Inspirational Equestrian: Kathy Conly

Inspirational Equestrian Kathy Conly BR Farm
SUPPORT: Kathy is a great supporter of her granddaughters, Hannah and Robyn Catterall, who are both accomplished endurance riders, as well as taking up side saddle more recently. Robyn is pictured on ‘Arctic Eclipse’ at the National Side Saddle Show in 2019, accompanied by Kathy, sister Hannah and mum, Kirsten. (FW19-519NN)

ANYONE who has attended an ILDRA (Irish Long Distance Riding Association) ride has probably met Kathy Conly. She has been attending the rides since they started and has been a dedicated ILDRA supporter and ride organiser for many years. Kathy is not originally from Northern Ireland, but has been here for most of her life and has reared her family here.

Horse Week’s Bree Rutledge was keen to find out more about Kathy’s background.

TREAT: Kathy gives a treat to ‘Ben’, a horse that was gifted to the family when a friend died. ‘Ben’ died recently and would have been in his late 20s. (FW19-518NN)

Kathy was born in a small market town, Knaresborough in North Yorkshire – situated in Nidderdale, one of the Yorkshire Dales – just two months before the outbreak of World War 2, making her an octagenarian! She had one older sister and came from a non-horsey background.

Her sister used to ride at the local riding centre and Kathy managed to persuade their parents to let her go too at the age of 10.

Kathy’s father was away for most of the war, serving in the RAF and he spent many years in Egypt. After the war ended, he took over his father’s drapery business and also opened up a hardware shop.

Although Kathy never had a pony of her own, she rode at the riding centre and rode her friends’ ponies. She was a member of the York and Ainsty Pony Club, which held it’s yearly camp at the Great Yorkshire Showground.

Kathy attended King James Grammar School in Knaresborough, but left at the age of 16 with very few qualifications – she hated school!

Kathy went as a working pupil to a yard in Norfolk, run in partnership by Joan McMillan and Andy Crofts, who broke, schooled and sorted out difficult horses and ponies. She hunted quite often with the Norwich Staghounds and the Norfolk Harriers. After that, she went to work for a family in Essex, who had six children who competed at all levels and hunted with the Puckeridge Hunt and Essex Hunt. She looked after the children and the ponies.

Kathy met Jim Conly in 1960. Every Saturday, Kathy went to a dance in a hotel in Harrogate and Jim, who is from here, was working there as an electrician. They got married in 1962, when Kathy was 21. After three years living in England, the family moved over to Northern Ireland with their two small sons. They went on to have another son and a daughter.

From the start, they always had small ponies around them, but none of the boys were very keen to ride. The family moved to their present address in 1984, which had some land. Kathy’s daughter Kirsten was keen on riding and was a member of Iveagh Pony Club. There were not many equestrian centres holding events at that time, but Kathy hunted most Saturdays with the Tynan and Armagh Hunt.

After attending a talk on Endurance by a member of EGB (Endurance Great Britain), which she thinks was held in the House of Sport, Kathy was eager to have a go.

In 1990, Kathy attended a ride held by the newly formed organisation ILDRA (the Irish Long Distance Riding Association) at Tollymore Forest. She has been told that the ILDRA committee at that time consisted of Nicola Brown, Monica Walsh, Charlie Spence, Ros Allen, Elizabeth Tollerton and Judy McCuster – Kathy apologises if she left anyone out.

That day, Kathy rode ‘Penny’, who was the horse Kirsten did Pony Club activities on. This mare was very quiet and well behaved at home, but was a different kettle of fish out in a forest! Kathy rode her at a good few ILDRA rides, completely out of control, but she met and rode with some lovely people. Kathy gave up on ‘Penny’ and bought herself a 14.2hh black pony called ‘Pippa’, who was keen but manageable. Kathy rode her for quite a few years.

In 1996, Kathy bought a strawberry roan yearling filly called ‘Ellanora’ (‘Ellie’). This mare is still with the family now and is completely white in colour! ‘Ellie’ has been on the Home International team 10 times. Her most notable ride was at Ludlow, when she completed the 160km ride for the winning team. Kathy started her on her endurance career and got her to Bronze Shamrock level.

The first ILDRA ride Kathy took ‘Ellie’ to was held at Craigantlet soon after she had been broken. In the second field, much to the amusement of her two companions, Kathy fell off her – although at the time, they were stationary, waiting for a loose horse to be caught!

Kathy and Kirsten were at a ride in Donard, Co. Wicklow where Kathy got her Bronze Shamrock final with ‘Ellie’. It was a scorching hot day and as they were about to cross the finishing line – which was a banner held aloft by two forklifts and cast a shadow on the ground – the breeze caught the banner and made the shadow move. Kirsten was bucked off her horse and ‘Ellie’ turned on a sixpence, leaving Kathy on the ground! She was eventually caught two fields away. Two ILDRA members, helped by two Scotch riders, crewed and vetted the mares for the pair. Kathy rode ‘Ellie’ for a number of years, until her two granddaughters, who had started to do Endurance, took over and Kirsten and Kathy were relegated to crewing for them!

Kathy took up the position as Secretary for ILDRA in 1998 and she still enjoys doing it. She also still attends most of the Ulster branch rides, as well as organising and running some of the rides along with her family!

Kathy’s incredible help and support has been acknowledged over the years through various awards that she has received, including the Windy Ridge award for her dedication and commitment to ILDRA in 2003 and, most recently, her granddaughter Hannah Catterall, who was Chef d’Equipe for the Irish team at the Home International and Celtic Challenge (HICC) at the Red Dragon Festival of Endurance in Wales in October 2019, presented Kathy with a rosette for her hard work and support at the HICC.

Kathy’s granddaughters, Hannah and Robyn Catterall, have followed in her equestrian footsteps – both are accomplished endurance riders, as well as showing with great success and taking up side saddle in the past few years. In fact, Robyn is a side saddle instructor!

When asked about her view on endurance in Ireland today, Kathy says that she can never see it become an FEI discipline here: “The cost to run an FEI ride is very high, given that we have to bring in some of the officials in from other countries. We do not have venues with bridlepaths and vast acres of forest and moorland to run the longer rides (as they do on the mainland), but ILDRA do run some spectacular rides in forests and private estates. Any rider can come and do a pleasure ride up to 20 miles or, if you are a member and like a challenge, ride the competitive rides, where you have to pass the vet and pace yourself and your horse to do the mileage in a set time. It is great fun!” Kathy continued.

“There is so much to choose from now as most equestrian centres hold competitions every weekend and we find that children do not seem as keen (to try endurance) as they were when we first started ILDRA.”

CREW: Kathy crewing for granddaughter Hannah on ‘Miss Elle’ in their bronze final. (FW19-515NN)

Kathy is keen to encourage everyone to give endurance a try, as it can be enjoyable for everyone from nervous riders wishing to get their horse out and about to event riders wishing to enhance their horse’s fitness. ILDRA hopes that their St. Patrick’s Coast Endurance Ride will be able to go ahead on September 5 this year, if this virus clears up and government guidelines permit. It is once again set to run from the fantastic setting of Downpatrick Racecourse and hosts both Pleasure Rides and Competitive Trail Rides, so there will be something for everyone!

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