I often wonder what it is that makes someone good at what they do. Hard work, dedication, intelligence and strong communication skills are obvious necessary traits, but when it relates to a horse trainer it's even harder to put a finger on it.
Recently I spent a morning filming with Aidan O’Brien, Ireland’s No. 1 racehorse trainer. It was in the lead-up to the Irish Derby, which he had won a record 10 times, and afterwards he added to that tally with yet another success.
The 44-year-old has been the champion trainer in Ireland for an incredible 16 years and quite possibly many more to come.
With 170 horses in his care, at his Ballydoyle stables in County Tipperary, he is a busy man.
With our interview scheduled in the middle of the morning, O’Brien was taking precious time out of his routine and it was not guaranteed that we would be afforded much time or that he would be in chatty mood.
As is often the case with important people, those around them are very protective, but as it turned out O’Brien was delightful. He patiently answered my questions and, in his modest, softly-spoken way, attributed much of his success to luck and those who support him.
I pushed my luck as the interview concluded and asked if we might join him in his jeep as his trained his third "lot" and he kindly obliged.
It was immediately evident that "multitasking" must be added to the above list of necessary traits, at least where a horse trainer is concerned, because he was on the phone (hands free,) thumbing through a catalog of horses for sale, watching his horses, talking to us and driving his jeep all at the same time.
What impressed us most, however, was how he went along the line of 50-plus riders on horseback issuing instructions on the number and the speed of the canters they were to do, addressing them all by name. “Two steadies Michael, two steadies Colm, one steady Anne, good girl, good girl."
Recognizing each individual horse, issuing instructions according to where it's at in its training and remembering the names of all the riders ... while driving the jeep and talking on the phone.
Who knows if remembering the names of your staff makes the horses run faster, but as we all know it's a good skill to have.
And I just read online that he is a member of the "Pioneer of Total Abstinence Association." That probably helps a bit too.