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Hardin Towell and Darragh Kenny: What takes them to the top

Wednesday, 14 August 2019
Interview

Photo © Barre Dukes/Phelps Media Group Darragh Kenny and Jack Snyder's Babalou 41. “Babalou has been incredible for my career," Darragh tells about his journey to the top of the sport. Photo © Barre Dukes/Phelps Media Group.

 

Written by Callie Clement

 


 

Ten years ago, American show jumper Hardin Towell and Irish show jumper Darragh Kenny met for the first time. The two competitors, who shared a similar friend group, interests, goals, and a largely similar show schedule, quickly became close friends and began to rely on each other for advice and direction in the ever-changing sport of show jumping. While both of their careers were taking off inside of the ring, they soon realized how combining their goals outside of the ring as well could lead to even more success. 

“I am very lucky that Hardin is a part of this business because it’s made a huge difference to me,” Darragh commented of the decision to combine their business goals. 

Today, the duo owns and operates Oakland Stables, one of the most successful competition operations in the United States and Europe. Not only do the experienced athletes maintain a busy competition schedule for themselves, they also train students around the world in addition to producing young horses. With two home bases, one in Wellington, Florida, and one in the Netherlands, Hardin and Darragh live a truly international lifestyle, managing their business together from across the globe at times. 

“Darragh is in Europe and I’m here [in the United States]. I enjoy taking care of things over here and riding some of his horses in America while he’s there,” Hardin said of the varying distance between them. “Darragh knows what I put in and how I’m behind him.”

Photo © Ryley Ingram/Phelps Media Group Hardin Towell and Joli Jumper in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Spruce Meadows, where they finished second. “The only person more excited for me than me on the day of the Queen’s Cup was Darragh," Hardin tells. Photo © Ryley Ingram/Phelps Media Group.

Recently, the pair have both had immense success across the globe. Spending the summer competition season in Europe, Darragh has continued to add a number of impressive accolades to his name, including two 5* grand prix wins, the €500,000 Rolex Grand Prix at Knokke Hippique and the LGCT Grand Prix of Chantilly. Additionally, Darragh is currently the highest ranked Irish rider on the Longines FEI World Rankings, having moved up to the 16th spot in June of 2019. Hardin finished out the 2019 series at Spruce Meadows with multiple top placings, including a second place finish in the $36,100 Friends of the Meadows Cup CSI5* and the second place award in one of the most prestigious grand prix classes in the world, the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Cup CSI5*. 

Both athletes, while also operating their business at Oakland Stables, have continued to amass a number of top finishes. When asked to what they owe their recent string of successes, the pair answered the same: their horses. 

Currently, both Hardin and Darragh are building an impressive string of horses, thanks to their own endeavors at Oakland Stables, in addition to the support of their owners. During the 2019 winter season in Wellington, Hardin teamed up with two new mounts, Tupac Van De Vrombautshoeve Z (Thunder VD Zuuthoeve - Oma VD Vrombautshoeve) and Joli Jumper (Eldorado VD Zeshoek – Explosion, Action-Breaker), both purchased by Oakland themselves from an online auction. Taking his time to work with and develop the two geldings, Hardin knew that they would be special additions to his personal string of competition horses. 

“They had done a lot as 8 and 9-year-olds and I knew they were very brave. At the end of the day, Darragh and I bought them for myself, for the sport. We knew that they were very brave, honest, and careful so we also saw a good opportunity for an investment,” Hardin noted of the horses. 

Photo © Callie Clement/Phelps Media Group Darragh Kenny and Hardin Towell own and operate Oakland Stables. Photo © Callie Clement/Phelps Media Group.

As any athlete in the sport knows, partnering with new mounts is no easy feat. While Hardin clicked with Tupac’s fiery and lively personality right away, a ride that suits what he is used to, his relationship with Joli was slower to develop.

“With Joli, I had to work a little bit at it. He wasn’t exactly my type of ride – he needs a little bit more leg. That took a little bit longer to come,” Hardin recalled of the new partnership. “But that’s how it goes sometimes. It’s like people – sometimes you meet someone and right away you get along with them and then you meet someone else and you’re not sure at the start. Joli just took me a little bit longer.”

Their slow development paid off, however, when Joli and Hardin defied the odds on the day of the Queen Elizabeth Cup at Spruce Meadows, placing second. Competing through three grueling rounds of competition, the pair held their own over the 1.60m course, after starting the Spruce Meadows series that summer competing at the 1.40m level. 

“The only person more excited for me than me on the day of the Queen’s Cup was Darragh. We have such great owners and we’re so lucky to have them, but with Joli and Tupac - we bought those horses together,” said Hardin of that day. “It just makes it that much more special to us.”

Photo © Barre Dukes/Phelps Media Group. “I am very lucky that Hardin is a part of this business because it’s made a huge difference to me,” Darragh says. Photo © Barre Dukes/Phelps Media Group.

With Tupac and Joli, it’s clear that both Darragh and Hardin have high hopes for their future. As Hardin continues to work with Oakland’s students throughout the competition circuit in the United States, he will also continue to advance his own career. The two geldings, who have proven themselves in a variety of settings, will spend the fall season competing in qualifying classes for the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™, with the 2020 finals in Las Vegas as Hardin’s ultimate short-term goal.

Continuing to add new horses to his string, Hardin excitedly noted on a new mount for him, Clearville, a 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Dan Towriss and Rock Ridge Farms. The gelding clicked quickly with Hardin, showing for the first time at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival in Michigan. 

“The team at Rock Ridge has some great young horses that I’m really excited to start working with. They’re a nice group of horses that I think will do great things, with Clearville being one of them.”

One of Oakland Stables’ owners, a name familiar to so many in the sport of show jumping, is Ann Thompson, owner of another one of Hardin’s notable mounts, Carlo. The 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding has been shown around the country with Hardin for the past year, in addition to producing results with Darragh. 

“He is a horse that is easy but can be a bit quirky. Darragh and I share him a little bit and he is one of those horses that can be shared around the barn a bit and he will always give you results. He is cool like that,” smiled Hardin.

Photo © Callie Clement/Phelps Media Group Hardin Towell and Carlo. “He is a horse that is easy but can be a bit quirky," Hardin tells. Photo © Callie Clement/Phelps Media Group.

Ann, from Upperville, Virginia, is most well-known for her ownership of some of Darragh’s top horses, including Balou Du Reventon, Romeo 88 and Classic Dream. The three horses have played a large role in his career during the 2019 competition year and will likely continue to do so in the future as well. 

The 13-year-old Oldenburg stallion, Balou Du Reventon (Cornet Obolensky – Georgia, Continue), is often a crowd favorite across the world, having carried Darragh to his past two 5* grand prix wins. The pair’s relationship quickly developed, entering, and winning, the 2018 $131,000 Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix CSI3* in Lexington, Kentucky, just two weeks into their new partnership. Since then, they have traveled all over the world producing many clear rounds and memorable wins. 

“He is very simple and easy. He likes to sleep a lot and really has a great character. He always wants to fight for you in the ring and do really well, but at home he’s pretty laid back and he does a lot of sleeping. He’s quite like myself in a way,” Darragh laughed about the personable stallion. 

Photo © Barre Dukes/Phelps Media Group Darragh Kenny and Ann Thompson's Balou du Reventon. "He always wants to fight for you in the ring and do really well," Darragh tells. Photo © Barre Dukes/Phelps Media Group.

Another one of Ann’s horses, that Darragh owns half of, is the chestnut German Sport Horse Classic Dream (Colestus – Wicky, Inster Graditz). A large portion of the operations at Oakland Stables includes developing young horses. Between Darragh and Hardin, the two own close to 30 young horses that they carefully develop in the Netherlands with the help of Michael Hughes and Niels Kersten. Classic Dream, now 9 years old, is one of those young horses that first came to Oakland as a 6-year-old. 

“I really loved the horse and I thought he was going to be an Olympic horse so I straight away asked Ann if she would buy the other half of him and she did. We’ve been trying to slowly produce the horse since then,” Darragh discussed candidly. “He is starting to jump bigger classes, but I’m not in any rush with him. I do think he can do the Olympics next year and I think that he is an incredible horse. I want to take my time and see where it goes.”

Having the ride on Classic Dream for so many years is a special thing for Darragh. Another horse in his string that holds a very special place for him is the renowned Babalou 41 (Balou Du Rouet – Aetna, Silvio I), owned by Jack Snyder. The fiery redheaded Oldenburg mare is well known across the globe and carried Darragh to a fourth place finish in his first-ever Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen in 2018. Returning in 2019, the pair tackled a technical course to produce multiple textbook clear rounds to finish in fifth.

“Babalou has been incredible for my career. Finishing in fourth was absolutely amazing last year and that was a huge achievement for her and me. I just hope I can keep going for a good bit longer with her because when you really ask for things on a grand prix day, she’s a hell of a horse,” Darragh said intensely about the special mare. 

Photo © Barre Dukes/Phelps Media Group Darragh Kenny and Classic Dream. "I do think he can do the Olympics next year and I think that he is an incredible horse," Darragh tells. Photo © Barre Dukes/Phelps Media Group.

Two relatively new mounts for Darragh in the past few months are Sweet Tricia (Berlin – Aetrichta, Tampa), a scopey grey mare owned by Sarah Ryan, and Scarlett Du Sart Z (Stakkato De Hann – Quareka Rouge SF, First Bride), a talented young mare owned by Vlock Show Stables. Gaining the rides on both mares at the close of the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival, Darragh has been careful to develop the two slowly and strategically.

“Everyday Scarlett is getting better and better. I think she’s going to be very special and have an incredible 10-year-old year,” Darragh noted. “I’m also going slowly with Sweet Tricia because I think she has so much quality that I don’t want to rush. I want to have everything right but then when it does get right, she is going to be great. I’m excited for her future also.”

With horses like Joli Jumper, Balou du Reventon, Tupac Van De Vrombautshoeve Z, Classic Dream and more, the future looks extremely bright for the duo at Oakland Stables. With plans aiming for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Darragh continued to express his gratitude for his current string of horses, many with potential to take him to the podium. Along with Darragh, Hardin aims to try his hand at many World Cup qualifying classes come the fall competition season. Additionally, the pair will continue to produce young horses themselves, likely many that the show jumping world should keep an eye out for in the future of the sport. 

 

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