Childhood friends defend skijoring title, training by strapping skateboards onto skis in Meath

Childhood Friends Defend Skijoring Title, Training By Strapping Skateboards Onto Skis In Meath
Barry O'Brien Lynch and Susan Oakes who are returning to Canada this week to defend their Skijoring title, which they won in 2020.
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Louise Walsh

Childhood friends who won a major skijoring event, despite only having a tractor and no snow to practice on are returning to defend their title this week - and have upped their training game by strapping skateboards to the end of skis.

Skijoring is North America's fastest growing winter sport and consists of a horse pulling a skier over obstacles through the snow at breakneck speeds of up to 65km per hour.


Total underdogs, Susan Oakes and her best friend Barry O'Brien Lynch, shocked the skijoring world when they became the first Irish team ever to win the prestigious feature 2.5 furlong sprint race in the Skijordue Festival in Calgary, Canada in 2020.

Barry was even dubbed the 'Tractor guy' by competitors who marvelled at how the duo had trained without any snow.

The win was even more impressive considering that accomplished horsewoman Susan was told by doctors in 2005 that she'd only have two years left of being able to ride a horse due to an autoimmune disease and that she made a remarkable recovery after a fall from a horse in 2016 left her with an acquired brain injury.

Skijoring is North America's fastest growing winter sport.

Now, the couple, who will also be the only European entry, are returning to defend their title this weekend in the first contest held since Covid-19 hit just weeks after they won in 2020

Back in 2020, Barry (43) laughed that he practiced his pace and balance being pulled on a kids sledge by a tractor over a roll of carpet.

He had never completed ski jumps before and Susan (39) had never been on horseback on snow.

They entered the competition after Susan, who holds a Guinness world record for the highest jump side-saddle at six foot, eight inches, met Skijor event organiser Sam Mitchell while competing in Canada


Sam then visited Ireland where she told Susan and Barry about Skijor while on a night out in their local pub in Navan, Co Meath and the two friends jumped at the chance to take part.

Susan will fly to Canada on Wednesday to get to know the horse she will be riding for Saturday's event and Barry will follow on Thursday.

The duo are training by strapping skateboards to the end of skis.

"I'll have a few days to make a connection with the horse and instill to him that he is the best horse there," said Susan


"There will be even more competition this year, with the number of teams increasing from 150 to 200, so we are really excited about it

"We've changed training tactics this year," she laughed. "We've moved from using a tractor and sledge over carpet to using one of my horses and pulling Barry who has tied skateboard onto a pair of skis

"We know we have to step up a little bit more this time, but I'm riding each day as well as cycling, so I'm probably the fittest that I've ever been.

"We will have five races to compete including the sprint, an obstacle race, a high jump event and an Alpine lounge race where we will sit on sofas and get pulled by two horses. Being friends with Barry since childhood means that we can read each other very well, so we make a great team.


"The last time we went over on just a wing and a prayer but now we know what we are up against so we are very focussed and on the ball this year."

Barry O'Brien Lynch and Susan Oakes who are returning to Canada this week to defend their Skijoring title, which they won in 2020.

Meanwhile, Barry who is practicing in Navan on skis tie-wrapped to skateboards, has been honing his skiing skills abroad by recently completing Austria's steepest slope, the Harakiri, with an incline of up to 78 per cent, vertical drop of 375 meters and a length of about 1500.

"Not in our wildest dreams did we think we would win the last time but when you are dealing with Susan, she is never there just to make up the numbers. She will give it her best shot, no matter what," he said.

"The other teams were very gracious in defeat the last time. I was known as 'Tractor guy' because they couldn't believe we had practiced with a tractor and no snow. We were very much a wow story over there

"After we won, there was a lot of head scratching going on. So I'd say there will be a target on our backs this year. They are going to do everything they can to beat us, but we are going to do everything we can to bring back the title for the second time to Ireland."

Skijor Canada formed as a volunteer organisation in 2017 in order to facilitate safe, consistent development of the sport on a national level with a goal of forming a race circuit culminating in a Canadian Championship event in Calgary.

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