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Johan Fitzpatrick-Burns: A young talent moving onwards and upwards in pony show jumping

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JOHAN Fitzpatrick-Burns is having a fantastic season so far! This talented 11-year-old from Banbridge, Co. Down, has been riding since he was just four and is making quite an impression on the registered pony show jumping circuit.

Johan lives with his mum Jenna, dad Geoffrey and little brother Ewan, who is five and also rides.

Johan has just left primary school and is looking forward to starting Rathmore Grammar School in September.

He is trained by Ronnie Morton from Portadown.

“Ronnie has been invaluable in developing Johan’s riding and his ponies. The Morton children all compete and are an amazing support and help to us at home and at shows,” says Jenna.

Johan’s talent has not gone unnoticed and he has secured two sponsorships, the first with Tullyyear Equine Grooming, Banbridge when he was just nine years old and he remains their sponsored rider.

Rachel Mayne ensures that Johan’s ponies are always maintained to the highest standards and clipped to perfection all year round.

The Irish Equine and Rehabilitation Centre at Lower Ballinderry has sponsored Johan since last year. The family were introduced to the centre when their pony ‘Chocolat II’ (aka ‘Cindy’) stayed there on holiday livery. She now regularly attends for water treadmill sessions and other complementary treatments. They have found the water treadmill has been a great way to build her core strength and muscle tone, improving her general fitness for competition.

Horse Week’s Bree Rutledge was keen to find out more about this young equine athlete, what he has achieved to date and what he would like to do next…

How did you get into ponies – are you from a horsey background?

My interest in ponies came from my mum, she had horses at home until ponies took over. After parting with her horse last year, she now spends her time dedicated to our ponies and supporting me riding and travelling to shows every weekend, as well as attending Pony Club with my little brother.

How long have you been riding?

I began riding just before I turned four at a local riding school. It wasn’t long before I had my first pony home though!

What was your first pony and what did you do together?

My first pony was called ‘Mini’. She was a little skewbald just under 12hh. She was a Lead Rein pony and we went to pony club activities and camps.

I then moved on to my First Ridden pony, ‘Henry’. He was an 11.2hh chestnut Welsh Pony and quite a character! We still own this pony and my little brother Ewan, who is five, now rides him.

When I was eight, I got a 128 pony called ‘Jake’. This is when my love of show jumping really started and we moved to registered jumping. He was such a safe pony and always brought home the rosettes, with consistent clear rounds.

How long have you been competing?

I have been competing for around four years now. Before show jumping, I did some Working Hunter, qualifying and riding at the Northern Ireland Festival. I was never overly keen on the showpiece though, so moved solely to the show jumping.

When and where did you start show jumping?

Since beginning to ride, I have been a member of Iveagh Pony Club, where I learned all the basic valuable riding skills. Apart from Iveagh, my mum took me to Mossvale Riding Club every Friday night, where I won lots of leagues and prizes in their show jumping competitions.

When did you start registered show jumping?

I started registered jumping when I was eight and quickly moved into Under 10s jumping. That was a great time, I was lucky to qualify two 128 ponies for the Balmoral Show Under 10s class in 2019 – my own pony ‘Jake’ and another pony called ‘Tynan Petal’, which I had only ridden since the week before! I went on to take fourth place at the show with her. I loved the experience of riding in the main arena with such a big crowd.

What ponies do you currently have?

I currently have a 128 pony called ‘Chocolat II’ (aka ‘Cindy’) and a 138 pony called ‘Sergeant Jack’. ‘Cindy’ has been an amazing pony. She is just seven years old, I have had her for two years and, during this time, we have had some fantastic experiences and wins along the way. I always come home from shows smiling, as I can rely on her to get us in the placings. We have an amazing connection and recently qualified for the RDS National Championships, being held in August and London International Horse Show, being held in December. She is the pony of a lifetime!

‘Sergeant Jack’ is a 10-year-old pony and our partnership is quite new. We purchased him in December past and didn’t get to our first show until April, due to Covid restrictions.

I took my first win on him at National Balmoral a few weeks ago in the 1 metre class and was runner up in the 1.10m class on the same day. We competed in the last RDS National Championship Qualifier at the Meadows Equestrian Centre, Lurgan – this was a big step up for me. I was so pleased with him, he jumped superbly, so I know it will be onwards and upwards for us.

What classes are you competing in currently?

I compete my 128 pony in 1 metre/ 1.05m classes and my 138 pony in 1m and 1.10m.

What is your favourite venue or show?

There are so many excellent venues, but my favourite has to be Cavan Equestrian Centre. The facilities, arenas and jumping are all fantastic. There is always a great atmosphere at the shows and we usually stay over, so there is lots of fun!

What has been your favourite show jumping round to date?

It has to be winning the RDS Dublin Qualifier at Ard Chuain, Ballina. My pony, ‘Chocolat II’ was in such good form. The class went to three rounds and every round kept getting better as the jumps got higher. My mum and Ronnie, my trainer, told me to take a steady third round, but I saw the turns and each jump came nicely, allowing me to take first place with three clear rounds and the fastest time in the jump off! It was a fantastic day.

What are your pony plans for the rest of the summer?

I have the Home Pony International show at Cavan at the end of July, followed by National Pony Championships in Mullingar in mid-August. These are both four-day shows. I will then ride at the RDS National Championships in Dublin on August 20.

What are your equine ambitions – short term and long term?

Short-term, I want to take every opportunity with my 128 pony, as this is my last year on her. I have already reached my ambition and every other young riders dream of qualifying for RDS Dublin and I hope that we can do well when we get to the show. I can’t wait to ride in the RDS main arena!

I recently competed and placed fourth in the Coolmore Pony Premier Class at National Balmoral. I would love to do some more of these bigger tracks.

Longer term, I want to progress to Premier Classes and Grand Prix tracks with my 138, ‘Sergeant Jack’. I hope to move onto 148 ponies later in the year.

London International Horse Show is the week before Christmas and will be my last show on my 128 pony, ‘Chocolat II’. This will be very sad for all my family, but what a way to finish!

Johan is clearly enjoying his recent successes and is focussed on progressing through the show jumping ranks. Horse Week wishes Johan all the very best in his equine pursuits, both short-term and long-term, and looks forward to including his name and photo in show jumping coverage in the very near future!

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