Local Stable Enjoys WEG Dividends

Lexington, KY - Though the final competitor has left the Kentucky Horse Park and officials are removing the last of the signage from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Lexington horsemen Sean and Sarah Reilly are still enjoying success from the Games.  

The owners of Punchestown Stable are preparing to add a covered arena to their facility, thanks largely to an increase in business since WEG. The arena will add to the 270-foot-by-150-foot, all-weather-surfaced outdoor arena that is already part of the farm.  

"What's happened before is, when spring would come along, we'd be behind our competitors who had indoor (arenas) … It would usually take us into the summer to catch up, and we'd have a high success rate then," said Sean Reilly. "This will level the playing field."

The arena, which is scheduled to be completed in April, will be built by Tri-County Lumber.     

Punchestown offers boarding, training and lessons to hunters and jumpers, as well as basic vaulting lessons. The stable competes with its own horses and also helps clients prepare for shows at all levels.  

Reilly said that WEG helped his clients get excited about their discipline of choice by exhibiting the skills and standards of the best riders from all over the world.  

"No matter what day people went, they saw something excellent," he said. "There's a difference between telling people and showing people, and that's what happened with WEG."  

Reilly said that all areas of the business saw growth, with particular increases in the number of boarders and out-of-state horses shipping in for training. The 24-stall facility is home to between eight and 10 boarding horses, and the Reillys keep the same number of horses of their own, a few of which are part of their small breeding program. The lesson program remains at a manageably small size, Sean Reilly said, because Punchestown offers only private lessons.

In Reilly's opinion, the talent showcased at the Games will help to keep Kentucky horsemen on their toes. Because the state is commonly recognized in the United States as one of the elite areas for equestrian sport, he said Kentuckians sometimes forget the high standards and talent prevalent in other countries' industries.

"Everywhere we go, it's like we're the New York Yankees — we're the best. We know we're good," Reilly said. "It was great to see people from all around the world come in here and kick us up and down. I think the benefit of a whipping is that you get a bit smarter."

For those very reasons, Reilly is excited about the recent announcement that Alltech and the Horse Park are planning the Alltech Legacy Games in October as a follow-up event to the WEG, and he hopes it will continue to rejuvenate the Lexington horse industry.

The Reillys, who purchased the Punchestown property in 2002, come to the hunter/jumper industry with unconventionally varied backgrounds. Sarah Reilly grew up competing in hunter, jumper and equitation divisions, while Sean Reilly was trained at the Irish Army's school of equitation, which led to work with high-level jumpers and vaulting horses. After that, he shifted his focus to Thoroughbreds and worked for a Saudi prince's racing stable. Eventually, Reilly became assistant trainer for John Ward and was part of the team that won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos, who came within less than a second of Secretariat's record-winning time.

Reilly described the moment as one of his proudest in the horse business.  

"When that happens, and you see your horse coming, you can feel your heart beat, and nothing else before or since can duplicate that," he said. "It's the craziest few seconds of your life. Jumpers are very different. They're so diverse. It's not a singular hope like it was with Monarchos, and it's not the massive adrenaline build-up like it was with him. It's one hit: You either win the Derby or you don't. There's always next week with jumpers."

Reilly said he switched to jumpers shortly after the Derby, realizing that, as much as he loved the Thoroughbred business, he couldn't compete as a trainer without the necessary connections. He said his wide-ranging experience taught him the importance of good horsemanship and care of horses, whether racehorses or sporthorses, and he hopes that that helps set Punchestown apart from the many other boarding and training facilities in Lexington.  

"Whether it's teaching a kid a lesson or putting a horse in the Derby, it's teaching him to be the best he can be," said Reilly. "It's the care of the horses, not the job of the horses. It doesn't matter (what the discipline is), it's the same care and attention … Our customers get the benefit of all that experience."

And in a county peppered with similarly picturesque barns and well-qualified instructors, it's Punchestown's multifaceted approach that has helped it build its operation consistently since its foundation.  

"We aim to be different. Between Sarah's experience and mine, I like to think we've got everything covered," Reilly said.

Photo: Punchestown Stables owners Sean and Sarah Reilly.