2017’s Most Fascinating Eventer – Selena O’Hanlon

Selena & Foxwood High


2017’s Most Fascinating Eventer – Selena O’Hanlon

After being named to the 2016 Canadian Olympic Team, Selena O’Hanlon was looking forward to competing in Brazil with Foxwood High (Woody), owned by Judy and John Rumble. In a controversial move during training camp, the Canadian selectors citing soundness issues removed the pair from the team. This decision still leaves many people scratching their heads.

Despite this career-gutting setback, Selena and Woody soldiered on while making selectors look stupid show after show. With talent and determination, they continued to deliver top results and ended 2017 with a historic win at the CCI3* Fair Hill International. For the first time in Fair Hill three-star  history, Canada’s national anthem played at the American National Championships as they were the first Canadian pair to win this coveted CCI3*. In addition, Foxwood High earned the USEA Advanced Horse of The Year adding another first to the history books as the only Canadian competed horse to win this honour.

Getting to the top levels of Eventing is only achieved by a small percentage of riders worldwide. Winning at the top levels is even rarer and very few Eventers will ever achieve this level of success. Selena O’Hanlon is a world-class rider and a Canadian treasure. She is 2017’s Most Fascinating Eventer.


Life learning with legends
Selena has lived her entire life around horses. Her mother, Morag, is also an accomplished horsewoman who has been a huge influence in Selena’s life. Morag modestly and proudly states. “I never achieved the levels that Selena has.” However, she too sports some impressive credentials competing at the Advanced level in Eventing, National Level in Show Jumping, Prix St George level in Dressage and has even won a British Side Saddle Championship. With a lifelong love of horses, training and coaching Morag has by chance and design immersed Selena in the horse world since she was born.

Selena remembers riding since she was seven. Her early riding years were spent at the Sagl Equestrian Center outside of Toronto and growing up she rode and trained with some of the best in the Canadian business.

“I grew up around amazing horse people during my 13 years there, including the Vince’s who are renowned hunter jumper riders. Erin Ballard and her family lived nearby. I would get the occasional show jumping lesson from her dad, which was amazing. There were racehorses and western horses at the farm so I got the opportunity to see everything.”

Selena explains, “I never did Pony Club or anything like that because I had such great experiences at my own farm. My mom trained horses and coached riders up to the level I, so through the years I was exposed to the information I needed for my levels and coaching.”

With pride and gratitude, Selena says, “I grew up rich in family but not in money. I was able to train with the best.”

The best indeed! In fact, she started getting clinics and lessons with the legendary Bruce Davidson when she was about 10 years old. Her mom was long-listed in 1992 for the Canadian team for the Barcelona Olympics. During this time, she would take her six-horse trailer to Pennsylvania with students to get lessons with Bruce. Selena was able to tag along. Bruce also made regular trips to their farm in Ontario to give clinics. Bruce stayed in their home during these visits and Selena was able to absorb rare knowledge from the USA’s Eventing living legend.

“I started riding when I was seven and I began with Western because I was not allowed to event until I was nine. I did western pleasure and trail riding but learned a lot. I know everyone says their first horse was the horse that taught them everything but my horse truly was a guardian angel. I did lots of terrible things all over the farm without my mother knowing. Like swimming with the horses and sledding behind them in the winter. Riding bareback whenever I could and just learning to be comfortable on a horse.”

“I likely took my first clinic with Bruce when I was around 10. I remember in my early clinics with Bruce, literally being in tears in the lineup waiting to do the gymnastics line that he had set up. They were so big and I was deathly afraid of jumping big jumps.”

“In fact, we have a video of me going straight down the line with Bruce saying just kick when you hear my voice, now, now. I am going down this grid and it is taller than me and the horse and my little legs are just barely below the flap just a kicking. Bruce certainly taught me bravery.”

Choosing a life with horses pays off
As Selena reached her late teens, she had to choose between continuing her education or continuing a career with horses. Morag decided that if she wanted a career with horses Selena would go and work for Bruce for a season. Selena remembers her mum saying, “He will either make you or break you. Then you will know if you truly want to do this because this is a hard way to make a living. You’re going to have to work really hard and love it to want it.”

This was a career-defining job and Selena recalls, “The truth is, he almost did break me but he also made me. He created this incredible bond and trust; he is a fountain of knowledge and very giving and has always been there for me. He has been a life coach on and off a horse.”

By all standards, Selena has built a solid riding career. She has competed for Canada at the:

  • 2008 Hong Kong Olympics
  • 2010 Kentucky World Equestrian Games as part of the silver-winning team
  • 2011 Guadalajara Pan Am Games
  • 2014 Normandy World Equestrian Games

In addition, she has competed at the CCI4* levels with top 20 placings and she has a few advanced level and three-star wins under her belt with multiple horses.

Moving on after Olympic selection debacle
In 2016, after being named to the Canadian Olympic team, Selena was later removed under a controversial decision surrounding the soundness of Foxwood High. Selena refuses to wade back into the details of this low moment in her life and rather she says, “If it had only happened to me, I can handle my own broken heart. It was very difficult watching it happen to Anne Marie, my long-term groom. The way it was dealt with was appalling. If I could do it over again, I would not have allowed Equestrian Canada, the coach and selectors make decisions about Woody. You think you know people and you don’t. Lessons learned!”

After her 2016 disappointments, Selena was determined to move on and just produce the results in the show ring. Selena has been working with Christilot Boylen in dressage and Jonathon Millar for show jumping. Her hard work is paying off with historical accomplishments in 2017.

History-making win
In recent years, since Morag and Selena’s business has grown, Morag has been unable to attend the Events as they have a big operation that needs to be managed in Ontario. With live streaming; Morag and the riders and staff are able to follow along. However, the biggest win of Selena’s career at Fair Hill did not have live streaming. Morag recalls following along the competition on Twitter reports. When the Tweet came through that the Colleen Rutledge knocked down a rail with none to spare, and Selena had won, there was a lot of screaming in the yard and running to spread the news.

Airfare debacle
However, despite winning the CCI3* Fair Hill International and thinking that they also won the advertised prize of a $20,000 horse airfare from Dutta Corp., the show organizers had to issue a correction as this prize was only available for the top placed American pair. Sadly, Selena and her owners John and Judy Rumble were already planning to use the prize to get to the 2018 Badminton Horse Trials. Once again, Selena and her team brushed off this set back with class despite the disappointment. The social media outrage was rampant, especially by Canadians. Luckily, the uproar and chatter made it’s way to Bastian Schroeder, founder of EquiJet. “When we learned about Selena’s predicament, we felt compelled to try and help her in any way that we could. It would be a shame to see John Rumble’s dream go unfulfilled, and we are happy to lend a hand.”

So 2018 plans for Selena and Woody are to compete at Badminton. This is great news for Canada that there will be a solid pair to represent the nation at the crown jewel of four-stars.

One FEI horse
So one would think that a rider in her early thirties with the career credentials like Selena would be at the high point of her career with a barn full of horses. Shockingly, the only FEI horse she competed last year was Foxwood High. At 15 years of age Woody is on the downside of his career despite recently delivering personal bests. Selena is excited about a 5-year-old prospect that has all the makings to be another Woody, but that is a gap that is unfathomable for Canada’s 2017 top ranking FEI rider.

Morag says, “Neither Selena or I are good at asking. That is the bottom line. We love when people come to us because we will bend over backwards to make it work and happen. Which is what happened with Colombo. He was sent to us to sell. We kept doing a little more and a little more until we got to keep him. Woody was sent to us to ride for one winter and then he was due to go back to his previous rider. Things changed with his rider and we got to keep him. The next year he was on the Canadian Eventing Pan Am team and went to Mexico. In both cases, we got the horses just by chance. Neither of those owners gave us the horses to ride. Colombo was meant for sale and Woody was just sent to us for a winter. In both case, Selena was able to show her skill and bring the horses on and that enabled her to get the rides. I am not sure that either one of us really knows how to get owners. But we are desperate for owners and horses.”

Advice for riding success
One thing Morag and Selena are good at is working as a mother-daughter duo that has managed to build a viable coaching business and produce an Olympian. What is the secret to raising a rider like Selena? Morag says, “Get very knowledgeable advice even if you have to pay through the nose for it before you buy your child a horse and get the right horse. Get professional advice from a third party to ensure that you do get the right horse. Consult with someone who is not earning a commission on the sale. Selena was never allowed to even get on a horse that was challenging until she was in her late teens and did Young Riders twice.”

For riders looking to make it the top, Selena adds this, “Practice treating your parents as your first owners. You need to treat them with respect, be appreciative and thankful. You want to be seen as someone who is appropriate for sponsorship. Don’t be that kid that throws your whip on the ground and has a fit when things don’t go well. Get practicing when you’re young being grateful because it will get intense as you go up the levels. You are always going to need some level of support.”

Join Selena’s team:
2018 Badminton support:
 Equijet’s generous offer only includes airfare to Europe. A fundraising campaign is underway to raise the additional funds to fly Woody home. To show your support for this history-making pair, invest in their success here:
Selena’s Badminton

Contact Selena for clinics, horse sales and ownership opportunities:

Scroll for more top stories on Eventing Connect