Irish and Australian accents are the most obvious and least important characteristics that make young pros Nicky Galligan and Paige Jardine stand out on the California jumping circuit.
There’s Nicky, barebacking his Grand Prix mare Javas Miss Jordan around the show grounds on off-days, icing her hooves after a big class, steaming her hay and otherwise personally pampering the “princess” he’s brought along since age 4.
There’s Paige, currently without her own horse, but getting some ring time while arranging trials for the two sales horses she and Nicky brought with them from New York in late October. She’s riding one of them, Edjin, to champion in a huge 1.3M division at the Desert International Horse Park in November. She’s icing legs, putting in and pulling out braids, packing and unpacking the trunks and truck that store all of these itinerate horsemen’s gear.
At West Palms Events’ recent Riders Cup show in Del Mar, Paige giddily grabbed a grooms gift bag from the office. “Everybody thinks I’m Nicky’s groom anyway!” she laughed.
Nicky, 29, and Paige, 26, don’t have a groom. They’re two people caring for three horses. It’s a fair fight so far thanks to upbringings that prepped them for long days of hard work traded for the privilege of pursuing their passion. After a handful of years working for others on the East Coast–Florida, Virginia and New York–the professional couple recently lit out for the Western territories hauling their horses and their hopes to become self-employed successes in a sport where that’s tough.
They’re both planners, so it was a leap of faith to cross the country without a firm itinerary beyond contesting the National Sunshine Series in Thermal and the Riders Cup in late November.
“I always want to know what the next 10 steps are, and Nicky is as much of a planner as I am,” says Paige. “What we’re doing now is very different than anything we’ve done before. We are comfortable with each other, each other’s and our horses’ abilities, our way with horses and our work ethic. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there is really not much in life that is secure and certain. Life is short and things can change very quickly.”
They have the emotional support of friends and family, most back in their home countries, but they don’t have big dollar backers funding their careers. New York-based Irish show jumper Colm McGuckian played a major role in encouraging their West adventure. He loaned them a rig for the trip, a sales horse, Edjin, to ride and sell and the much-appreciated moral support.
Mainly, its prize money and sales that foot the bills. “If we have a bad weekend, it’s not like we can say, ‘It’s OK, we have training fees coming in, and our expenses are paid’,” notes Paige. “At some point, you’ve got to win some prize money.” It’s a reality juxtaposed with their conviction that the horses’ welfare always comes first.
Nicky and Jordan boosted the balance sheet with a string of in-the-money finishes at HITS Saugerties in New York this summer. Winning the $30,000 EquiFit Grand Prix at the Desert International Horse Park their first week in California helped, too.
“The stalls the horses stay in are more important to us than the beds we sleep in,” Paige says. “We’re always going to do right by the horses, but it does probably put a bit more pressure on having to do well.” A firm philosophical barrier prevents that pressure from affecting horse management.
Pressure & Puzzles
“My path has been a bit different to others because I’ve always taken the responsibility for doing right by Jordan,” says Nicky. “She is a reflection of who I am as a horseman.” The Irish Sporthorse was the catalyst for his decision to make a go of a career in the U.S.
“At the end of the day I’m just a kid that fell in love with horses. I’m a cutthroat competitor, but I also identify when it’s right to push, or give a pat to my horse. It’s a constant puzzle between being a competitor and thinking of the longevity and well-being of your horse.” As Jordan’s owner, he’s gratefully the guy always making that call.
Nicky and Paige accept the pressure as necessary to transitioning to doing what they love for their own benefit. “We’d both gotten to a point in our careers where we weren’t getting any closer to what we really wanted to do because we were so busy doing those things for other people,” Paige explains.
“I’m a longterm person, rather than a quick fix or short term gain,” Nicky says. “I know that all the experience and hard knocks make us what we are today, but I’m looking for longer term opportunities where you could grow and really put down some roots.”
The couple’s plans are evolving on the fly. As of early December, an expected return to Florida for the Wellington winter circuit was nixed in favor of extending their California stay through the seven-week Desert Circuit in Thermal late January through March in 2021.
The horses are thriving in California’s weather and Nicky and Paige have high praise for the venues and organizers and the welcome they’ve received from fellow exhibitors. Getting a visit from DIHP ownership group leader Steve Hankin shortly after they pulled onto the property was a good indicator of things to come, Nicky shares. Another was the bottle of Prosecco dropped off by a new acquaintance after he and Jordan won the EquiFit Grand Prix. Ample space, good footing at clean, beautiful show grounds and places to exercise and school between classes are big draws.
Common Ground on Different Continents
Nicky and Paige both grew up in rural areas with little formal coaching: the toughest ponies and horses were their best teachers. While completely supportive now, Phil and Anne-Marie Galligan and Alex and Vicky Jardine tried to veer their kids off the professional horse path in the early days.
Both riders invested in back-up plans at their parents’ insistence: a business management degree for Nicky and a personal training certificate for Paige. Both were talent spotted by regional scouts, made the most of the resulting opportunities and multiplied them with hustle and heart.
Growing up at his family’s riding school and rental outfit, Rainbow Farm, in Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland, Nicky “learned to be a horse person rather than a competitor.” Fox hunting, hunt chasing and trail riding were the main riding styles. “Horses before humans” was the modus operandi. Grit, good balance and effectiveness were valued over a polished position.
Nicky figures he first rode the family’s Paint pony Tomahawk while still in diapers. “He was a big part of our growing up. He’d come in the house and eat birthday cake off the table. I remember one time we had seven friends sitting astride him, from his ears to his tail.”
The horse business bug bit Nicky early when his parents dictated that communion money be invested in a young pony when Nicky was about 12. “My sister and I both bought unbroken 3-year-old ponies and got them started and jumping. I bought mine for 300 Euros and sold him as a 5-year-old for 3,300 Euros. My sister actually lost money on hers and so she took a different path in life!”
Fox Hunting & Hunt Chasing
Nicky foxhunted “fanatically” and enjoyed the horses along with fast cars, Irish football and other sports considered more “manly.” Even in Ireland, “You get the ‘horses are for sissies’ name calling.'”
Hunt chasing led to horses becoming a more serious pursuit. This is a relay race over mirrored courses of natural obstacles on a grass field, with a hunt whip passed off between the two or four team members. Nicky followed his mom’s footsteps excelling in this sport and did so on a project horse brought to the Galligans to see if fox hunting would calm him down.
At 18, Nicky won the hunt chase at the prestigious Dublin Horse Show, catching the notice of an organizer who urged him to try speed derby. “I loved the sports I was already doing and I didn’t want to do it, but my mom pushed me. So we headed off to the other side of Ireland and I ended up winning the class,” Nicky relates. “I had no clue what I was doing. I took one stride in a two-stride double, intentionally. I remember getting a text from someone involved in selecting the Irish pony teams saying that I’d turned a few noses out of joint.”
The win earned Nicky a spot in intense training sessions with Norwegian horseman JH Storm. The instructor had evented at top levels and drilled military style horsemanship basics. “You’d learn as much watching somebody else’s riding lesson as you did in your own,” Nicky says. “Up until then, I’d only been taught by my mom. It was the first time I’d had some proper coaching and training. It completely changed my whole thought process and really captured me.”
The experience led him to eventing and to spending time riding, competing and learning everything possible in Europe, including dressage study at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. “I got this feeling for the upper-level movements and an understanding of how the horse’s body works.”
That all laid the foundation for going professional at his family’s farm, developing, competing, buying and selling horses.
Sired by Luidam out of an OBOS Quality mare, Jordan came to Nicky from breeder Judy Murphy as a 4-year-old. He wasn’t impressed initially and tried to sell her as an eventer. Then one day while competing in a 1M class “she just started jumping the top of the standards, jumping like a freak.”
He determined that “Jordan was quite special and a horse who I could chase a career with, or sell and buy a home and settle down in Ireland.” He opted for the former and made a second trip to the States, where his first substantial foothold was three-and-a-half years riding for Hyperion Stud in Virginia.
Meanwhile, Jordan spent her 5-year-old year in a grass pasture at home in Ireland. She joined Nicky in the States the following year, competing occasionally as time and funds allowed while Nicky rode 15-16 youngsters daily at Hyperion. Nicky’s gifts developing young horses served him well through his early U.S. years. Kristin Vanderveen’s Bull Run Prince Of Peace and Lauren Hough’s Gemino are two current Grand Prix stars he helped develop.
After coming to America in late 2018, Jordan began making her mark a year later with good placings in 3* Grands Prix at Tyron, then winning FEI classes at Tryon and Aiken. COVID paused their show progression until last summer when they resumed in top form with the string of top finishes at HITS Saugerties.
“For sure there’s been some bumps in the road,” Nicky says of his life working for others. That includes fleeting indecision about staying in the States and the ups and downs of going from show to show, always a continent away from family and home. In hindsight, it’s all brought him to where he is now: committed to developing, training and managing horses his way and for his own benefit, a priority he shares with Paige.
Paige’s horsey heritage traces back to harness racing horses owned by her family. She grew up in Mildura, in Northwest Victoria, Australia. The rural area is far from Sydney and farther from formal riding instruction. Starting with a Shetland, a succession of “trickier, harder and harder” ponies were her first mounts. Many were galloped through the drought-stricken neighborhood golf course while her dad played golf with his friends. Of one pivotal pony, Paige recalls, “I think my dad bought her to steer me away from horses because she was an absolute horror. She’d bolt home. She’d bite you.
Her dad’s plan didn’t work.
At 10, Paige started Pony Club of Australia, moved onto horses and into the range of disciplines that was normal for kids in the area. “I think I even went to a rodeo and did barrel racing on the same pony I evented with,” she remembers. “You just kind of did whatever you could to fuel the fire.”
Tagging along with a friend focused on show jumping, Paige became solidly set on that path by her mid-teens, still mostly without formal instructions. “If I fell off, I figured out not to do that again.”
Around age 15, she was approached at a show by Gareth Herron. “He said he’d been watching me ride, liked the way I rode and took care of my horses and that I was a good kid who needed an opportunity.” The opportunity was the thoroughbred, Terrific, Herron’s retired-racehorse and former World Cup jumping partner. He lived up to his name for Paige.
They clicked immediately and were selected by Equestrian Victoria as part of the State Squad, which Paige represented from 2009 to 2014. The team designation included free coaching weekends, lectures, personal training, etc… Paige hadn’t been aware previously that such formal support existed.
Hendrix & Hectic
Her ascent to the next level of the sport came with Hendrix, an investment horse her father purchased as a 4-year-old and she developed through to Grand Prix. With him she was named Young Rider of the Year in 2011, an honor reflecting riding abilities, horsemanship and potential as an ambassador for the Australian equestrian industry worldwide.
At 9, Hendrix was lost to a severe colic. Devastated, Paige quit riding for a few months. “He was my first real love and we’d been through so much together.” An unexpected delivery drew her out of depression. “A horse transport turned up at our farm, and when the horse walked down the tailgate, I knew exactly who it was.”
As a surprise, her folks had purchased Hendrix’ full brother, Hectic, and her spirits soared. So did her career with Hectic. He was another horse she produced from a youngster up through the Grand Prix ranks, earning a few national titles along the way. Hectic was sold to a new home in Singapore, a familiar spot, along with Japan, for horses brought to prominence in Australia.
Throughout her years on the Victoria State Squad, Paige augmented her self-guided advancement with coaching from Australian Olympian Jamie Coman and Victorian State Coach, Paul Williams. In 2015, she cold-called Australian rider Amy Graham at Amy’s base in France. That landed a working student role and experience on the European circuit for the best part of the year.
“In Australia, you can jump around to a substantial standard, but at the time I left, it couldn’t provide the income to pursue a career. It was quite normal to go outside the country to stay working in the sport.”
Paige had left at home a Selle Francais mare she describes as her toughest challenge so far, Champion Du Monde, a half-sister to Hendrix and Hectic.
“Everything about her was hard. I had to get on her in the stable, because otherwise she would never stand still long enough for me to get in the saddle. She took a really long time to produce into something I could ride and sustain success on.
“My dad loved seeing me suffer and work hard for things, and I actually think he was kind of rubbing his hands together, knowing I had finally met my match,” she continues. During her year in France, Paige returned to Australia to jump Champion Du Monde at a few shows. “It was a bit rough and I didn’t know any better, but she loved her job and kept herself fit when I was away.”
Alex Jardine was happily wrong about who would conquer who in this partnership. In 2018, he flew the mare to America, where Paige was two years into making her way in the equestrian sport capital of North America. Champion du Monde took Paige around her first night class Grand Prix, then was sold to a young girl learning the ropes.
Freaking Out Internally
Paige’s American odyssey started with landing a job with Peter Leone at Lionshare Farm thanks to a call from her former coach Paul Williams’ son Matt Williams. It was 2016, Paige was 21 and had never been to the States.
“I flew into Miami, Matt drove me to Peter’s for the interview and that day I was hired to manage his 30 horses at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington. I was kind of thrown into the deep end,” she remembers. “I freaked out, but I’m very good at freaking out internally. I’d never imagined there were places like Wellington, that those kinds of horses and barns were real. Eventually, everything I saw there assured me you could make a successful living in the horse industry.”
Paige groomed, managed, and rode for a few different programs before landing the management role with Irish rider Jonathan Corrigan’s stable in North Salem, New York, where she stayed for two years. During that time, she usually had a horse or two of her own in the ring, developing it for sales and moving on to another. The most recent was A Toute Vitesse. He came to Paige in 2018 with some challenges that she addressed by going backwards to review training fundamentals, then bringing him back up, eventually to 4* Grand Prix successes. “He was a very special horse,” she says of A Toute Vitesse, who was sold earlier this year.
A Team Of Two
For both Nicky and Paige, a history of turning the toughest horses into winners and good investments translated to bringing out the best in young horses and has given them confidence to take on the industry on their terms.
“Once I figure out what I need to do to keep everybody happy, I push harder to make it happen a little better,” Paige explains of her approach to every previous position. “Whether it was sweeping the barn aisle, clipping, scheduling shows, I always tried to improve on it. I’m not short of talent or work ethic, just short of horse power and an opportunity to do something with it.”
They are their own team: walking courses, setting schooling jumps, handling all their horses’ care from sun-up to sun-down and often beyond. Being far from family may be the toughest part of their chosen path, but “there’s nothing in this sport that isn’t hard,” Paige notes.
“This decision to go out on our own is purely because we were brave enough to grab the bull by the horns,” she continues. “It’s very rare to have what we have: someone that you are comfortable enough with to spend three days in a truck trekking across the country; do all the work together and still get along as well as we do.”
“We are figuring it out day to day,” Nicky concludes. “We are two people who absolutely love what we’re doing and are willing to work hard to achieve our goals.”