JESSICA Finnegan’s interest in horses growing up led her to choose the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) to study Equine Management. Brought up around horses, her mum’s family always had a keen interest Jessica spent every summer on the road with her mum Denise and aunts Briege Farrelly and Judy Murphy (of Java Sports Horses, Judy is the highest-ranking female sports horse breeder of 2021). “With those three sisters, young horses were plentiful, and I spent most of my time learning from them. My mum has been my biggest supporter all along. She works incredibly hard, and it’s something I hope I can say I’ve got from her. We run our small breeding farm at home: without her, none of my achievements would be possible.”
Jessica credits her four years at CAFRE as when she made her first great contacts within the industry. “I got in touch with Des Ryan of Dell Ridge Farm, Kentucky. My interest in the thoroughbred game grew there: Kentucky was a huge eye-opener. I learnt so much and loved my time there. Des is someone who has influenced me in my career and will probably laugh when he sees this. I went out to Kentucky for a foaling season, and I never thought I would learn so much. Des worked harder than anyone else did. There was nothing he didn’t notice or he didn’t know about on the farm. He taught us to work hard wherever we wanted to go or do. Des set an example for all of us there, and I’ve taken what he taught me and that work ethic with me everywhere I’ve worked or anything I have set my mind to since. It was through Des that I got my first sales job back in Ireland with Kiltinan Castle Stud.”
It was a long road and a lot of learning between finding a thoroughbred mare and selling her Walk In The Park colt for €82,000 at Goffs, and Jessica reveals there was some initial not-so-gentle encouragement when it came to purchasing his dam. “It began when my mum’s partner Pat Flood, sourced a mare for us six years ago. People who know us wouldn’t have put thoroughbreds and us together, but anyone who knows Pat knows he can talk! So we went with it; he was very persuasive!”
Blue, as the mare is known to the family now (Blue Berlais), was a young unraced filly by Saint Des Saints, carrying a Fairly Ransom colt. Now known as Thirtyfourstitches, this big character of a foal was Blue’s first winner. “Each year, we aimed to breed Blue to the best we could afford. We decided to go to Coolmore’s Walk In The Park with her as we thought the Saint Des Saints cross could produce a lovely foal. So off to Grange Stud she went!
“Walk In The Park needs no introduction, which is always a help when the sales come around. Blue had produced a stunning Walk In The Park filly the previous year, purchased by Richard Frisby at Goffs. She’s doing well, and the Frisbys are very happy with her. So we were hopeful this colt would be similar.”
When April 14th came around, and Blue foaled ‘Harry’ as Jessica named him, she wasn’t disappointed. “We foaled a strong, leggy, colt foal at our home yard, Blue Mountain Farm. Blue is always great with her foals, but not always with others, so she can be tricky to manage on the farm. Each day the mare and foal would come in for a check over and a feed.”
We all wish it were as easy as buying a mare, foaling her and showing up to the sales. But we soon learn it’s not that simple and that every day there’s something different with them. What you think they couldn’t do, they’ll do. Jessica has learned hands-on some of the skills it takes to keep them safe and how to produce a civil youngster.
“Spending time with them and knowing each individual helps. Not one system suits every foal. It’s important to notice things early. Find a feed that works for your system; for example, exercise is important, and handling from the start will make everyone’s job a lot easier along the way. Each day, a small bit of handling made all the difference to Harry, who became very easy to prep. We always thought he was a quality foal, but we could never have dreamed what was around the corner.”
According to Jessica, the colt’s temperament was faultless, and he behaved just as well on his first day walking as he did his last before heading to Goffs. “We travelled to Goffs on the Monday, and he wasn’t in the stable five minutes before there was someone at the door looking to see him. I thought, Jeez, they are early! He’s not selling until Thursday! The following three days was some of the worst weather we saw last year, but that didn’t stop the buyers from coming to see him. He showed himself so well for everyone who asked to see him.”
Consigned by Baroda Stud, sale day arrived, and Jessica and Harry went off to the ring. The strapping colt came alive in the parade ring. “I could tell he was enjoying it. There was nothing more we could do now. I just hoped the hard work would pay off! The opening few bids were all a blur as I was trying to make sure he settled and was walking well. Then I realised he was 60, 70 thousand up, and suddenly the voice of Henry Beeby paused as he waited for another bid.
“I could just imagine my mum and brother Oisin around the ring somewhere in disbelief; Pat walking laps outside because he couldn’t watch, and my family at home watching the live stream. Then the bidding continued. With each lap around the ring, I think my mask-covered smile became more and more obvious. I couldn’t believe it! He finished up the top price of the day at €82,000 purchased by Oak Tree Farm’s Norman Williamson.”
Jessica started with Baroda Stud in 2018 and has been with them for the sales since. “David Cox approached me about doing the yearling sales with them. I was keen to work with a consignment like Baroda. They always looked smart, and the horses were turned out immaculately. Since then, I have worked at all the UK and Irish sales with the team and spent time on the farm for the yearling sales prep. The crew on the farm works very hard, ensuring the horses are sent to the sale in excellent condition.
“I love working with the Baroda Stud. Noel McDonnell always makes sure there is a good group of people working the sales, and new addition to the team, Padraic Gahan, ensures everything runs smoothly. The sales are always busy with Baroda; I don’t have a specific job which is fun; I can be doing cards, leading horses, getting snaps for social media, which the guys love! It’s always something different. I really enjoy it. The consignment has progressively got bigger and stronger, which is great to see and a real credit to David and Tamso Cox, owners of Baroda Stud.”
Going forward, Jessica has her mare Blue back in foal to Walk In The Park, and so the excitement builds for that arrival soon. Jessica is continuing on her various paths of learning and, more recently, has decided to focus on one new area in particular. “I’ve enjoyed learning about the different aspects of the thoroughbred industry. I’ve spent a lot of time foaling, prepping horses and working the sales, which I enjoy very much and aim to continue. While I was in Kentucky, I worked closely with some of the best vets in the business from Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, and it always stuck with me that maybe it was something I would like to do, but I had already spent so long at college, and I didn’t really want to go back.”
That was until, unfortunately, Jessica ended up in an equine hospital with a horse of her own. Having witnessed the equine nursing team at work, she felt drawn to the nursing career path. “I thought that’s something I want to do! So, I applied, and now I am studying for my veterinary nursing degree at Dundalk Institute of Technology. I am halfway through my degree, and all going well; I will be graduating next summer. Going forward, I’m hoping to find an equine hospital to focus on my nursing career. Hopefully, my variety of experience and education will help and I will make the most of what I have to offer to the industry in the future.”