Youngster’s giant leap gets Olympic rider’s attention

James Cleary, eight, out hunting in 2018.
James Cleary, eight, out hunting in 2018. The picture was taken by his cousin, Nicola Collins.

One of the first visitors after the Covid-19 lockdown to the property of Olympic medallist Cian O’Connor has been a young rider whose skills in the saddle attracted the attention of the leading Irish rider.

Back in November 2018 a picture was taken of James Cleary, then aged eight, jumping fearlessly over a massive hidden drop aboard his three-year-old pony Little Paddy Brown while out riding with his father, Paul.

O’Connor reached out to the Cleary family, of Westmeath, after being impressed by the image. “I remember looking at this photo at the time and being taken aback by the sheer size of the hedge. When I read the article I learned that the rider was an eight-year-old boy — it was a seriously impressive feat.”

As soon as visitors were allowed to O’Connor’s “Karlswood” property in Batterstown, County Meath, the Clearys came by for a tour of the facility, and James had a lesson.

From left, Upsadaisy, Paul Cleary, James Cleary, and Cian O'Connor
From left, Upsadaisy, Paul Cleary, James Cleary, and Cian O’Connor at O’Connor’s Karlswood property in County Meath, Ireland.

“I was bowled over by James’ temperament, his ability to learn, the speed at which he took direction and his technique, which defied his years. It’s clear that he has the right tools to hopefully push on and continue to enjoy his riding,” O’Connor said.

“We went out on the sand and grass arenas and he took to the fences in his stride. I look forward to keeping in touch with the Cleary family and will monitor James’ progress with interest in the months and years to come.”

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