Sara Louise Duffy Sparkles with Arvika Ligeonniere

Now owned and retrained by Sara Louise Duffy, Arvika Ligeonniere was with Willie Mullins and owned by Rich and Susannah Ricci. He is now 15yo and retired from racing at 9yo following injury.  

He raced 18 times, with 10 wins, 4 at Grade 1 level (2012 Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase in Fairyhouse, 2012 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown, 2013 Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown and the 2013 John Durkan Chase at Punchestown).  Amongst his other wins was the 2013 Grade 2 Clonmel Oil chase, the 2014 Grade 2 Boylesports Free Wifi Tied Cottage chase at Punchestown and winning his final race – the Grade 2 Normans Grove Chase at Fairyhouse in April 2014.

How long have you been involved in retraining racehorses?
I have had ex racehorses for the last 20 years.  I got my first one (Dino) when I was 13yo by accident really – I had outgrown my pony and a local trainer had an older point to point horse who was in the field and asked if we wanted him.  I sat on him straight from the field and took him home the same day.  He had soundness issues and hard ground affected him so he had the summers off and we did mainly Pony Club activities in the Winter and Spring.  While frustrating to not be able to compete over the summer months, he was an incredibly kind horse, who, despite his physical issues, tried his best to please in whatever we did which I loved about him.  Since then, I’ve been very lucky to have a few more (Assessed, Granny Vickie and Arvika Ligeonniere), all of whom have shown the same attributes, genuine nature, work ethic and willingness to please and try.
I’ll pick Arvika Ligeonniere as he is the most active and most recent. Assessed did Tattersalls International Horse trials twice, the British Riding Club Eventing Champs, Irish Riding Club eventing champs and top 10 in RoR Challenge championship at Royal Windsor horse show but I had him put to sleep a few years ago after having him 11 years.

When did you get him/her and how did it come about?

I picked him up from Closutton at the end of July 2014.  A friend (Julie Winters, who I got Assessed from after she collected him from Closutton when he retired) contacted me to let me know that there were some horses from Willie Mullins who were retiring from racing and looking for homes, one of which was Arvika Ligeonniere. I had been toying with the idea of looking for another one as Assessed was heading into retirement and I enjoy retraining them so the timing was right! I contacted Jackie Mullins and arranged to go and see him and the other horses that were looking for homes and picked him up a few days later.  A friend also collected one of the other horses I’d seen a few weeks after me and he has had 6 years of fun with his horse too.

How long did you have him before starting to compete?
As he retired from racing with a tendon injury, I had to finish his rehab.  He had done about 3 months of his rehab before I got him and was still on box rest and there was another 9 or 10 months to do before I considered his rehab completed.  I had him over 4 months before I sat on him (December 2014), did most of his exercise rehab work on Gormanstown beach and he did his 1st showing class in April 2015 at the NI Festival in Cavan.  The showing class suited as it was similar to the exercise rehab work he had been doing and it was a good chance to start to expose him to life after racing, with minimal physical pressure. He’s since gone on to event and did his first Eventing Ireland event in May 2016.

Can you briefly tell us about your initial retraining experience?
In Arvika’s case, his retraining started from the ground.  With several weeks of in hand walking to do as part of his rehab, I was able to start to get to know him, his quirks, get an idea of his attitude etc from the ground. When I first rode him, he’d been out of work for 8 months with his injury and at this point, his rehab work took priority over his retraining.  Towards the end of his exercise rehab work, as he got physically stronger and fitter and his tendon scans and check ups were positive I was able to focus more on his retraining work.  He took all of this in his stride which is testament to the horse and everyone in Closutton for how he was managed during his racing career.  

There was some one-sidedness, with a preference for going right handed, however, over time and as he got stronger this improved.  He had a tendency to get quite strong, which was something I had been told when I got him, so when I started him back jumping in September 2015, it was a process of working on his footwork over poles and different gymnastic jumping exercises, starting to introduce different types of fences and lines and approaches.  I kept all these exercises small as the aim was to start to familiarise him with a different type and different way of jumping.  I didn’t want to change his attitude when it came to jumping as that is a strong asset of his – I just wanted to adapt it so he could hopefully manage the questions on a XC course or a SJ course. 

As his physical strength increased on the flat and over fences, we were able gradually progress these exercises and increase the questions.  Before he started to event, I also worked on developing more “gears” in his canter and gallop – he went fast or very fast and there wasn’t much in between, so again, it was a case of adapting his mindset on this which became easier as he strengthened. I also did quite a lot of this work in open spaces (beach, fields etc, sometimes amongst cattle or the local deer that could pass through the fields) so he became accustomed to having to settle to a different style of cantering/galloping, using hills and different terrain to help develop his overall balance.

What is (as a team) your biggest achievement to date?
To have successfully rehabbed him back from his injury to lead an active and happy life after racing is the 1st achievement!  After that, to have been a champion in show ring (2015 ITM racehorse to riding horse Supreme champion), champion in the Working Hunter ring (2019 IHWT Racehorse Performance champion), attained Dressage Ireland points up to Elementary level and to have attained Eventing Ireland points at EI 110 level and completed Millstreet International event in 2018 (CCI2*S) and Tattersalls International Event in 2019 (CCI2*L) all rank equally as they show the progression over the years. To have him compete in “normal/mainstream” competitions, against non racehorses and be judged as an equal to them, epitomises his versatility which is my main aim with any I retrain and what I strive to achieve.

Does he/her have any funny habits or what is it you love most about him?
I love everything about him! He is particular about the apples he likes, with Pink Lady  being his favourite!  He doesn’t like to share his space or his people with other horses and pulls a lot of faces if this happens! His work ethic, his willingness to please, his enthusiasm and his intelligence are some of the qualities that make him the exceptional horse he is.

Have you any advice for someone looking to rehome an ex-racehorse?
Take someone you trust, if possible someone who has experience working with racehorses and ex-racehorses.  Ask questions of the trainer/stable staff to find out as much about the horse as you can. Listen to the horse – as with every horse, some are better suited to different disciplines.  Take the time to find the key to them and what suits them as this will mean you get the best of them.  Don’t assume that if they have been to the bigger racing festivals with electric atmospheres that they will be well used to big shows in their life after racing as they are very different scenario’s – some horses can find this adjustment difficult and need time and work and some “outside the box thinking” to acclimatise and settle in atmospheres outside of a racing environment. If they have a good attitude to work, don’t be afraid to use this as they usually thrive on this. 


Based in Co. Meath, Louise is an amateur rider/producer who, in conjunction with her mother, Mary Duffy, also breeds from two mares. Through the Pony Club Louise achieved the ‘A’ test, the highest award in the Pony Club exam structure. Over the past two decades Louise has had a particular interest in the retraining of ex-racehorses to progress to different careers after racing. Contact details for Louise:

+353 (0)86 8877680



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