18-year-old Ali Keating invited VIP Magazine to Rowanstwon Stud, Co Kildare, to meet with her mum, her boyfriend – flat jockey Mikey Sheehy – and her beloved thoroughbred, Captain.
This focused and driven young woman who has just completed her Leaving Certificate has worked hard to qualify in what is her dream career. This equestrian world – a world away from what she grew up with – is her future, she says.
Having spent the day with her at the stables we are in no doubt that it’s a future Ali will see come to fruition, on her own terms, her own way…
Ali, thank you for inviting VIP to Rowanstown Stud to meet your boyfriend Mikey and your horse named Captain who you rode in the 2023 Dublin Horse Show. How hard was it to qualify and is there a lot of pressure on you now to do well?
Well, they want the best of the best to qualify for Dublin, so they make all of the qualifiers extremely difficult. I tried to qualify the same horse last year; I went to all four qualifiers and missed out. So, to get to qualify at the first one this year was just a dream come true. We totally weren’t expecting it after the Leaving Cert.
How did you manage to balance school studies, Ali, with this very all-encompassing career? Because it is full on.
My mam is a huge help. She stayed at home and worked with all the horses when I was at school, and then she’d have them ready for me to ride when I got home. When I was studying, she rode them out for me, and then when I was actually doing the Leaving Cert, we had someone to ride Captain so that he was kept busy while I was doing my exams.
You’re a very focused eighteen-year-old. Do you have big dreams for your future?
The ultimate goal is horses, to show jump and to sell show jumpers. Showjumping is a hard sort of thing to get into. I’m in the right place, and I have the right contacts, so hopefully, with hard work and determination, I might get there. But, as everyone says, you need to go to college, you need to get a degree, so that’s what I’m going to do in September. I’m going to go… fingers crossed… to Maynooth University and I’m going to study towards an Arts degree, but that’s a plan B for me– a backup!
So this equestrian love affair – which is also your Mam’s as well – when did it begin for you?
I think I sat on my first pony when I was five or six and got my first pony when I was twelve. Mam grew up in Kildare and was always surrounded by horses. Then, when she went to college at seventeen, she had to give them up and pretty much never sat on another horse again until I got my first pony. So, she had a bit of a break, but she always had a love for horses. She actually competed in the RDS herself when she was a teenager; she was in a small hunter class. We have a picture of her somewhere in the house… It’s lovely to bring a horse back there for her now.
The Dublin Horse Show was a special moment for both mum and daughter. What is it that you love so much about horses? Because it is also a dangerous sport…
What I love about the equestrian industry is that everyone is always trying to help everyone, and everyone wants to see everyone go far. You’re constantly getting and giving advice, and no matter what age, what gender you are, everyone is on an equal playing field. But it is definitely a dangerous sport. I had an accident there in 2018 and broke my arm. It gives you a shock to the system and Mam’s accident was obviously a massive shock for all of us, too. Mikey also broke his neck when he was 15….we’ve all have had our fair share!
Mikey broke his neck at 15 and is still riding today, brave…
Yeah, he broke his neck, and then a year later, he fractured his skull, but there was nothing stopping him. He is now a professional jockey after doing an apprenticeship with Joseph O’Brien. I don’t know what happens after you’ve had a knock, it’s like you forget about the pain and power through because of the love for horses.
Mikey stood alongside you today in your first VIP photoshoot, in which the focus was just on you. What did it feel like making your own mark, away from your family?
I love my family and I’m so grateful for everything that I’ve been brought up with and all the amazing people I’m surrounded by. But, the horses are something I’m going to try to do on my own. Iwanttomakeit,andIwantto doitinsuchawaythatIcansay I did it on my own. There’s a lot of negativity with people saying, “Oh, you’re only this because of so and so”, but, I want to stand on my own two feet and know that I put in the hard work and had the determination.
Did having a shared focus bring you and Mikey together?
Yes, we met through horses! Everyone kind of knows everyone in the equestrian industry, so we just got talking after he came back from Australia. Since we share that love of horses, we get to ride out together, and we both produce the horses together now and sell them. We’re always there to support each other; he goes to my shows, and I go to his races, so it’s a great love to have.
The life of a jockey can be very physically tough, especially with the pressure of making weight. Does it help Mikey that you have an appreciation?
The life of a jockey is not easy. Jockeys are some of the most hardworking people I know. Mikey is very focused, very driven, very headstrong. When he has a weight to make, he’ll do it. If he has to not eat for a day, if he has to go sweat a few pounds off, I’m always there to help him and we might go run together. Being surrounded by the right people is very important. It’s a world away from what your dad and siblings do.
We get the feeling that you kind of like that it’s so different from what you grew up with?
Definitely, we’re all very different, we all have our own things going on. But being able to watch everyone grow and find their own passions is lovely. That said, we all love the countryside, we all love animals, so you know, although the others enjoy the go-go-go, they still have a great understanding of what I love. Missy has her acting and Jack’s busy doing so much now… and he’s a Dad! We’re all so proud of him.
Yes, you’re an aunt, Ali!
I know, it’s amazing! Jack is taking everything so well. Because we already have two little siblings, Cooper and Coco, we’re all definitely able to change nappies! But yeah, Jack’s just been the most amazing Dad and we’re all so happy for him.
Missy and Jack both live away, do you miss them being around or, as the youngest, are you kind of used to being on your own?
I definitely miss them but the big age gap between us meant that Missy and Jack when they were younger, did a lot together. When they were in secondary school I was in primary. Even when we were living together, they weren’t home very much because they were in school, or studying or out with friends. Then when I got into horses, I wasn’t home a lot either because I was off at shows so it wasn’t a big shock when Missy and Jack moved over to London. But, it is always so lovely when they come back. We’re constantly in touch on FaceTime anyway giving each other the gossip!
We love your big blended family – there’s a motley crew of you! It must make life very colourful.
It’s the best this way, being surrounded by such a variety of people is amazing. Mum and John [Conroy] are together for… jeez, it must be nearly ten years now. And we meet great people through John and through Storm [Keating]. And then obviously Cooper and Coco [Ronan and Storm’s children] are just the most amazing little brother and sister; they will never fail to make you laugh. John has six kids too and they’re all amazing. We’ve all just learned so much from one another. When we’re all sitting around the table, there must be at least sixteen of us when you include girlfriends and boyfriends! It’s definitely a full dinner table and it’s hard to get a word in but, I wouldn’t have it any other way.