Arriving at Ashford Farm, what strikes us the most is how peaceful, quiet and calm it is. There is basically nothing that suggests that this is one of the busiest trading stables in Europe, apart from the phone belonging to Enda Carroll – the boss himself – as the calls, texts and mails keep coming in nonstop. But the yard located outside the tiny town of Lasne in Belgium, is so beautiful and tranquil that even the busiest of mobiles cannot disturb as we walk around the property surrounded by green fields and a big wood. It’s lush, green – and so idyllic. It takes no more than ten minutes before we decide that we really just want to stay.
With lovely stables – both outdoors and indoors, two amazing outdoor rings, and indoor school, a walker with a roofed lounging ring, an outdoor lounging ring hidden in the forest, grass paddocks, huge fields – not to forget the big race track that goes through the woods and that will take you straight into the biggest outdoor – it’s safe to say that this place has it all and a little more. Dogs are sleeping in the sun on the roof, and there are no apparent signs of stress on either people or animals anywhere. The atmosphere is truly very relaxed at Ashford Farm.
The only 27 year old Enda Carroll is from Galway in Ireland, started up as a groom for Cian O’Connor before he moved on to work in Switzerland for Niall Talbot. As a young rider, Carroll was quite successful – riding two European Championships.
According to a laughing Enda, his dealing business was set up “when I realized I wasn’t a very good rider”. So instead of pursuing a career in the ring, Carroll went on to the other side of it – watching and scouting for horses that had the potential to become top showjumpers. “I started with horse trading about 7 ½ years ago. At that point I was taking some horses to the States. I went to New York and to Florida where I took horses with me – sold them, then went back to Europe to find more to sell. I was in the US for about 1 ½ years, before me and Courtney [Vince] came back here together about four years ago. My time in America has served us well; it really developed a lot of contacts for us,” Enda explains.
Enda and Courtney ended up in Lasne by quite a coincidence. Delivering a horse to his friend Eddy Sepul who owns the place, Enda discovered that the yard was empty. “So the place needed people to keep it busy, and we moved in with six horses. Now we have a lot more,” he laughs. “We have around 35 horses here ourselves – they are mostly dealing horses, apart from Marlon’s top horse Clouwni, and one or two family pets that won’t be sold such as Courtney’s mare Nala who just got a foal and her ride Good News.”
Ashford Farm is run by Carroll and Vince together. Vince is a successful showjumper herself and worked for Eric Lamaze for fifteen years before she started up with Carroll, and together with Marlon Zanotelli and Pieter Clemens she constitutes Ashford Farm’s team of riders. “Courtney plays and has played a huge part of the business. She is extremely hard working, and puts a lot of time and effort into the company,” Enda states.
Marlon Zanotelli has had huge success for Ashford Farm, going from strength to strength since he joined the team there 3 ½ years ago. “Marlon started riding for us quite coincidentally. Courtney dislocated her shoulder, and as we had a bunch of horses going to Spain to compete I called Marlon to ask if he could ride them. Starting off that was what he was going to do, and then we agreed that we would see how things developed. And in the end he just stayed,” Enda smiles. “Marlon has developed a really good role for himself here. And now he’s one of the strongest riders on the Brazilian team. We developed a good team of horses around him, and it really went quickly forward from there. Actually we were just talking about it yesterday; he has moved on from having one horse two years ago that he could hopefully jump a two star Grand Prix to now having a whole string of them that does well on five star level.”
Enda is full of praise for Zanotelli. “Marlon is a very quiet guy, hard working, dedicated – his sport is the most important for him. But he also understands when horses get sold, that that is how the business works and how we keep growing. His hard work and good results has paid off though, as we have been very lucky now with keeping Clouwni – that looked like being sold after Chantilly. Doda [Zanotelli’s Brazilian team mate] offered himself to secure the horse for Marlon, so that he could keep the ride towards the World Equestrian Games next year,” Enda says. “The WEG is the big goal for Marlon next year, and obviously Rio after that,” he continues.
Pieter Clemens arrived at Ashford about two months ago. The 19 year old had quick success for his new team winning the two star Grand Prix in Bondheiden, and then going on to win a 1.40 class in Beervelde. “I am quite excited about Pieter,” Enda says. “I always admired him because he was quite similar to Marlon; Pieter is a hard worker, and also a really good talent. The European Championships for young riders is the goal for him next year, and we also want to build him up as much as possible for the sport,” Enda explains. “So, we have three great riders here. And with good riders opportunities develop; we have some good horses coming in because of them.”
And good horses are certainly what run the business at Ashford Farm. Top showjumpers as Nice Stephanie, Edesa S Banjan and Cheyenne – now seen under Penelope Leprevost, Geir Gulliksen and Kevin Staut respectively – were found by their new riders at Enda’s. “It’s huge to have equine ambassadors like that,” Enda smiles. “But it also shows how important it is to sell the horses to the right riders – to match the right horse with the right client. That is a very important part of this job for me. You do not give a Ferrari to a kid, and it’s important to find the right balance there. And that the horses go well in the sport is the best advertisement you can get!”
Nice Stephanie was found by Enda when a friend of his in Sweden showed him a video of a Swedish girl’s horse that she was training in Holland. “We flew home, went straight away to see it and bought it. Nice Stephanie was an outstanding young horse,” Carroll tells us.
“The first thing we look for in the horses are that they are good in their minds,” Enda explains of what they are interested in when scouting horses at Ashford. “Mostly they would be quite good looking horses, because we sell a lot to the States – and there looks is a big factor. And of course they need to be talented jumpers. We have been very lucky though, we nearly always bought un-famous horses and they have gone on to be very good!”
Enda does a lot of the scouting himself, he thrives for his clients and loves his job – there is no doubt about that. “My colleague Fergus Coburn also does a huge part of the scouting though. He does a great job, and more or less works 24 hours a day for us!” The scouting is done all around Europe, at shows and at stables – via visits and watching videos. “It’s happened a few times that we have found horses at shows. But I am not so comfortable with it; obviously you would rather like to try the horses. I must say we have been very lucky with it so far, but I don’t want to gamble my luck either! Sometimes we are several looking for the same horses at the same shows though, and it’s the quickest ones to buy you know. That can sometimes get you in trouble of course– but that’s like any investment, you need to take some risk,” Enda explains.
Last year no less than 85 horses were sold at Ashford Farm. “We don’t want to sell huge quantities, we want to sell quality,” Enda states. “Our book of clients has grown quite a lot since we started up though, and it’s difficult to fill the orders that come in so we really work hard. Out of all our sales, I would estimate that 80 % goes to the US and Canada, the rest is Europe.” The trading of horses is also what funds Ashford Farm. “Our whole thing here is run by the horse dealing. We own 80 % of our horses, we have no sponsors, no clients paying to be here – its’ all funded by selling horses,” Enda says.
Carroll is extremely passionate about his team, and the people who have helped making Ashford Farm into what seems like a fairy tale. “We have Caroline and Peter in the office, then Marlon, Courtney and Pieter riding – their show grooms, Marlon’s home groom and Courtney’s home rider, our stable manager CC who basically does everything for us from dealing with vets, blacksmiths, client, food, health papers – you name it – and then there is Fergus of course. I am so grateful for our team; they work so hard, and there is nothing that is not done by them. They are all a huge part of the business and without them we wouldn’t be able to grow like we are growing. They are just outstanding!” When employing new additions to the team, Enda likes taking his time and as he puts it he would “rather struggle for a couple of weeks than have one bad apple to come in, because we are such a great team here.”
And he needs a good team, as it is busy at Ashford. “Monday is always the longest day,” Enda says. “I always spend 3-4 hours in the office on Mondays, the vet comes in to check horses that we bought over the weekend and a lot of our clients come on Mondays. During a normal week we would have anything from 3-12 clients – it’s never a week that passes that there are not people coming here.”
There is not much time for Enda to do anything else but work, but apparently that does not seem to affect him much – according to himself he does not like holidays and hobbies are not needed as he “really loves his job”. Enda tries to go with his riders to the shows when he can, and quite exceptionally managed to stay the whole week for Dublin Horse Show. “But the priority for me is the clients. Marlon, Courtney and Pieter can manage themselves, they are all very responsible and capable,” he says. Once a year Carroll returns back to his family in Ireland – “I always go home for Christmas for three or four days” – but when in Ireland on other occasions it’s usually to look for horses. “My family is incredibly supportive though, I am very lucky to have them,” he shoots in.
Enda’s schedule is getting busier and busier, and the travelling he simply describes as “insane”. This year he has been on the road nonstop. “I travel a lot to the States to see how our horses are doing. I always go to Florida in winter to check on our clients and the horses they bought from us. Our after sales-service is extremely important to me, and I believe that it has played a huge part of our success. I believe in following up and checking that everything is going right, and if not I have to try and find a solution,” Enda says. “It’s not just a case of selling a horse; you need to follow it through. And I love this part of the job as well. To go to see the horses at shows, I love to call our clients and get them on the phone to ask if they need any help or tips. And then our riders can follow up a bit as well, depending on who of them that has been riding the horse,” he says eagerly. “I think this has helped us gain a good reputation. And I think as a consequence we now have top level riders looking for horses approaching us. Ashford Farm has grown into a well known brand in the sport now,” Enda concludes.
Enda’s phone is now waking to life again; setting an end to our long talk. “It really doesn’t stop – really,” Enda laughs. “I had two, but the other one broke. It starts from like 7 in the morning, and from there it doesn’t stop.” In other words, Enda’s phone really illustrates his success with Ashford Farm – it just doesn’t seem to stop.
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