From Ireland to the United States, from the Olympics to private clinics, Kevin Babington is the quintessential professional. Throughout the past 30 years, the rider and trainer has methodically built a respected name for himself in his adopted homeland of Pennsylvania.
Kevin is best known for his partnership with the jumper Carling King, a horse that took him to the 2004 Athens Olympics and carried him to over 30 top ten finishes in grand prix classes around the world. He continues to compete at the top levels of the sport, with numerous grand prix wins and placings with Mark Q and Shorapur.
Kevin has also devoted a large part of his business to sales, where he likes to focus on buying and selling horses that he thinks will be ideal for the US market. He has several partners in Ireland, Germany, Great Britain and elsewhere, who are always keeping an eye out for suitable mounts. Though most horses are imported for immediate sale, Kevin also recognizes talent when he sees it, and will invest his time to develop horses further through training and competition before he markets them for sale. Kevin always has a strong inventory of sale horses suitable for both amateurs and professionals alike. It is through the sales business that he has found quite a few of his top mounts, where he has campaigned them to the point of great success and has found valuable investors to help acquire them for himself.
Background and Accomplishments
Kevin’s experience started back in Ireland at the age of 11 when he took his first riding lesson with Celine Kennedy. By his second lesson she told his mother he was a natural, and so it began. Hooked on horses instantly, 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 in 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.
But Kevin is much more than a competition rider; he’s a dedicated coach to his students and never stops seeking to improve his own depth of knowledge. Kevin is very good at sharing his expertise with his students, picking up on the finest details and effectively explaining his theories and mastery of the sport. Between coaching, hosting clinics and staying on the show circuit, Kevin is a busy but amiable trainer, and a favorite in the horse world. 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 keeping up with the international show jumping scene through live-broadcasts and footage from all over the world.
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 molded Saly, and her daughter Janice Syphers, into successful amateur riders. Saly is now competing at the high amateur and grand prix level. Saly eventually made 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.
In 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.
The Present and Future
Presently, Kevin continues to make his mark on the international circuit. Currently he is campaigning his horse Mark Q, who has won numerous grand prix and placed in the HITS $1 Million Grand Prix in the past 2 consecutive years.
He is also fortunate to be working with a great group of extremely loyal and supportive clients and owners, some of whom have formed a syndicate to purchase his next prospect, Shorapur, who has already proven herself in international competition with several victories in the 2014 season.
Kevin’s professional focus remains on his competition riding, sales business, and top-level jumper students. He has handed the beginning rider end of the business over to his wife, Dianna, who enjoys training kids and adult riders giving them the foundation they need to transition over to him. When he is not traveling to teach clinics or helping students at home and at shows he is spending time with Dianna and their two daughters.