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Imagination, Innovation and Competition
Drive Devon Grand Prix Champion Kevin Babington
by Suzanne Bush - July 2011

BabingtonKevin Babington hopes his new ride, Mark Q, will become his first FEI horses since he retired Carling King, who finished fourth at the Athens Olympics, in 2007. He was off to a great start winning the $100,000 Grand Prix of Devon (above) with the nine year old Irish Sporthorse.

“I’m never bored,” Kevin Babington says, after scanning his calendar and reflecting on his crowded schedule of shows, teaching, travel between Europe and his home in Montgomery County, PA. The fact that he doesn’t have any time left in his schedule for something as mundane as boredom is beside the point. The winner of the $100,000 Grand Prix at Devon just weeks ago, Babington is excited about a number of opportunities and projects filling up the horizon.

For instance, the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London will capture the world’s attention a little more than a year from now. Babington is not a stranger to Olympic competition, and he says he’s thinking about what it would take to get there again. There are his students, with whom he travels to competitions near and far. There’s competition in Europe with the Irish Equestrian team this fall. There’s a new farm he’s recently purchased in Hamburg, PA, where a whole new venture is in development.

“If only we could live without phones,” he sighs as his phone rings again. He’s atop Mark Q, the horse he rode at Devon. It’s clear that the phone is an intrusion, but it is not an annoyance. It’s his virtual connection to the ventures that keep him busy, competitive and engaged.

A Very Special Horse
“I think like anybody else, I’d love to do the Olympics; but if it happens, it happens,” Babington says. Mark Q is the most likely Olympic mount for him. “Right now he’s the only horse I have with that potential.” Babington says that at 16 hands, Mark Q is not a terribly large horse, but he’s a careful and willing horse. His friend Richard Burns in Ireland bought the horse as a two-year-old. “Richard is a good horseman,” Babington says. “He produces horses for resale, and he’d love nothing more than to see Mark go on to be a good horse.” Now a nine-year-old with lots of competition under his girth and lots of ribbons and cash prizes to brag about, Mark Q has been a very good horse.

Babington was impressed with Mark Q right from the start. “I liked him but I did not have a customer for him. I started campaigning him in Florida, and we finished up with some very good results,” he says. Once back from Florida, Babington took Mark Q to New Jersey.

“It takes a very special horse to become a champion, though,” Babington says. And he’s eager to see just how special Mark Q might be. “The goal next year would be to do some big grand prix competitions in Florida, and if the horse is doing well, you would have a good indication” of Olympic potential. After that, it’s off to Europe for more competition, and possibly the FEI Super League.

A Life with Horses; a Love for Teaching
The event calendar that takes up almost the entire top of Babington’s desk is a testament to how much he enjoys both competing and teaching. Throughout June, he and several students were at shows in New York and Connecticut, as well as Devon and the Pennsylvania Jumper Association competition at Swan Lake Stables in Littlestown, PA. July will take them on the road again to HITS in Saugerties, NY, for two weeks. “We could have anywhere from ten to thirty horses,” he says, including those he’s showing and the ones his students are showing. “It really depends. At some shows we might have 15 in our own care, and then I meet other students who come on their own.” As hectic as it sounds, it’s not nearly as complicated as it gets in Florida. Babington says the venues are so spread out in Florida that the logistics of keeping up with all the students—as well as his own competitions—can be daunting.

While he has lost some students who have gone off to college or moved away, he always has new students. He says it’s usually a friend of a friend—someone with personal experience working with Kevin or his associates. “Business is good,” he says. And it will soon become even more exciting.

Going Green with Bedding
“I’m starting a new venture. I’ve bought a farm out in Hamburg,” Babington says. In July he’ll begin marketing a new product with the potential of changing the maintenance routines of horse farms throughout the country. “We’re doing a new bedding, a chopped straw, dust-extracted bedding,” he explains. For people who prefer straw bedding, Babington says this product, tentatively named “Green Bed,” will be easier to muck, and easier to transport. “We’re going to bag it like shavings. You lose less than ten percent; you muck it with a shavings fork.”

Necessity was the mother of this innovation, as Babington points to the changing laws in many states regarding nutrient management. In addition, he says he could never get the grooms around the farm to use shavings forks for mucking stalls. The result was a lot of wasted straw. “This makes a super compost and breaks down in anywhere from two to three months. Because of the way we process it, it is more absorbent, too.” He says that this will be an ideal bedding to take to horse shows, too, since it will be easier to keep clean.

Babington says they’ll be marketing the product via traditional advertising as well as through social media. And a little further down the road, he will be introducing a new line of horse feeds to the American market. He says he’s hoping to join forces with a feed company from England, and the feeds will be targeted to the kinds of work the horses do. He says that his frequent travels between Ireland and the US leave him a lot of time to think about innovation, and about ways to improve the daily care of horses.

The Irish Eyes Are Smiling
In recent weeks, one of Babington’s countrymen has joined the ranks of elite international competitors. Rory McElroy, a young golfer recently won the United States Open with jaw-dropping scores that left the announcers scrambling for new superlatives to attach to his performance. Babington was really impressed with McElroy’s presence and poise. And he’s proud that a fellow Irishman has done so well on the world stage. “We produce great golfers and great horses,” he says, then wonders why there are few great eventers from Ireland. That will come, he says. That will come.