When asked, Kevin will tell you he is a rider. He lives for it. When he is not riding, or spending time with his family, he is reading or watching horse training DVDs from cowboys, show jumpers or dressage masters. Although, he has earned his place among them with accomplishments that include a team gold medal in the 2001 European Championships, over 30 appearances on Nations Cup teams representing Ireland, and placing 4th as an individual in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, he remains the forever student. In fact, Kevin hosts in-house clinics inviting many of show jumping's elite trainers such as Albert Voorn from the Netherlands and Capt. John Ledingham from Ireland, for the benefit of himself and his students. Yes, he is a rider first, but if you talk to any of his students they will tell you his expertise in riding is matched by his innate ability to train others.
During one particular lesson, standing alongside the outdoor ring you can hear Kevin saying…“Balance, it’s about balance and rhythm. Keep his balance up.” One rider is on course. As she turns toward a substantial oxer Kevin states… “Keep coming, keep coming….…Make him carry himself, and the distance will show itself.” As the horse approaches the fence he says… “Wait.....wait for it…,” to correct this particular student’s tendency to leave one stride out and leave the ground early.
As each rider takes their turn his instruction is tailored to their individual issues while they are unfolding. At the end of the course each student is told what went wrong and what went right. As a spectator you are amazed at the fine details Kevin observes about where the horse’s shoulders are, how the hip is not in line, and how the rider’s hands placement all comes together to affect the line of approach to the fence.
One at a time, each student jumps the course and hope that they have incorporated Kevin's instruction. These words are from a trainer who is a top International competitor who teaches from a vast depth of personal experience.
That experience started back in Ireland at the age of 11 when he took his first riding lesson. By his second lesson his instructor, Celine Kennedy, told his mother he was a natural, and so it began. Kevin was hooked on horses instantly and Celine gave him every opportunity to advance by taking him fox hunting, getting him involved in pony club and introducing him to point to point races. The youngest of 11 siblings, and the son of a wool merchant and politician, the family business was an Irish knit sweater store on the main street in Carrick en Suir, Co. Tipperary. Kevin laughs when he tells of how his father would drive his mother crazy and destroy carefully designed shop windows to display ribbons and trophies he won as a child in point to point races and in pony club events.
At the age of 17, Kevin finished school and left home to train with Irish show jumping veteran, Iris Kellet. There he earned his British Horse Society accreditation and solidified the basics he learned at Kennedy’s. In 1987, Kevin came to the United States to work for as a riding instructor at a Vermont summer camp. When summer ended he briefly worked for John and Beezie Madden in New York. Eventually, he took a full time riding position at Chado Farm, in Neshanic Station, N.J. Chado Farm is the home of U.S. Olympic veterans Frank and Mary Chapot. There Kevin gained invaluable mileage in the show ring riding young horses and sale horses. Kevin describes his years at the Chado Farm as his launching pad. It was while he was working there that he met his future wife, Dianna Flaherty, at a local horse show in Pennsylvania. Dianna was an amateur rider and became a student of Kevin’s soon after they met.
In 1990, Kevin left the Chapots. He and Dianna leased a barn in New Jersey and opened their own business. Selling fox hunters, teaching lessons, training and showing young horses, and jumper sales were the primary services. However, Kevin had his eye on a larger target; he wanted to compete at the grand prix level of show jumping. His first break came when a student, Anne Emmet, asked him to ride her horse First Aussie Hope at the Sussex County Horse Show Grand Prix. It was a taste of the future. From there he partnered with investors on a French horse named Tornado. Kevin rode Tornado to numerous victories such as the $75,000 Grand Prix of Roanoke, the $25,000 Sussex Grand Prix, and Several Grand Prix in Ocala, Florida during the winter circuits in the early 1990’s. Consistent ribbons and victories throughout the National Grand Prix League would earn Kevin recognition by established riders.
In 1994, Kevin jumped Tornado to obtain the NGL Horse of the Year award. An article about Kevin and Tornado prompted Saly Glassman, an amateur rider from Pennsylvania, to call Kevin for lessons and training. That relationship would be symbiotic and the one to catapult Kevin to International status. Kevin would mold Saly, and her daughter Janice Syphers, into successful amateur riders who are now competing at the high amateur and grand prix level, and Saly would make the purchase of Kevin’s lifetime, his Olympic partner, Carling King. In addition, Saly built Kindle Hill Farm to Kevin’s specifications to bring Kevin to Pennsylvania full time.
Initially, Saly bought Irish sport horse Carling King, for herself as a high amateur horse. When it became clear to her that Carling King was much more than an amateur jumper, she unselfishly relinquished the ride to Kevin so both could reach their full potential. In year 2000, Carling King and Kevin began their campaign to represent Ireland successfully throughout North America and Europe. Kevin’s first major International appearance on “King” was in Aachen, Germany, the biggest venue in Europe, where he jumped clear and four fault rounds for a Nations Cup team victory. That was the beginning of a career changing partnership between horse and rider. The pair went on to have a top International career with highlights that include appearances on 12 winning Nations Cup teams, back to back grand prix victories in Wellington, Florida, and capturing the King George Cup Grand Prix in Hickstead, England.
Kevin’s success on King is well documented, yet, he has ridden numerous other horses for Ireland which include: It’s Morado, Sydney, Caracus 49, and Souvenir. Kevin is also the Irish rider ambassador for Jump for a Just World International, a non-profit organization to help the developing world. The program runs projects to benefit under-privileged children. Kevin, and other rider ambassadors, from around the world donate a percentage of their prize money to the organization.
Presently, Kevin continues to search for his next Carling King and he is working on that with friend and client Barb Wall Roux from California. He is also fortunate enough to have extremely loyal and supportive clients who have formed a syndicate, Babington Jumpers. This syndicate buys and sells quality horses hoping that one will turn out to be very special.
Kevin’s professional focus remains on his riding and teaching serious jumper students. When he is not traveling to teach clinics or helping students at home and at shows he is putting time in at the gym, or spending time with his family. He and Dianna, who is now an attorney, have recently built a house adjacent to the farm and have expanded their family by 2 daughters and a pony. Gwyneth is 6-years-old, Marielle is 4-years-old and Luna, their small grey pony is just old, but is providing an introduction to horsemanship to the next generation of Babington riders.