or we buy more horses – and you stay here and we do it together.' At this point I really didn't want to go home, I had had such a good time here and learned so much from Carl – who is extremely disciplined – and from Nadja who is such a perfectionist."
At Nadja and Carl's Hanley's yard Alex got what he needed to develop further. The couple works close with Cameron, but have their separate businesses. "Cameron has his base here, and ride seven horses for his sponsors Eleonore Paschoud and Yves Bouvier. He does own some horses that he keeps with Carl and Nadja – and also owned Living The Dream. We have between 18-22 horses in the stable here. At home, I ride, as do our new rider Eoin McMahon as well as Carl himself and Nadja. I train with both Cameron and Carl; in that way we are like a big team," Duffy lets us know. "Carl is constantly on the road sourcing horses. A lot of them never come into these stables, they go straight to clients. Generally I do my riding in the morning, and when I can I get on the road with Carl to have a look at horses. At the yard Nadja does an unbelievable job; she used to be a top rider herself competing for Austria so she knows about the sport and about the management. Nadja still rides and competes, and will jump in Oliva at the MET. I suspect Carl will as well, because he is going to be bored to just be there without riding," Alex smiles.
Even with horses coming and going, there is no question about where Duffy has his goals set. He wants to ride on the teams for Ireland, and do the big Nations Cups. "I hope to break through to that scene a little bit. But, I know that will be tough. There is an exceptional group of riders in Ireland, so it's difficult. But – as Cameron often says; 'If your dreams don't scare you, you are not dreaming big enough'. What I also do though, is to make sure that I am always ready to go if somebody else cannot. That's what happened for me last year with St. Gallen. Making it to the teams is definitely my priority." That Alex sets the bar high is confirmed by his boss Carl; "Alex is extremely determined and focused on his showjumping dream," he states when asked about Duffy.
Doesn't he get nervous though, when riding on a team for his country? "Oh yes, I get nervous. But I welcome the nerves; if you don't get nervous then in my head it doesn't mean enough to you. And I am not nervous about being nervous if you know what I mean. It just brings a certain amount of extra focus," Alex says. "He is a relaxed and cool type that copes well with pressure – it is difficult to get him stressed," Carl Hanley confirms.
Will he ever return to Ireland we ask Alex? He is doubtful, and explains that it was not easy to be based in Ireland and at the same time trying to do the sport at top level; "I had a good support team around me in Ireland with my family and great owners, but I always had it in the back of my head that it would be difficult to do the sport from the west coast there. First I then had to drive to Dublin, then take the ferry over to the UK and then drive down – and that was even before we started the travel over to the continent. We did this for two-three years, and I found myself being based quite a lot at Hickstead with Shane Breen. I left my horses there and went home myself. It was difficult and it was expensive."
And, as Alex says while we walk out towards the stable at the Hanley's yard; "This is home for me now!"
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