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Sunday 20 August 2017

Mane events of 2016 - the equestrian highlights

Siobhán English reviews the equestrian highlights of last year

Brian Murphy and Fort Knox on their lap of honour after winning the hunter championship at the Dublin Horse Show in July
Brian Murphy and Fort Knox on their lap of honour after winning the hunter championship at the Dublin Horse Show in July
Greg Broderick with MHS Going Global in Rio

As we embrace the New Year, we take a look back at some notable moments in the world of Irish equestrian sport in 2016.

Stallion inspections

Are they on or are they off? That was the question on many people's lips as Horse Sport Ireland debated whether or not to go ahead with the annual spring inspections for sport horse sires.

Held in Cavan in March/April of each year, they are a crucial component in Irish breeding, but the debacle over the structure of the inspections this time round left many stallion owners bewildered and frustrated ahead of the 2016 breeding season.

A decision had been made some months earlier to cancel the inspections for 2016, but HSI then did a sudden U-turn and stallion owners were invited to take part in mid-April.

For some, however, it was too little too late and a handful of owners had already made the decision to put their Irish Draughts forward through the UK system.

It proved to be a successful venture for three owners, whose horses Castleview Inisfree Farmer, Goldsmithcountry Oliver, Cappa Amadeus and Cappa Emperor all passed with flying colours.

At home, the horses that met full approval here were named as Carrigfada Troy (ID), Cloncastle Silver Squire (ID), Cloneyhea Spellbound (ID), Killountain Cross (ID), Kilmovee White Hero (ID), Knockaleery Dancer (ID), Moylough Legacy (ID), Zeus Of The Blues (ID), Billy Stirling (AES), DS Are You With Me (HOLST), Rising Sun (ISH) (TIH), Z Seven Camelot (ISH), FTS Elliot (KWPN), Machnus D'Hyrencourt (ZANG), Avalon 224 (HOLST), Udancer Hero (KWPN) and Let The Lion Roar (TB).


Army birthday

There were great celebrations in June as the Irish Army Equitation School celebrated its 90th anniversary.

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 showjumping. 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 80s, 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.

Dublin Horse Show

Only once before had the Dublin Horse Show switched dates to facilitate the Olympic Games, and the move from its usual spot in early August to mid-July this year was again embraced by all. Bumper crowds attended the show over the course of the five days, during which there were some memorable wins for Irish riders.

In the show rings, the Croker Cup was a notable absentee, but the Irish Draught stallion class attracted great attention and a worthy winner in Carrabawn Cross. Owned by PJ Fitzpatrick, the eight-year-old had denied the Cappa Stud from completing back-to-back wins by standing at the top of the line ahead of their young horse Cappa Amadeus.

Even more special was the win of the full Irish Draught Fort Knox in the supreme hunter championship on the Saturday morning. Ridden by Brian Murphy for owner Pat Loughlin, the liver chestnut gelding was sold soon afterwards to Holland to pursue a career in the hunting field.

Olympics

Not for the first time, Ireland failed to qualify a showjumping team for the Games and the decision to send Irish individual Greg Broderick sadly left many people reeling.

It proved to be a tense few weeks as the Tipperary rider geared up for his debut in Rio with MHS Going Global and when the pair were unable to produce a top result, opinions were once again divided.

However, all was not lost and the performance from the young horse was admirable, so much so, it gathered the attention of many prospective buyers, one of whom secured the 10-year-old later in the year.

There was also disappointment for the Irish eventing team, but Jonty Evans completed a wonderful top 10 result with the Irish Sport Horse Cooley Rorkes Drift.Judy Reynolds made history by becoming the first Irish dressage rider to qualify for the Freestyle with Vancouver K. Despite not finishing in the main group, the pair more than justified their place in Brazil.

Such was their consistency all year, by late December, they were topping the FEI World Cup Dressage Western European League.

For Nick Skelton, Rio provided the veteran with his first ever individual medal on Big Star. The 'golden' win was, without doubt, the highlight of the Games for the entire equestrian community across the globe.

Medal haul

History was made in Cork in July when the Irish young rider team claimed its first ever gold medal at the European Showjumping Championships in Millstreet.

After a tough afternoon of competition, the quartet of Michael Duffy (Felix), Matt Garrigan (Contino), Gavin Harley (Understone Van de Kapel) and Max O'Reilly Hyland (Ahmed Du Calvaire) emerged the best of 10 teams, with the Netherlands taking silver and bronze going to Switzerland.

Afterwards, chef d'equipe, Comdt John Ledingham, said: "We are absolutely thrilled. We have won many underage medals over the years, but this is in fact our first young rider team gold."

A few weeks later, it was the turn of the older riders to produce the goods in Lanaken with Irish-bred horses. History was made once more as they returned home with three medals from the FEI World Breeding Jumping Championships. Ger O'Neill lifted Ireland's third ever gold medal at these finals with the six-year-old Irish Sport Horse Killossery Kaiden, while 16-year-old Mikey Pender claimed silver and bronze in the year-younger equivalent with Z Seven Caretina and Z Seven Canya Dance.

The BIG sale

There was much hype in November when it was confirmed Irish showjumper MHS Going Global was sold for a seven-figure sum.

Ridden at the Olympic Games by Greg Broderick, the 10-year-old was snapped up by Greek shipping heiress Athina Onassis for a figure believed to be between €10m and €12m. It was said to be the highest price ever paid for a showjumper.

It was an emotional end to a great partnership that had lasted six years. Broderick said: "It's been an unbelievable journey for us right from novice classes in Ireland to making dreams come through with Olympic Games and Nations Cup wins, most memorably our double clear in 2015 to help Ireland win the Aga Khan in front of our home crowd."

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