THE thrill of cantering into the RDS Main Arena on Friday afternoon in front of a sold out crowd to jump in the Aga Khan Nations Cup is not lost on Tipperary show jumper Max Wachman.
The 18-year-old has been selected on Michael Blake’s Irish squad of five for next week’s showpiece, the most important show jumping competition of the year, every year, for an Irish rider. “I will try think of it like a normal show,” he tells The Irish Field.
Max hails from one of the biggest thoroughbred breeding families in the world, but is so humble and down to earth, far from an excitable teenager; I suppose that is what working with the leading professionals in the world does, you grow up fast.
How did he feel to get the news he was on the squad? “I was thrilled. It is a dream to be part of an Aga Khan team. Growing up as a child, for every rider, it was something you wanted to do, so I am really thrilled and looking forward to it.
“I was very lucky that we had a good season, it all worked out,” he said, referring to his double clear and victory in Wellington, and then his five-star team debut in Knokke last month, when he was clear in the first round and had an unlucky four faults in second, all with Berlux Z.
It is hard to be believe that the last time the show was held – in 2019 – Max was jumping in the pony ranks. He has ridden in the main arena many times with ponies, but the Aga Khan is a different ball game. Luckily for him, he has a good sounding board in his coach, fellow teammate Cian O’Connor.
“Cian is a massive help; he is very focussed on the plan. Once you walk the course, have your plan and get focussed, you don’t get nervous.”
The Wachman siblings – Max (18), Tom (16) and Alice (15) – started working with Cian five years ago. The following year, Max won individual gold at the FEI Pony European Championships in Strzegom with Cuffesgrange Cavalidam. “I was very lucky to get Cavalidam, she was an amazing pony and being able to train with Cian brought me on a lot.”
Bred to be a horse – Cavalidam helped Max make the progression into horses. “I used to try and ride her like a horse because she had a huge stride,” he says.
The horse that has taken him to the big time this year is Berlux Z, the imposing 11-year-old French-bred grey gelding by Berlin who jumped at last summer’s Olympic Games with Simon Delestre. The pair clicked right away, jumping their first Nations Cup within two months, and jumping double clear in Wellington in March to help Ireland win that four-star competition.
They were then close runners-up in the four-star 1.60m Grand Prix of Wiesbaden, before getting their five-star call up in Knokke. “He is very experienced which is great for me with all these firsts coming up. You know he is not going to be green when jumping the bigger classes, he is a very cool horse, and it’s great to have him.”
Andrew Bourns, Eoin McMahon, chef d'equipe Michael Blake, Max Wachman and Cian O'Connor after winning the FEI Nations Cup in Wellington, Florida \ Sportfot
While Berlux is being aimed at the Aga Khan Trophy, Max will also take the 13-year-old gelding Quintini to Dublin for the big classes. The pair recently jumped at the FEI Young Rider European Championships where they finished fourth in the team and fifth individually.
“That was a bit of a disappointing result to be honest. To be so close and not win a medal… I made a rider mistake on the second day and unfortunately that was the difference between a silver medal and fifth place. I was very annoyed with myself for a few days but I will try to not make that mistake again,” he says as he chats from the four-star show in Pinneberg, Germany.
Perhaps the most pressure next week will come from his sister Alice, as Max is borrowing her horse Atlantic du Seigneur for the speed classes at the RDS.
Ironically, he rode the 16-year-old gelding in the young rider classes in 2019. “Alice is letting me borrow him for the speed classes. There will be more pressure riding him in front of her than the Aga Khan! He is a very cool horse, we all started on him, he is like part of the family now.”
Max is also primed to take over the ride on his grandmother Susan Magnier’s Kilkenny, currently ridden by Cian, at some stage in the future. “He would obviously be a really cool horse for me but we will wait and see. At the moment, he is a main part of Cian’s string so we are not in any rush.”
Both Max and Tom sat their Leaving Certificate exams in June. “It went okay! I’d say Tom did a fair bit better than me… his grades all along were better than mine,” Max said with a laugh. “We studied for the last few years online through Hewitt College in Cork who were great. There were able to organise different teachers for us and we could do school in three to four hours a day, which allowed us to concentrate on the horses as well.”
Before that, it was Rockwell College close to home in Tipperary, and the young men are keen to further their education next year. “The plan is to go and do a commerce degree in UCD (University College Dublin). Tom and I both feel by doing that, we will have a better understanding of business and we will be able to apply it to our show jumping business.
“The plan is to move up to Cian in September, which I think will be brilliant for us as well. At the moment we commute up and down which is fine as we are not too far away.
“At the moment we would be in Cian’s a couple of days a week and on those days we would either ride at home in the morning or evening, depending on what works. That has worked well for us.”
John Magnier with Conor Melia and his grandson Max Wachman after he and Berlux had a super double clear to place second in the four-star Grand Prix of Wiesbaden \ tomspics.com
The business is Coolmore Showjumping, bearing the same name as his grandfather John Magnier’s breeding empire of Coolmore. But the young men are keen that is it its own entity.
“Coolmore Showjumping is going to have to stand on its own two feet soon. We have been doing a bit of trading with Cian and it has been successful to date. It is a side of the business that we are both very interested in so we would like to continue that and kick on more.”
Max is the only Wachman competing in Dublin this year, a change from other years. “Unfortunately Tom was away at different shows and he missed the qualifiers, and Alice had a hairline fracture in her back from a fall. In fairness to her, she is tough and kept going and it was only 10 days after we realised she needed an MRI.”
It a huge family affair at Coolmore Showjumping and it is rare that his parents – David and Kate Wachman – and grandparents – John and Susan Magnier – are not supporting the siblings at a show, while the thoroughbred side of the Coolmore business has been sponsoring within the industry for a number of years, including the 1.50m Premier Series this season.
“They are very into it, it is a big family affair and very nice that they all come to the shows.”
Mrs Magnier also owns Cian’s mount for this week’s FEI World Championships in Herning, C Vier 2. “I am planning on going to Herning to watch the team for the first two days. It will be cool to see it, all the best riders in the world in one place. Hopefully I will learn something there before coming home for Dublin.”
Every day is a learning day.