By Louise Parkes
Portraits by Lorriane O’Sullivan
It’s no surprise that Irish teens Max and Tom Wachman are involved with horses. What is a surprise is their chosen discipline: Showing under their family’s Coolmore Showjumping banner, the brothers competed at the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival.
With a pedigree like theirs, they seem much more likely candidates for a career in horse racing. After all, their grandparents are John and Sue Magnier, owners of Coolmore Stud, the largest breeding operation of Thoroughbreds in the world. Coolmore stands super-stallion Galileo at their Tipperary headquarters in Ireland, and American Pharoah and Justify at their U.S. operation at Ashford Stud in Kentucky.
Max and Tom’s great-grandfather, Vincent O’Brien, was a visionary in the story of the modern sport and a prolific producer of champions both on the flat and over fences, training legends like Sir Ivor and Nijinsky. Their mother, Kate, was a successful eventing rider and their father, David, sent out Group 1 winners in five different countries during his career as a trainer.
So when talking with 16-year-old Tom and 17-year-old Max, it’s difficult to avoid the obvious question. “Why show jumping?” The answer is simple: They have loved it since they were “tiny little chaps.”
Started With Ponies
“I started riding ponies when I was 8,” Tom said. “We both went for lessons with Thomas Ryan at Tipperary Equestrian Centre — we are great friends of the Ryan family and had a lot of fun there. I started competing when I was about 9 and with my first good pony, Park Epic, and I was lucky enough to win the 128-cms championship at Dublin Horse Show.”
Tom and Max went on to train with Michael Condon and Dave Maguire before Olympic bronze medalist Cian O’Connor became their coach and mentor in 2017. A year later, Max won individual silver at the FEI European Pony Jumping Championships at Bishops Burton in Great Britain, and in 2019 the brothers stood together on the top step of the team podium at the Pony Europeans in Strzegom, Poland.
“That was a special moment for us to share,” said Max, who clinched that team victory for Ireland in a thrilling jump-off before going on to also claim individual gold with Cuffesgrange Cavalidam.
Now Tom has taken over the reins on the 16-year-old mare whose stable name is Ash, and he’s vying for a place on either this year’s Pony European team with her, or in the Junior squad with his horses Quintini or Atlantic du Seigneur. He may be spoiled when it comes to his mounts, but he’s under no illusions about his selection prospects. “Team Ireland is very competitive, but it’s my goal to be picked for one or the other this year,” Tom said.
Tom didn’t do his prospects any harm by posting some great results at the Winter Equestrian Festival this year, winning the High Junior Circuit Championship with the 15-year-old Atlantic, and the Medium Junior Circuit Championship with the 13-year-old Dinaro. The 11-year-old Quintini, who was ridden by Belgium’s Pieter Clemens until last October, placed in some of the High Junior Grand Prix classes and Tom got the ride on an exciting new 11-year-old called Fireball during the tournament, too.
“I was riding the horse for Rodrigo Pessoa, and Lady Bamford liked him and bought him for me to ride for a year. He’s a lovely horse,” Tom said. Lady Bamford is a high-profile English racehorse owner and breeder.
Max also enjoyed the WEF where he competed his string that includes his top ride, Lazzaro delle Schiavo, a 12-year-old gelding that competed up to five-star level with Italy’s Massimo Grossato before he was bought by Cian O’Connor in the autumn of 2019 and then passed on to Max last August. “He’s a good horse, very scopey and experienced; he’s like a schoolmaster teaching me to jump bigger, and we were clear in our first three-star Grand Prix in Florida in week 10. To be honest, he could go around that course on his own — he’s a great horse with a great personality,” Max said.
Max jumped clear in the two-star Grand Prix with the 9-year-old Swedish-bred Ikaros, and with the attractive little 10-year-old bay mare Brooklyn, he won the High Juniors Grand Prix in week 11. “She just loves her job! We got her from Abdel Said at the end of 2019 and she’s just so fast!” Max said. He also placed in a couple of High Juniors Grand Prix classes with the 12-year-old Dorette.
Max has the Junior Europeans in Vilamoura, Portugal, in July in his sights just as Tom does. “It’s a good goal for me in 2021,” Max said. It might be another Wachman double-act in the Irish team depending on how selections play out.
Asked about their long-term goals, the pair is fairly clear. “Everyone wants to compete in five-star Grand Prix and Nations Cups and at the highest level of the sport,” Max said. “And of course to ride in Dublin on the Aga Khan team and maybe someday go to the Olympic Games — they are all targets. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but we can try — they are the biggest goals!”
The brothers are certainly taking the right steps along the way, with Max conscripted onto the Cannes Stars team as the U25 candidate alongside Cian O’Connor, Abdel Said, Sameh El Dahan, Agustin Covarribuis and Sven Schusselberg for this year’s Global Champions Tour. “It’s very exciting; I’m planning to go to the leg in Madrid with Lazzaro and I’m really looking forward to it!” he said.
Asked if the family put them under pressure to do well in this sport, Tom insists they don’t. “We only put pressure on ourselves, and you need to do that to do well. Most of the pressure would be what we put on each other! The most important thing to remember is not to get too upset when things go wrong or too high when they go right, because the next day everything can change,” he pointed out wisely.
“Dad would like me to go to university but I’d just like to keep competing, although it would be good to have a degree in business or accounting — we’ll see in a few years,” Max said.
Although he’s younger, Tom is clearer about the road ahead. “I’d like to get a business qualification and to ride at the same time. In the future I see myself competing and buying and selling show jumpers, and being in the bloodstock business as well.”
They’ve been steeped in the latter since the day they were born. “Dad and our uncles are heavily involved in Coolmore and are constantly showing us the ropes,” Max said. “We go to the sales as much as we can with them to try and learn about the right type of horse, their conformation, their walk, their potential. We’re very interested in the bloodstock end of things. If we’re not at a show, then we’re looking at horses, going to sales or hanging around the office in Coolmore. We see ourselves being involved in both worlds, show jumping and the bloodstock business.”
With their family ties to the racetrack, Max and Tom try to go as often as time allows. “It’s interesting seeing the horses work and how they progress from foals to yearlings and going on the track, and knowing the stallions,” Tom said. “But we enjoy buying and selling show jumpers as well and we have shares in a few with Cian.”
Cian’s influence on the operation at Coolmore Showjumping is clear, providing the Wachman brothers with great horses to help them further their careers and putting the structures in place to professionalize the operation. This includes a great support team consisting of manager Jan Distel, grooms Conor Melia, Holly Kenny, Ben Moran and Oisin Finn, and yardman Kieran Walker.
But the Coolmore racing influence is also plain to see and, not surprisingly, there’s a family feel to it. “We are very lucky because our parents spent years driving us around Ireland going to shows in Cavan and Sligo and everywhere else when we were riding ponies, and our grandparents are getting into the show-jumping scene now and come to watch us jump and are very supportive of us,” Tom said.
“And our sister Alice is really enjoying show jumping too, so it’s great that the three of us can do it together — we have great fun!” Max added.
As for Mum, Kate, “She loves show jumping and just wants us to be happy doing something we enjoy,” Max said. “We’ve grown up around horses all our lives and we love it, so no matter what we do, there will always be horses — that’s for sure!”
Photos by Lorraine O’Sullivan, www.lorraineosullivan.ie