BY KRISTIN PITZER
The Irish flag will continue to fly at Heathman Farm with Lorcan Gallagher in the irons.
For much of North America, May 5, or Cinco de Mayo, is a day that celebrates Mexico’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla. For Heathman Farm, however, there was cause for another type of celebration. That is the day that up-and-coming rider Lorcan Gallagher started working for the farm, which is owned by Chris and Thea Stinnett.
Gallagher picked up the reins from fellow Irishman Cormac Hanley, who worked for Heathman Farm for many years.
“Before I even wrapped my head around that Cormac put his notice in, I had a call. I picked it up, and it was Lorcan,” Thea Stinnett said. “We had a lot of interest, but he was definitely the first to jump on it. At Heathman Farm, we are looking to help someone get to where they want to go. We want to make someone’s dreams come true.”
Gallagher will also help the Stinnetts’ 20-year-old daughter, Stella, in her riding, and will guide Heathman Farm’s second rider, Danny Cyphert, along the way.
“It’s something that I’ve been really wanting for a few years now,” Gallagher said of the opportunity to ride at Heathman. “When I was younger, I might not have been ready for something like this, but now I feel I am. I’ve got a lot of goals that I want to reach. I’m very ambitious, and so are they. I think it’s a perfect partnership, really.”
Though he didn’t come from a competitive equestrian family, 29-year-old Gallagher has made great strides in the jumper field. He grew up in Newry, County Down, Ireland. His family had a hobby farm that included some horses, and his mom hunted a little, but neither of his parents competed to a high level.
Gallagher followed in his brother Eoin’s footsteps and started riding around the age of 7. He participated in pony club events, including eventing, cross country, show jumping, and pony club games, qualifying for the Dublin Horse Show a couple times.
At the age of 17, Gallagher began taking lessons from Dermott Lennon, the 2002 Individual Show Jumping World Champion. After he graduated high school, Gallagher continued riding for Lennon while studying law at university.
“After two years of that, I was in love with the horses,” Gallagher said. “I didn’t see myself ever working in an office job.
“He was a great help to me,” Gallagher added of Lennon. “He gave me nice horses that qualified for Dublin a couple years in a row.”
Gallagher eventually made the move to the United States in December 2011 to help one of Lennon’s clients, Rebecca McGoldrick, over the winter. When she went back to Ireland, though, Gallagher stayed in the United States.
“I came for three months, and I’m still here nine years later,” Gallagher said with a laugh.
He got a job with Andrea King in South Carolina, but a few months later, Gallagher ran into Shane Sweetnam at a show. Sweetnam offered him a job, and Gallagher accepted, riding for him until he made the move to Heathman Farm.
“It was with Shane I really made the next step in my career,” Gallagher said. “He was a massive help. I got to know the training side of the job.”
Riding for the Irish team, Gallagher won the Furusiyya Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) Nation’s Cup on Sweetnam’s Diktator Van De Boslandhoeve in 2015 during his first ever team competition. He continued working with Sweetnam over the years and saw more and more success, placing in the 2018 Hampton Classic and multiple Grand Prix competitions.
Gallagher considered 2019 to be his first great Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) season. During that time, he placed in three Grand Prix competitions and was double clear in the Nation’s Cup. He credits the exposure he got with Sweetnam for leading him to Heathman Farm.
Gallagher has only been with Heathman Farm for a short time — the entirety of which has been overshadowed by COVID-19 — but he has lofty goals. For the immediate future, he wants to get to know the new horses he will be riding. They may have been purchased for Hanley, but to Gallagher, that’s an exciting challenge to overcome.
“I think every rider, to be successful, has to have a lot of self-belief,” Gallagher said. “You can’t be arrogant, but you have to believe in your own abilities. I know I’m able to form a partnership with the horses. We’re getting to know each other and tweaking little things, but I have every faith that we’re going to have a successful partnership.”
The Stinnetts anticipate Gallagher riding VDL Cartello and Sangris Boy for his top string. Sangris Boy, a recent Heathman Farm purchase that came from Austria, was bought for Stella, and they hope after some experience in the ring with Gallagher, the pair will be ready to partner up. Gallagher will also have some supporting second string horses.
A longer-term goal for Gallagher is to establish himself as a member of the Irish team. Chris and Thea want to see him break into the top 100 of the Longines FEI World rankings, ultimately pushing as high as he can.
There’s a lot to do as Gallagher kicks off his new partnership with Heathman Farm, but thanks to his abilities and competitiveness, the Stinnetts believe the future is bright. They appreciate his empathy and tact as a rider, saying their horses thrive on it.
“He’s such a great trainer as well as rider, and on top of it, probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I didn’t know that going in,” Thea said. “But now spending time with him… he’s probably the kindest guy in the world. How did we get that lucky? Because you don’t normally get that full package.”
Gallagher is excited for the future, too, and for the great team he has at the farm.
“I suppose every young person always wants the success, but you have to make it happen, too,” Gallagher said. “Maybe when I was younger and had good horses, I took it for granted a little bit. I thought this just happens to everybody, but in this game, it’s definitely not like that. You have to want it. You have to take your opportunities and build on them rather than just laying back thinking the work’s done. Every day’s a new day, and you can always learn more.”