Carol and Francis – Fernhill brand dominates Rolex field – Eventing Super Couple series

Francis Derwin and Carol Gee the couple behind the famous Fernhill brand

Fernhill is a name synonymous with the sport of Eventing, just like Charles Owen, Point Two, CWD and other top brands.

The name seems to be ubiquitous when it comes to the upper level of the sport. However, it’s the rapid rise and powerful impact Fernhill Sport Horses have had on Eventing that has more than captured the world’s imagination. This weekend at Rolex Kentucky there are four Fernhill horses competing at the four-star level:

  • Fernhill Cubalawn with Phillip Dutton
  • Fernhill by Night with Liz Halliday-Sharp
  • Fernhill Flutter with Kevin Keane


Fernhill Fugitive with Phillip Dutton at the first horse inspection and is currently in 5th place with a 47.3 after dressage with more dressage tests to come today

Eventing super couple Carol Gee and Francis Derwin have altered the landscape in the sport by producing many of the best Eventing prospects. The couple possesses all the right qualities and attributes for succeeding at the top level. An ambitious pair, they envisioned a successful operation. But they did their due diligence in terms of laying a good foundation, directed their efforts toward achieving optimal results and building a program that would resonate globally.

“My whole plan was to try and make a brand of sport horse that would be world renowned,” said Carol. “When you’re starting, it’s quite tricky because the quality is extremely important. You also have to make sure you’re matching the right horse to the right person. This is what I had hoped would happen, that Fernhill would become a household name. One that would be recognized worldwide, but of course that takes a lot of work.”

Fernhill has made a rapid ascent from its nascent stages to a program that is respected globally, in only 12 years time. Horses that carry the Fernhill name can be found in almost every global jurisdiction. The operation has sold thousands of horses. If there’s strength in numbers, the sheer volume sold by Fernhill is staggering, averaging nearly four horses sold per week, said Carol.

Francis and Carol are natives of the Emerald Isle, and the Fernhill Sport Horse Centre is based in Kilkenny, Ireland. At first they concentrated in offering Irish-bred horses to their clientele, but as their operation expanded and their business grew, they found themselves offering horses bred in other countries, said Carol.

Expanding their offerings
“When we first started out, we sold purely Irish, but as more people have come to me to buy horses, it’s more difficult to source to the numbers in Ireland, especially when I want the quality,” said Carol. “And so, I’ve branched out and now I source horses in Europe, Holland, Germany and….sometimes Belgium.”

It was Carol who found Fernhill Urco, a horse Mary King placed second with at Rolex Kentucky in 2011, in Portugal.

Fernhill uses an established network of connections, much like scouts in other professional sports, who are based in different countries, and will call Carol, when they’ve identified a suitable prospect. Carol will also make sojourns into Europe, when there is sufficient depth to justify a trip. Fernhill has two spotters in The Netherlands, one in Germany and another in Belgium. Fernhill takes great satisfaction when a horse that they’ve sold has gone onto accomplish great things.

Buying process made easy for riders all over the world
Horsemen from North and South America are welcome to visit Fernhill Sporting Horse Centre. Carol suggests that interested parties should contact the facility to facilitate arrangements. Prospective buyers should travel with their trainer, so those at Fernhill will be able to communicate with the trainer to find the horse that is most suitable for their client.

If a prospective client is unable to travel with their trainer, Carol suggests the horseman send a video and photographs, so Fernhill can better evaluate what horse may be most suitable for the rider. Fernhill also assesses the rider by looking at what events they’ve competed in, their results and what phase they may be weakest in. That allows Fernhill to find a horse that may compliment the rider by improving their performance in a particular discipline.

Prospective clients have the option of flying to Ireland, meeting Carol at the airport and driving back to Kilkenny. The ride from the airport provides Fernhill with an opportunity to get better acquainted with the customer. It’s not out of the ordinary for the visiting horseman to request their own vehicle on arrival at the airport, so they can do some sightseeing, she said.

Carol has a small cottage on site adding to the Fernhill experience. Those clients who do choose to stay at the facility, have the opportunity to interact with the staff and enjoy a barbecue or stew, depending on the weather. Fernhill’s vast clientele includes amateurs and professionals.

“We try and make the whole experience a bit of fun,” said Carol. “It’s not just buying a horse. I live in Kilkenny, which is a fabulous medieval city, so there’s a lot to see. The Americans love it. They love the history and tracing their roots. There’s a brewery, theater, fantastic pubs and restaurants. There’s more to do than just looking for a horse. A number of the professionals will fly in for the day, try horses and then fly home.”

Horses for every budget and level of rider
However, the fact that Fernhill Sport Horses doesn’t limit itself as far as offering horses to sell to all levels of riders, has helped to increase the operation’s global exposure and appeal. An amateur, junior or an Olympic level rider can rest assured that the horse they purchase, will have those attributes that have come to be associated with the Fernhill name.

“We cater to everybody,” said Carol. “I have riders at home of every level. So, we always have horses of different standards, levels and potential.”

Prospective clients from North America should be prepared for the cost involved with the Fernhill experience, the flight to Ireland, a veterinary examination, other expenses and the price of the horse. The expense of the entire package may start at about $30,000.

“To get the kind of quality that’s worth importing, I think you would have to start around $15,000 Euro (about $16,234 U.S. dollars),” said Carol.

The Fernhill name might even be more prominent, if all the owners who had purchased horses from the operation had decided to keep the Fernhill prefix, said Carol. Fernhill has to pay to register the name of their horses if they are going to compete in the Olympic Games. The FEI deducts the fee from those operations that register more than five horses a year.

It’s frustrating for Francis and Carol, who’ve poured their heart and souls into the business, to build a reputation and create a highly recognized brand.

The United States isn’t the only nation Fernhill does a large volume of business with. Some of their best clients are based in Italy.

“I love the Italians and their Latin passion,” said Carol. “I have good connections in Italy, They’re good people to deal with.”

Fernhill Sport Horses primary emphasis is on Eventing horses. However, they did have two horses competing on the dressage tour in Wellington, Florida.

“One was ridden by Silva Martin, Boyd’s wife,” said Carol. “The horse is a six-year-old. He’s young and starting out. The other is ridden by Virginia Leary, who is doing the Grand Prix tour. He’s a horse I sold to Virginia, maybe 12 years ago. She’s taken him to Grand Prix. But primarily I sell Event horses.”

However, there are those horses that are better suited for other disciplines. Francis is now selling a lot of hunters, fox hunters and show jumpers.

“We never try and fit a square peg into a round hole,” said Carol.

Carol and Francis unplugged
Francis and Carol Gee have officially been a couple for the past 3 ½ years, but have been friends for much longer.  The two had done business previously, but their relationship has now taken on a different dynamic.

Where did you meet?
Carol:
In the past, we were friend but never got together romantically. The current state of our relationship just developed. We get on great. We are the best of friends. There’s nobody in the world I would rather go places with. We laugh a lot which I think is good therapy.

Where was your first date?
Francis:
I asked Carol out. We went fox hunting on New Year’s Day.
Carol: I had a great day. We had a few drinks in the pub afterwards. It was New Year’s Day, so there was a party atmosphere.

Carol, what’s the best gift you have received from Francis?
Carol: It was the most practical gift. It was for my birthday. He bought me a fantastic down-filled long coat, which in our country is very useful. It’s gorgeous. It’s an Italian coat. It’s really useful with the Irish winters. We’d been on tour with the pony show jumping in Holland and Belgium in November, and it had been quite cold.

Francis, what’s the best gift you have received from Carol?
Francis:
Maybe a bit less practical than a coat but a Rolex watch.

Where’s the most romantic place you guys have been?
Carol: I bring my horses to Portugal in what we call the Sunshine Tour. For the winter, everybody moves south in this country to go Eventing. The first year we were together, Francis came over and back a few times, and became quite fond of Portugal. The capital of Portugal is Lisbon, it’s beautiful and romantic and the climate is very warm. Lisbon is our favorite place to visit.

 

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