Irish team member Paul O’Shea has been thinking a lot lately about his posting trot. 

“I post too high, and I look like I’m a beginner when I’m doing it,” says the World Equestrian Games veteran and head trainer for Eye Candy Jumpers in Wellington, FL. Affectionately known as “Coach” among Eye Candy aficionados, O’Shea and the 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding, Squirt Gun, recently led their squad to the top of the 1.55m Winning Round class at CSI5* MLSJ Vancouver at Thunderbird Show Park. 

“There are a lot of really good riders who are maybe not classical riders, but they’re still [brilliant]. But, of course, to try to do things as classically as possible [in your riding] has to be good,” continued O’Shea.

“[I’m trying] just to sit a little deeper, and not to post so high, and to try to think about that a little bit every day; [to] keep it at the front of my mind.”

As it turns out, O’Shea is a rider who pretty much always has self-improvement in the front of his mind. Though he claims to be a “very slow reader,” he’s rarely without a book on his nightstand, even when he’s on the road at horse shows.

Last year, he read Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within. Last week at tbird, it was James Clear’s Atomic Habits, a guide to building good habits and breaking bad ones. (According to O’Shea, that means posting a little lower, among other things.) Plenty of show jumpers spend their time sweating it out in the gym to improve their bodies. Far fewer are known for routinely working out their minds. 

But O’Shea has never shied away from hard work. After deciding he wanted to be a professional show jumper in his early teens, he began his career as a groom in Kildimo, in County Limerick. Over the years, he had the opportunity to work with such greats as Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Henri Prudent. But it wasn’t until pairing with his longtime partner, Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu, that O’Shea truly made his mark on the sport.

Aboard the KWPN gelding, O’Shea became a mainstay for the Irish Team, jumping double-clear at seven Nations Cups, and was part of the winning Irish home team in Dublin in 2019. That same year, O’Shea and “Machu” put in another top performance for the Irish at FEI Nations Cup Finals in Barcelona, helping the team to victory and themselves to an individual silver.

“I retired Machu Picchu this year, and he was an incredible horse for me; [he] really changed the course of my life,” he says.

O’Shea adds that he was fortunate he was able to keep Machu on his string for as long as he did, but says that any rider could have been successful with him—the gelding was that good. 

Modesty aside, it’s likely few could have produced and managed the horse to a five-star career that lasted eight years—a rare feat in the sport. He’d be the last to tell you, but O’Shea, who’s currently ranked 81st in the world, has climbed a total of 93 podiums in his career, according to Jumpr App, earning more than €2 million in prize money. 

When asked what he hopes his legacy as a rider will be, O’Shea is thoughtful. “I hope the main thing is just to try to produce the horses as well as possible, and to give them the best chance to be [successful at] whatever they are,” he says.

It’s a reputation O’Shea has already earned, even among more challenging mounts. (Squirt Gun, he admits, has spun him off four times, as recently as last month.) “I’m probably not, like, a natural born talent, you know? I’ve always had to work at it to try to make myself better. But I enjoy that [part of it] too.

“Small improvements every day, even tiny improvements every day, make a big difference over time.”