Ronnie Healy on the Cell C Derby

Ronnie Healy and Blue Turtle Atmore at the recent World Cup Qualifier

“I remember sitting at school and counting down the hours until I could go and ride. I wanted to compete at the top as well as overseas and nothing was going to stop me,” says Kyalami resident Ronnie Healy.

Watching the warm up

He’s determined and experienced, calm yet passionate. Owner of RH Equestrian Ronnie Healy says he welcomes the public with open arms come the Cell C SA Derby. “The horse loving public should come and watch us warm up before the big classes – I learnt so much from the warm up when I competed overseas. Also feel free to ask us questions – every top rider started at the bottom and it’s only through hard work and the accumulation of knowledge that we got to where we are today. My derby preparations have gone well so far: my horse is in very good form and has been jumping well so I’m excited for his first derby this year. In terms of the show, I have 3 horses this year, BlueTurtle Atmore for the big derby, Vix owned by Caryn Poppalados in the 1.35m who is a little cracker and Callaho Sancho in the 1.20m.”

Derby day

When asked how he preps his horses in the build-up to the show, Ronnie says he’s generally more focused on fitness as well as derby-type jumps. “My build up to the show focuses on fitness as well as training the derby jumps. It’s always the same derby jumps every year so it’s easy to know what to expect. Then the week before derby you are just ticking the horses over and not doing too much as they have a long week of jumping come show time. My top horse is a real character and I have a great bond with him: he loves derby and all he jumps, which might be because he is from Namibia and had to jump a few derby elements when he was young in the fields in Namibia in order to escape hungry leopards! I don’t think that I have a jump that scares me but the jump I think is the hardest to ride is the planks after the bank. After jumping off the top of a 3m bank you have two strides to jump a 1.50m vertical that is on flat cups, so it’s very delicate to jump. You really have to have lots of balance after the bank to land, control your balance and the balance of the horse and then enough power to get up and jump it. It causes lots of problems come derby day.”

Training

Increasing his cardio before derby is a must-do for Healy. “I do a lot of fitness and gym anyway but I definitely increase the cardio before derby: I would hate to let my horse down because I wasn’t fit enough. I find the question about nerves and my control of them an interesting one: I would say I hardly ever get nervous when I jump normal classes. I have jumped the SA derby 5 times; Hickstead in the UK four times and Hamburg in Germany once and I have been very nervous! What I can say is that as I’ve gotten older I’ve learnt to control the nerves and not let it tire me out and for me to stress about things I can’t control. Once I get on the horse and start to warm up all of that goes away and I focus on the job ahead. I love, love, love the crowds at derby:  It’s the biggest show, biggest crowds, biggest money and biggest sponsors this year being Cell C!!! I love this show!!!! Another reason I love this show is because anyone can win it but it’s generally a horse that’s jumped it a few times who can then help his rider to help him around the course.  My tip this year would be Dom Alexander: he is also my coach so we have to keep it in the team!”

Text: Caroline Malan of the PR Machine
Photography: TB Images