Flying the flag - Army Equitation School turns 90
Siobhán English traces the history of the Army Equitation School which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year
For the past 90 years Army riders have flown the Irish flag with great pride, competing at the highest level across the globe in both eventing and show jumping.
Captain Con Power (Rockbarton), Commandant John Ledingham (Kilbaha) and the late Captain David Foster (Inis Meain) will forever be remembered as household names of the 1970s and 1980s, while more recently we have also seen Commandant Gerry Flynn, and Captains David O'Brien and Geoff Curran achieve great success with such stars as Mo Chroí, Rincoola Abu and Kilkishen.
While much has changed in equestrian sport since the 1920s, their objective has never faltered. To this day the Army Equitation School continues to promote the Irish-bred horse at the highest level on the world stage.
The decision to form an Army show jumping team in 1926 was at the time seen as a brave initiative by such influential men as W.E. Wylie, then an executive member of the RDS agricultural committee, Colonel Hogan (Quartermaster General), and the then head of the new Free State, President William T. Cosgrave. However, over time it proved to be not only a wise move in terms of horse promotion, but to also advertise the newly-formed Free State in cities around the world.
In keeping with the rules at the time which allowed only Army riders to compete in the Nations Cup, introduced in London in 1908, Ireland fielded its first team at the Dublin Horse Show in August, 1926. First to line out against teams from Switzerland, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Holland were Lt-Cols Ged O'Dwyer (Oisin), Cyril Harty (Cuchulainn) and Dan Corry on Finghin.
Commenting on their lack of experience in the sport of show jumping at the time, O'Dwyer was noted saying: "We were all hunting and racing men and knew nothing about show jumping." Despite this they finished a creditable second to Switzerland on their debut.
That same year the fledgling Army Equitation School took up residence in the old Cavalry Riding School at Marlborough Barracks, later named McKee Barracks, where it remains today.
The appointment of Colonel Paul Rodzianko (pictured right) as chef d'equipe in 1928 marked a major step forward for these Army riders and that August the same trio won their first Aga Khan Trophy at the RDS.