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Vera O’Callaghan

Vera O’Callaghan grew up near Macroom in Co. Cork and has been interested in ponies and horses since a very young age. From as early as five years old she participated in events, starting out at the local agricultural show in lead rein classes and from there progressed on to pony club where she competed in various disciplines into her teenage years.

Education and Career

Vera completed a BSc (Honours) Degree in Equine Management at the College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in Enniskillen earning her a place on a year-long internship in the United States the following year with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Working as a Nutrition and Exercise Physiology intern included everyday management duties of the horses, scientifically designing and organising research trials relating to issues such as palatability, oxidative stress and bone density. The internship required spending six month based at the main research headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky and the remainder in Ocala, Florida at KER’s other research facility.

Subsequently a further internship with Bluegrass Horse Feed enhanced Vera’s knowledge about equine nutrition and the sales aspect of the business. Vera thoroughly enjoyed working for the family run business as part of their sales team and educating horse owners on nutritional management which was a great learning experience.

Breeding Ventures

After some time spent away from home due to college and furthering her education, it is only now Vera has taken the opportunity to concentrate on beginning a breeding program once again at home on the family farm. The small family farm has a beef cattle enterprise where Vera pitches in to help where possible whilst her dad also helps out with the horses when needs be.

Vera dabbled in pony breeding when she was younger and some of those ponies she bred and initiated their training have since progressed on to pony club activities and are competing regularly. Owners continue to communicate positive feedback which Vera really appreciates and gives her enjoyment. 

Vera owns a small hunter, a retired racehorse and one broodmare (Filice de Champeix x Holy Cross). The mare was purchased in 2011 with the intention to compete and has now transitioned to breeding. She has now a filly foal at foot by Wounderwall (TB) (GER) and will be bred gain early in the Spring 2022. Vera says “it is very much a joint effort between my father and I, as he has a keen interest in breeding also”.

Growing Confidence

Vera first participated in young breeder training in 2016, following attendance at an information evening about the Young Breeders Programme.  “Immediately I was engaged with the format of the training, assessing and comparing multiple horses. I wanted to develop an eye for conformation and be able to critically assess athleticism. Visits to multiple equine enterprises around the country and to meet the industry leaders themselves has been invaluable to me.”  Vera was selected to compete at Spruce Meadows in Canada representing the Irish Sport Horse Studbook in 2017, a massive achievement.

Participation in the ISH Young Breeders programme “has given me great confidence to judge the horse in front of me.  I’ve also made a network of contacts all over Ireland and even kept in contact with young breeders based overseas. There is an abundance of knowledge to be sought wherever you go, it is just a matter of reaching out to the right people. Also participation in the young breeders programme has proved valuable to me on my Curriculum Vitae and is viewed positively by employers. ”

Vera also feels her mindset about breeding has changed as she has become more familiar with different pedigree lines and grown in confidence in assessing the qualities of the individual animals. “I have become much more aware of trying to select a stallion which compliments the traits of the mare and I take more time with this now.” Vera is hopeful to purchase a suitable Irish Draught or TIH mare to use as a foundation mare as she would like to help maintain these traditional qualities for future generations.

Vera’s advice to others is “wherever there is an opportunity to shadow an industry expert take them up on it. If an internship becomes available that interests you apply for it, you never know what other doors it might open and what you will learn!”

Vera with teammate Amy at the WBFSH Young Breeder World Championships in Calgary, Canada July 2017