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The Next Generation: Michael Pender

Tuesday, 14 January 2020
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
Michael Pender is one of showjumping's rising stars, here seen with HHS Burnchurch at CHI Geneva. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping

 

Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen

 


 

2019 was Michael Pender’s year. The 20-year-old Irish rider jumped into the spotlight with wins in the prestigious Hickstead Derby, the Puissance at both Olympia and Liverpool as well as impressing with an 11th place in the CSI5* 1.60m Rolex Grand Prix in Geneva with HHS Burnchurch. Pender also showcased his skills for developing young horses when going home from the FEI WBFSH Jumping World Breeding Championship for Young Horses in Lanaken with no less than two silver medals.

“You have to have talent, be positive, clever with the horses and keep them as long as you can in the sport. I believe in being a horseman, that is the number one priority for me,” Pender answers when asked what he believes it takes to succeed. The talented 20-year-old is based in Ireland, one and a half hours from Dublin, at the Hughes Horse Stud (HHS) – a family business run by Marion Hughes and her husband Miguel Bravo. “At HHS, we have over 100 horses in total. I have worked here four years this January,” Pender continues. “I moved here directly from ponies, and the Hughes’ are like a second family to me. They are fantastic horse people.”

“When I arrived, I was lucky to get some really good horses to ride directly,” Pender tells. “Now, I have a lot of young horses and a few very good eight and nine-year-old’s coming through. I try to ride seven to eight horses per day. We have a great team with many other riders and staff at home. I try not to ride too many horses, so I can concentrate on them properly.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
"I have been riding HHS Burnchurch since he was a 6-year-old. Burnchurch is home bred by my boss, she rode his father Heritage Fortunus at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. That all makes it extra special," Michael says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping

Pender was born into an equestrian family, with both his mother and grandfather being into horses. “I was on a pony since I was small,” Pender smiles. “I jumped the European Championships for ponies and it all kind of went from there. When I jumped my first championships, I really got the hunger and the drive for the bigger sport. My mother is 100 % behind me, and was also with me in Geneva.”

Pender is a member of the Young Riders Academy and says their support has played a vital role in his career development. “It was thanks to the Young Riders Academy that I got into Geneva and I am very thankful for this opportunity, it was such an amazing show,” he reflects. “Before I went to Geneva, I got to train with Jos Lansink. The Young Riders Academy has helped me a lot and given me amazing opportunities.”

While Pender finds motivation in competing at the bigger shows, what really drives him is to see the horses progress and come through to the higher level. “Seeing the horses progress and come out of the ring with a feeling that they have learned something, that is motivating,” he says. “For example, I have been riding HHS Burnchurch since he was a 6-year-old. Burnchurch is home bred by my boss, she rode his father Heritage Fortunus at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. That all makes it extra special. If you really know the horse, it makes a big difference in the ring,” Pender continues. “I enjoy producing the young horses and getting to jump them in Lanaken,” Pender tells. “I have been there four times and won five medals, but still have no gold!”

Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping
“I have been to Lanaken four times and won five medals, but still have no gold!" Michael tells about his success at the FEI WBFSH Jumping World Breeding Championship for Young Horses. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

For 2020, the European Championships for young riders in Vilamoura is a big goal for Pender. But first on the program for the new year is a one-month trip to the United Arab Emirates in January. “The Al Shira’aa Stables have given me the opportunity to ride in UAE, which I am really thankful for. They also own Chacco Bay, that I won silver with in Lanaken last year,” he tells about their cooperation.  

With 2020 as Pender’s last year as a young rider, he now focuses on establishing himself at a higher level. “Long term, my goal is to get consistent,” he says modestly.

Pender’s boss Marion Hughes, herself an Olympic rider, could tell immediately how talented her protégé is and believes he will go far. “He was a really good pony rider, he won a lot of classes already then,” she recalls. “We took him straight away to shows and he did well. He has a really good brain, he is intelligent. That helps; you have to use your brain to produce horses. I think that makes the difference between a good rider and a top rider – you have to be smart to understand the horses, and to have an open mind,” Hughes says.

“My whole life we have been producing horses, we breed them and try to bring them up to Grand Prix level. Sometimes we sell,” Hughes tells about the business her family is involved in. “We have a few good home-bred horses at the moment, and my family has bred some good horses in the past too. For example, my cousin bred MHS Going Global. Our family is big, and we are all into breeding.”

Passing on her experience is something Hughes enjoys, and she has a lot of hopes invested in Pender. “I would like to see him as the number one in the world and with an Olympic medal around his neck,” she says. “Michael is special, he has so much talent. But to get to being world number one, everybody needs good horses. You are not going to get there otherwise. It is expensive and the good horses are difficult to find. I have a few good horses in partnership with him and the plan is to build on this. If I could get another owner to join in, that would be great,” Hughes explains.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
“To me, he is a genius on a horse, they love him," Marion Hughes says about her protégé. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Miguel Bravo, Hughes’s husband, travels with Pender to most of the shows and tells about a very mature young rider. “Michael is young, but he is an adult in his mind and very responsible. He knows that the showground is our office and that is where we work. Michael is always curious, and together we are looking for the best ways to bring our horses forward,” Bravo says.

“Michael is a great person to have at shows, he rarely leaves a show without winning – it is great fun with him. I never worry about investing time and money in him. He has a cool head and he delivers what he sets out to do. His youth is on his side; he is so young, he has so much enthusiasm,” Hughes continues. “To me, he is a genius on a horse, they love him!”

And the love seems to be mutual. “I am always around horses really,” Pender answers when asked what he does when not in the saddle. “I enjoy seeing the young horses jump, and if I am not riding, I am out looking at the foals. I am very interested in the breeding aspect as well, I enjoy the whole package.”

 

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