They say teamwork makes the dream work, and Galway-based rider Sorcha North (35) embodies this phrase. Based just outside the village of Aughrim, Sorcha and her husband Mark are gradually building a string of top-class show jumpers, alongside breeding and producing both sports horses and thoroughbreds.

Sorcha’s father, John, and her mother, Shirley, have always been staunchly supportive. John is originally from Texas and he is a descendant of the famous Ringling Circus family. A rancher by trade, John moved to Ireland to run a farm bought by his father and his uncle. That farm, Northbrook, remains his family home. John was a successful amateur jockey, and his best results came aboard a mare called Polly Ringling, who went on to breed several winners for him.

Shirley grew up at Lisbeg Farm, just outside Ballinasloe. She was involved in showing and hunting for many years and was a master with the Galway Blazers for 13 seasons. Shirley’s sister Bill Bournes holds legendary status in Ireland as a very successful producer of show cobs, and their brother Richard Bournes is a well-known and highly regarded dealer and producer of top-quality show jumpers worldwide.

Sorcha and Mark at Limerick Racecourse on St Stephen’s Day, watching Sarah Beara run. \ Amy Malone

Head first

“Apparently, my earliest encounter with a horse was falling out of my baby sling into the straw and landing underneath one. I was literally dropped into horses head first,” says Sorcha, laughing. Toby the Shetland pony was the first to give Sorcha a taste of life in the saddle. A homebred carriage-driving pony succeeded him, out of a foster mare used to rear the last Polly Ringling foal. Sorcha enjoyed showing, hunting, working hunter classes and eventing, but it was show jumping that really caught her interest.

“When I was 11, Richard bought a skewbald pony called Indiana Jones. We started jumping, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I decided then that I wanted to be a show jumper.”

Sorcha progressed through the pony ranks, and then began the search for a suitable horse for the Young Rider division. She recalls seeing a grey gelding called Calliaghstown Cruiser (aka Sugar) at Richard’s Lisbeg yard. “He was hairy, and he didn’t look like much. No one said anything about him, and I thought no more of it. I ended up trying him a few months later, and I fell in love - we just clicked. I only had him for a short while, and I came home from our first show with a heap of rosettes.”

More was to come. “Mum said that if I ever qualified for Dublin, she would eat her hat. Sugar and I qualified for Dublin at the first time of asking, but I spared the hat. We came second that year in Dublin, and we qualified twice more afterwards. We did everything together. He jumped all the way up the grades.”


Sorcha met her future husband, Mark Byrne, many years ago at the Millstreet International Show. Mark hails from the Doyle show jumping dynasty and is an accomplished rider himself. In 2014, the couple founded the hugely successful company Equine Engineering, and they married in 2015. “Mark is unbelievable. I talk about horses non-stop, and I am sure I must drive him mad, but he is always so supportive.”

A few quiet years followed until a horse called Lord Archie was added to the team. “He has jumped from 80cm all the way to 1m 45 classes with me. He is sharp and opinionated, much like myself,” she says.

Subsequent trips to Europe with her uncle Richard proved fruitful. “My father told me that he had lived out some of his dreams and that he wanted to help me to live some of mine. We sourced two lovely horses in Belgium called Notaris and Nitor. We then found a horse called Monte Berlin, who I am very excited about. We have recently added a seven-year-old called Lenteslam VL and an eight-year-old called Aideu Piet to the string, so it is a very exciting time.”


Mark and Sorcha have also branched out into the thoroughbred world. “We have a six-year-old mare called Sarah Beara in training with Sam Curling. She is named after my late best friend, Sarah Malone, who tragically passed away when she was just 26. The mare has won and placed on the track, and has blacktype. We buy one or two foals a year and have a few in training and for the sales.”

Northbrook’s enviable equestrian facilities include an aqua treadmill and a new gallop, and it truly is a paradise for horses and humans alike.

“My parents have done so much to support me, and to develop Northbrook. I don’t know where this year will take me, but as long as the horses are happy, I will be happy.”