Leaving Cert students have finally finished the state exams. Now they wait for results in August.

It can be an anxious time for many, and for Ivanna Dempsey, she was disappointed when she didn’t get her first preference of studying health and performance science. Instead she went off to study animal science. Things happen for a reason though, she encourages other students. That’s because recently Ivanna was announced as one of this year’s 12 Godolphin Flying Start trainees.

She will be embracing the opportunity to travel the world on a diploma scholarship just three months after finishing her degree.

Growing up surrounded by horses in Co Kildare, Ivanna had a love for the Thoroughbred industry from a young age, inspired by her mother Joan.

“She had racehorses at home and a riding school, which she continued herself. I did all the pony clubs and eventing before I started riding out horses in 2020 during COVID-19,” says Ivanna.

When it came to going to college, the horse racing enthusiast wasn’t 100% on the animal science course at UCD, especially after missing out on her first choice.

“The points were all over the place because of the pandemic. We didn’t sit the Leaving Cert exams so we had predicted grades. I did well in biology and ag science so it made sense to do the animal science course as I could specialise in equine. I knew it would benefit me either way as there are so many different paths you can go down,” she says.

For Ivanna, not getting her first preference worked out better in the end. “If I got the chance to go back and change it I wouldn’t. At the time, I was disappointed but it was the best thing I ever did, I wouldn’t be where I am now without it,” she says.

Like many other students, her first year of college was all online which resulted in her working part-time. Deciding to commute during the second year wasn’t an easy decision and it made it difficult for her to settle in.

“It was just awkward; you go up for your lectures and you have to go home early to avoid hitting the traffic. If you were going out, you always have to find somewhere to stay, I slept in the car a lot of the time,” Ivanna admits.

Making the decision to do less riding out allowed Ivanna to move up to Dublin in her third year. She got more involved and integrated into the college lifestyle and got to know her peers.

Placement in Kentucky

As part of her course, Ivanna had to do a 16 week placement, at a minimum. She decided to make the most of the opportunity and travel to Kentucky in America.

“Ross O’Sullivan the horse trainer who I ride out for put me in contact with the owner of Springhouse Stud Farm, Gabriel Duignan. He told me about the Gerry Dilger scholarship that was available to cover travel expenses, I applied for it and was successful,” says Ivanna.

The Gerry Dilger Equine Scholarship was established in memory of Gerry Dilger who died in 2020, by his family and closest friends. Gerry was a native of Co Clare and came to America at 19, to pursue his passion in the horse industry.

In 1994, he established Dromoland Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Over his lifetime, he took over 65 young people to America, helping them gain hands-on-experience, and sharing knowledge and skills.

“We ended up there for six months, I loved it. I was working every day foaling and doing the yearling prep. We got to work at the sales in New York; I also went to Nashville, the Kentucky Derby and the Saratoga races,” she says.

Ivanna Dempsey's professional work experience in Kentucky.

There were flat Thoroughbred mares and 24 fillies in the yard that Ivanna was working on. She woke up at 4am every morning to ride out two horses on the Keeneland race track before heading back to the farm to start work at 7am.

The biggest learning Ivanna brought back to her final year was the importance of working hard and taking every opportunity that came her way.

That’s why she applied for the Godolphin Flying Start diploma. This thoroughbred industry management and leadership programme is a two-year scholarship that includes fees, accommodation, transport, flights, visas and a monthly allowance.

Starting in August, she will travel to studs in Ireland, England, Kentucky, Australia and Dubai. She will be involved in the running of thoroughbred breeding and racing operations at each location and spend two years learning from the best horse handlers.

Ivanna wasn’t expecting to be awarded the scholarship as they normally take in graduates with more experience and she is fresh out of college.

Ivanna Dempsey's professional work experience in Kentucky.

“I thought you know what, I have nothing to lose. I may as well apply. I am so shocked that I got it. You get to meet and learn from some of the most experienced people in the industry and get a wide variety of oppurtunities from foaling and yearling prep to riding out. I cannot wait to travel and see how things are done differently (or the same!) in the places I am going to be visiting,” she says.

Brutal treatment of horses

The documentary RTÉ Investigate-Horses-Making a Killing which aired on 12 June showed horrifying scenes of brutal treatment of horses. Speaking about the programme, the equine student says it was an absolute disgrace.

“That’s just not the way the industry is at all. I am very much in the middle of it and that is not how horses are treated.

“It’s so upsetting because when I’m riding out, the thoughts of that horse having to be put down in that way is just so upsetting,” she says.

Ivanna hopes the equine abattoir featured is shut down and people are held accountable for it as the whole industry is sickened by it.

“It’s not a way they are treated. The men obviously don’t have any regard or respect for horses. I found it very hard to watch.

“For someone on the outside to see that is going to put an awful darkening on racehorses. It just looks horrendous and I know that,” she says.

In every place she has worked in, Ivanna says the horses are treated in the highest regard and she intends to continue to ensure that on her travels.

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