Shane Sweetnam took a chance and left Ireland to work as a rider in the US. That choice really paid off. Now Shane is one on the world’s best showjumpers and a regular on the Irish jumping team. We sat down with Shane to talk about his giant leap, his top ride Amaretto D’Arco, breeding in the US and his sponsors Spy Coast Farm.
Shane is from county Cork in Ireland and has been riding all his life, although he started out as a professional quite late “as I went to college and took a degree in computers first” as he puts it. So, Shane could have been in an office 9-16 – but when he finished college at 21 he decided to do horses full time. “I went to Roelof Brill for a year, and then back to Ireland. I found it quite difficult to make a living out of horses at home, so I went to the US to give it a go there. After a little while I got offered a job at Margie Engel’s, and I got home to get my visa and went back,” Shane explains about how he ended up on the other side of the pond. “I love Ireland, but I would not go back,” he smiles.
Shane went on to ride Margie’s young horses, and during that time he met his now wife Alison. “She was working as a trainer, and while Alison continued to do her job I started up on my own and went on to do my own thing. After a year we established ourselves at Sweet Oak Farm, which is our base today,” Shane tells us while letting us know that around nine months of the year are spend at their yard in Wellington, and then much of the summer – when he is not in Europe – is spend in Kentucky. “I see the sun pretty much all year around, apart from when I’m in Sweden a few days every December to look at horses,” he smiles and makes us a tiny bit jealous.
Shane and Alison’s yard Sweet Oak Farm is full of life. “We have a training and boarding facility, primarily for showjumpers and hunters. We have 56 horses at our yard. Twelve of them are competition horses that I ride and belong to Spy Coast Farm,” Shane explains.
Shane met his sponsors Robert and Lisa Lourie from Spy Coast Farm when training their daughter Julia. Robert, Lisa and Shane all hit it off and the adventure started when they bought a horse together for Shane to ride. It was not to be the last; today Spy Coast Farm is Shane’s biggest supporter and the partnership has gone “from strength to strength” as Shane puts it.
In spring and summertime Sweetnam can be seen competing in Europe as its season for the Top League. “After St. Gallen I’m going back to the States. I’ve been here for the beginning of the Top League, and that fits in nicely as May is quiet in America. Last year I came back for Aachen and Dublin, but we’ll see what happens this year. My plan when I get back is to compete in Kentucky and at Spruce Meadows,” Shane says while letting us know that when in Europe he is based with Carl Hanley in Germany.
For Shane it is important to compete in Europe. Not only because he is of the opinion that the standard is higher, but because he is “lucky to have such a good horse as Amaretto D’Arco at the moment and he needs to jump at this level,” as Sweetnam explains.
And what is his fantastic partner Amaretto D’Arco like we ask Shane. “He is a pony in the stable, and a fighter in the ring,” Shane smiles. “I’ve had him for four years now after we found him in Belgium where he had jumped at two star Grand Prix level. Amaretto D’Arco is a stallion, but does not act like it. Even in the periods where he breeds a lot, it’s hard to notice,” Shane says of the 12 year old Darco-son.
A recent purchase for Spy Coast Farm has been Cyklon – a Swedish bred stallion by Cardento. “Cyklon has been very successful,” Shane says. “Both in Wellington, and in Europe. Cyklon is careful, and he really wants to win. He’s also a lot of fun!” Another Swedish success under the Irish rider is Traffic Boy – also by Cardento – on whom Shane won the Puissance in Rome. “He really wants to do good,” Shane says. And then there is the up and coming star Diktator van de Boslandhoeve, a nine year old by Thunder van de Zuuthoeve. “He needs mileage, but has a lot of quality,” Shane says with a smile of the promising stallion while also letting us know that he has a very exciting ride in Everlychin De La Pomme. “She should be very good in the future,” Shane says of the half sister to Eric Lamaze’s ride Derly Chin de Muze.
Spy Coast Farm has invested in some quality stallions, and also breed from mares that have performed on top level. It’s all about breeding for success. Shane’s former top ride Rolette – also ridden by Ben Maher at the 2008 Olympics – has had embryo transfers, and two of her babies – now aged two – look really nice according to Shane. “They have around 30 yearling and 30 foals at their farm at the present, and a full brother to Derly Chin de Muze was recently born there,” the 31 year old Irish rider explains. “Breeding is Lisa’s passion, and Robert enjoys the competition side of the sport. They both have good knowledge, and are great partners for the sport in the US. They also promote the young horses, and put a huge effort in what they do! And they take the good with the bad,” Shane says of his supportive sponsors.
It will be exciting to see if the Amaretto D’Arco-babies will be just as good as their father. “His oldest offspring are two this year. I would say he definitely breeds a good mind, and brings a good range with him,” Shane says while explaining that the stallion has covered some famous mares like Laura Kraut’s former ride Miss Independent and Cian O’Connor’s Echo Beach. “This year Amaretto D’Arco has covered about 30 mares in the States, and Diktator about 20 – so they have been busy,” Shane smiles of his stallions that not only are doing great in the ring with Sweetnam but also as sires.
Going to America was definitely the right choice for Shane!