As I sit here writing my first blog entry, I can't help but stare out at the winter landscape of my home in Upperville, Va. Part of me is envious of all my friends and fellow competitors enjoying the sunshine in Ocala and Aiken who are well underway with their competition seasons.
My horses and I, on the other hand, continue our third week in a row schooling in the indoor with the hopes that maybe tomorrow will be the day the snow melts enough for us to hack down the road. Wahoo! The start of my first event of the season, let alone first cross-country school is a laughable dream at this point.
However, the decision to stay home this winter in Virginia was very much a conscious choice that I do not regret in the slightest. This winter marks some massive changes in my life and career. One of those exciting reasons is that my wife, Kendra, is pregnant with our second daughter who is due the first week of April.
By the time the winter season rolled around in Ocala and Aiken, Kendra was past the point of being able to travel. While the horses are a huge part of who I am, I pride myself on being a husband and father first. I could not in all good conscience leave my 4-year-old daughter, Payton, and eight-month pregnant wife to get a head start on my season by a couple months. Plus with all of the plans we've made for this year, there were plenty of equine-related endeavors to occupy my time.
The first change is the relocating of our business, McQuillan Equestrian, to a new farm. Kendra and I have been based out of Paul and Vickie Hasse's Deerfield for eight amazing years. Without a doubt they have been the best landowners we could ever ask for. The facility is second to none and the Hasses treated us like family.
Kendra and I just reached the point in our careers that it was time for a change. After years of trying to build up a string, I've finally been able to put together a really exciting group of young horses with the most amazing owners.
Years ago when I worked for the O'Connors, David said to me on a hack one day, "You do not build up a group of owners by selling them on potential medals. It's about the cultivating of relationships. They have to trust and believe in you as a person and in your program."
This sport is a great equalizer, and when I was younger I didn't quite realize how difficult it would be to put together what David suggested. I was young, brash and naïve, and thought I would take the sport by storm.
I had four horses I had produced to the advanced level with some success and had yet to experience the pitfalls of being a professional rider. That all came crashing down when I first went out on my own. I went through a seven-year stretch of having every imaginable injury to my horses and myself. For the longest time my nickname on the competition circuit was “Gimp.” These injuries and hardships in retrospect, were the best thing to happen to me.
Another one of my mentors, Philip Dutton, once told me, "Forced breaks can be a blessing in disguise. They give you time to step away and find perspective." That is exactly what these lean years did for me.
While my competition career was stalled, it allowed me to figure out what was really important in life and how I wanted to proceed forward. I married Kendra, started a family and rediscovered why I do this profession—for the love of the horses and the amazing bond that forms between them and myself.
Competitive results are fantastic but the relationships formed with these amazing animals are what drives me. Over the years, as our business grew, I was lucky enough to surround myself with like-minded owners. I finally achieved what David had talked about all those years ago. The group of owners we have now at McQuillan Equestrian are like family to Kendra and I.
With the faith these owners have showed in me, now is the time to truly concentrate solely on maximizing each of their horse's athletic potential. By focusing the business more on the 10-12 competition horses, it should hopefully open up new and exciting avenues for me, not only as a rider, but also for my family.
To add to our growing string of horses, I was able to secure the rides on two talented young horses recently imported from England. Bastiaan (Basil) started his career in the jumpers, competing up to the 1.40-meter level before switching sports to eventing. He will hopefully team up with Casalino (Casper) and Flambeau B (Lucy) competing at the two-star level this year.
I'm really excited about Fullham (Bishop) for his owners, Gary and Heather Newell. At 5 years old he is the reigning Burghley Young Horse Champion, a very prestigious annual competition in England. He has all the makings to be a star in this sport and I'm so happy for the Newells to have such a lovely horse for their first experience in the sport of eventing. He will be given all the time he needs to grow into the sport as he competes with fellow youngsters "Kelly, "Annie, and "Tanner." Longtime owner and student Sharon Odenkirk has two lovely horses as well in "Poco" and "Slipper" who have exciting futures.
With a stable full of nice horses, an impending move, and a second daughter on the way, it should be an exciting 2015 as a rider, businessman and daddy! Hopefully in my next blog entry I'll be talking about the competition season and growing family in the present tense. The snow is melting!
Eventer Sean McQuillan started riding in Maryland at age 12 and by the time he was 20 he was eventing at the advanced level. He worked as an assistant trainer for the O'Connor Eventing Team (Va.), but also has a wide breadth of experience. He has hunted professionally with the Orange County Hounds (Va.), trained steeplechase horses and competed in the jumpers. His wife, Kendra, is an experience eventer, groom, barn manager, saddle fitter and physiotherapist. Together, they run McQuillan Equestrian & Kilfinnan Stables.