If Banbridge, Northern Ireland, seems an unlikely spot for a Canadian equestrian to cut her teeth in the international ring, think again. For one thing, this patch of green in County Down, approximately 35km from Belfast, is home to Irish show jumping team rider Dermott Lennon. Any emerging show jumper rider who trains with Lennon not only gets instruction from one of the world’s best, but also has access to the showgrounds of Europe – and that means exposure to some of the most difficult courses and competition.
And that’s perfect if your goal is a Team Canada berth. For 28-year-old Toronto-born Rebecca McGoldrick, that’s an ambition she’s keeping her sights on. If being far from home is what it takes, well that’s fine with her; after all, she’s been a globe-hopper since birth.
The reason her international bona fides are such a long list is due to her parentage. Her father is financier Mark McGoldrick, whose role in global finance required the family to move with him – wife Debbie, Rebecca, her sister Charlotte and brother Sam. This included a stint in Hong Kong where Rebecca got the riding bug. “I was about 11 when I started,” she explains. “My sister wanted to learn to ride and I didn’t want to be left out!” Riding lessons in China proceeded much the same as in Canada, starting on ponies then moving onto ex-racehorses. During these years in Hong Kong, Rebecca competed in show jumping and eventing.
Rebecca took a break from riding at the beginning of secondary school to focus on her studies, but picked it up again during her freshman year at Brown in Rhode Island, where they had an equestrian team. She received an undergraduate degree in business and economics from Brown and says her time at the storied campus helped prepare her for the dedication required in the sport. “I learned so much from the students around me, in addition to what I learned in the classroom. I learned to challenge all my beliefs and think about things in completely different ways,” she reflects. “I find that this mindset can be applied to everything – even how to think about different ways to ride a horse, or how to approach a competition. The focus and discipline required for my studies applies to the horses as well, but I find that to be an individual, and to challenge the status quo, is most important to me today, inside and outside the sport.” Education continues to be an important part of her life; she is currently getting her Masters in innovation and entrepreneurship from HEC Paris.
As for the Lennon connection, he came to Hong Kong to teach clinics and became friends with the McGoldricks. They remained in contact through the years, so when Rebecca finished her degree at Brown and decided to take up riding again, it was an easy choice to train with Lennon.
That was six years ago and Rebecca has embraced her life in Ireland. She doesn’t live on the farm, but in an apartment nearby – not that she’s at home all that often, with the horse show circuit in Europe keeping her travelling most of the time.
While such a demanding schedule and competition would be daunting for many young riders, Rebecca has thrived. She has accumulated 15 wins during her time overseas including at 4* Samorin and 3* Lummen. But ask her what her biggest achievement is so far and her response goes beyond finishing in the ribbons. “Getting to be on the [Nations Cup] squad in Gijón 5* last year.” she says. “And some of the biggest tracks I have taken on, even if I didn’t win.”
Rebecca’s hoping to return with the team to Gijón in 2018. But her long-term ambition ranks at the top of every young rider’s to-do list: the Olympics.
Does the expat ever see herself returning to North America? “I am not sure exactly where the future will take me,” she admits. “I would like to spend more time there and compete in Canada and the US.” Her parents have a hobby farm in Massachusetts that is home to chickens and goats as well as horses and dogs. Her mother is breeding two mares she owns and rides a gelding on the flat. As for her father, “He isn’t into horses himself, but he likes to watch me ride and feed the horses treats. All the horses kick the doors when he goes into the barn.”
Equestrian sports have their share of ups and downs, and Rebecca hasn’t been immune, but she credits her resilience as one of the keys to her success. “If I had given up each time a horse had an injury or we didn’t have a good show, I would not have gotten to Gijón last year with the team or won any of the classes that I have won,” she explains. “With the horses we have to take the positives from every round and never give up.
“I really like this quote from Michael Jordan: ‘I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games; 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’”