• Sophie Vard-Ryan Leopardstown Intern

    I was born and lived in Rathmines Dublin until I was eleven.  Shortly after, my parents made the big move to Enniskerry, County Wicklow where we rented a home on a livery yard. To me it was heaven and it didn’t take me long to persuade my parents to share a lease on a Connemara pony for me (one of many). I reckon it was probably the best investment they ever made. Horses make wonderful childhood companions. I spent every spare moment nurturing my passion and increasing my knowledge. My summers were spent competing for the Bray Pony Club and as I grew in experience I moved on to competing in Eventing Ireland.  

    Over the years I was fortunate enough to work alongside some of the best in the sport horse such as Taylor Vard and Melanie Wrynn amongst others. I learnt valuable life lessons that stand to me today and certainly after I worked with them I am under no illusion on just how tough the Horse sport industry is. 

    My first introduction to the horse racing industry was when I was 15 years old.  I completed a week’s trial at Race Academy. I found racehorses impressively intimidating (compared to sport horses they were breeds apart)!  After my weeks induction in Race Academy I was selected to complete a 12-month advanced training course at their Kildare base.  After much reflection and deliberation, I declined the offer. The trial was incredibly tough (pony club certainly did not prepare me for it) and although I knew I had the work ethic to complete the course something inside me said don’t do it! Ironically, three years later I found myself cantering around the gallops at Carrowkeel Stud under the watchful eye of Stephen McCarthy. Being a bit older, my eyes were opened and I regained and renewed a new respect for thoroughbreds and the industry that horse racing is. 

    I have just completed a four-year bachelor honours degree in Business and Entrepreneurship and an honours certificate in Sport Psychology in The Institute of Art, Design and Technology. I applied for the HRI Internship in the hope of pairing my love of horses with the business aspect of the thoroughbred industry, particularly in the areas of marketing and event planning. Horse Racing Ireland couldn’t have put me in a more suitable placement than Leopardstown Racecourse. The team have been exceptionally welcoming and helpful and I have already acquired knowledge in the area of the courses marketing and hospitality. 

    With the Bulmers Live series currently underway there is a great buzz and excitement in the office. It is action packed week-on-week and myself and John (my co-intern) never stop. I personally get a real kick out of the Thursday race meetings.   It is exceptionally rewarding to observe the success of an event and see all the hard work pay off. Typically prior to race days I work with Amy Jane Dunne in the marketing department developing media content across Leopardstown’s social media platforms, which varies from running competitions, informing the public on horse racing during the week and promoting the Bulmers Live series. Additionally I manage some of Leopardstown’s social media platforms on race evenings with live updates using Instagram, Twitter and Snap chat. Amy is a great mentor and I’ve really enjoyed working with her and the rest of the marketing department, I enjoy picking their brains and sharing concepts and new ideas. 

    Overall I am astonished by the amount of scope and encouragement Leopardstown and the team have given John and I to develop our own concepts and proposals. Its very gratifying, especially having just graduated to find myself working around like minded individuals who take you seriously, it’s something I didn’t expect!  Currently John and I are in preparing for our own event that is aimed towards urban/youthful race-goers.I have always had an interest in event planning and hospitality, so this is a fantastic opportunity to put into action all we have learnt and are learning.   An additional project that I am currently working on (alongside the marketing team) is some of the fashion content for Longines Irish Champions Weekend, again what an opportunity.

    I believe the secret to the success of Leopardstown racecourse is the team of individuals who are so dedicated to grow and develop the sport for future generations. It has been an absolute pleasure to work alongside the team here and more importantly it’s been great fun so far. 

    What I love about this industry is that it is forever growing and is never stagnant. There is constant change taking place and what a privilege it has been to be part of that growth. Finally, I take this opportunity to thank Horse Racing Ireland for giving me the chance to work alongside the team at Leopardstown this summer. I have no doubt that my future career has been given a great boost through this internship and I feel very humble and privileged.
    I can’t think of a better way to spend your youth than to spend it around horses