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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Successes herald a fantastic year for Team Ireland

Published 21/12/2011 | 06:00

NO FEE: July 9 2011; Comdt. John Ledingham (centre) with Irish riders, from left Tim McDonagh (Galway), Kerry Taggart (Fermanagh), Tommy Harty (Waterford), Hannah Smyth (Tyrone) and Cormac Hanley (Mayo). The team won the European Championships for Children on Horses (under 14) at Comporta in Portugal today (Saturday). Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***
NO FEE: July 9 2011; Comdt. John Ledingham (centre) with Irish riders, from left Tim McDonagh (Galway), Kerry Taggart (Fermanagh), Tommy Harty (Waterford), Hannah Smyth (Tyrone) and Cormac Hanley (Mayo). The team won the European Championships for Children on Horses (under 14) at Comporta in Portugal today (Saturday). Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

Show Jumper Rider of Year Billy Twomey leads the plaudits as equestrian stars claim numerous titles and put eye on London

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Successes herald a fantastic year for Team Ireland

At the end of what has been a phenomenal year for the Cork rider, Billy Twomey was named as the International Rider of the Year at last week's Showjumpers' Ball.

The 34-year-old has had a year to remember, winning numerous international Grands Prix, before claiming victory at the Rolex Top 10 competition in Paris earlier this month. The two-round competition features the top 10 riders in the world jumping against each other.

Riding Sue Davies' chestnut mare, Tinka's Serenade, Twomey was one of only two riders to deliver a double clear round, beating Canada's world number one rider Eric Lamaze and his mount, Coriana van Klapscheut, by 0.2 of a second.

He collected €50,000 in prize money and a Rolex watch worth €8,000 for his first place.

Twomey's achievement was just one of many memorable moments for Team Ireland Equestrian in the past year. Here, we take a look at some more highlights of the year.

In July, the Irish U14 Children on Horses team scooped their first European Championship gold medal after a thrilling jump-off with Germany at Comporta in Portugal.

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With 16 nations competing over two days, Ireland lay equal third with France after the first day. On the second day, the Irish produced four consecutive clear rounds to tie with Germany on four faults, forcing a jump-off for the gold medal, which Ireland won with a fence in hand.

Cormac Hanley from Mayo, riding Irish-bred Pageant Prince, went clear through all three rounds, while Waterford's Thomas Harty and another Irish-bred horse Young Limerick, were clear in the first round, had a discard score in the second, but recovered to produce four faults in the jump-off.

Tim McDonagh from Galway, riding Cord'Alou, produced a first round eight-faulter, but went clear in the second and had four faults in the jump-off for the gold medal.

Fermanagh's Kerry Taggart on yet another Irish-bred horse, Miss Contradiction, started with a single mistake in the first round but then went clear all the way to help the Irish team secure the European championship on a four-fault total.

The Children on Horses team was announced as the Team Of The Year at the National Show-jumping Awards and their manager, Commandant John Ledingham, scored a double when he was announced as the Coach of the Year and inducted into this year's Hall of Fame.

The well-known Clarke family, of Cavan Equestrian Centre, was awarded the special achievement award, while Show Of The Year was won by the Horseware Ireland Louth County Show.

Michael Duffy picked up the Young Rider of the Year accolade, and Alexander Butler the Rookie of the Year, while the Amateur of the Year award went to Martin Wilson.

The Groom of the Year title went to Oonagh Kennedy, and the Ballymaloe Ladies' Award was won by Sinead Thompson.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Bertram Allen clocked up his first Junior Grand Prix win at Hengelo in the Netherlands three weeks ago, riding Billy Twomey's mare Wild Thing L.

The Wexford-born rider, who is currently based in Germany, will move permanently out of pony showjumping and into Junior level next year after a fantastic pony career.

In 2010, he won the individual gold medal at the European Pony Showjumping Championships in England, as well as being a team silver medallist.

Earlier this year, he was a European Pony Showjumping silver medallist in both individual and team competitions at Jaszkowo, Poland. He also won the Pony Grand Prix in Switzerland and was a member of the winning Pony Nations' Cups in Switzerland and Netherlands.

Meanwhile, Kildare woman Nicola Fitzgibbon won the hearts of spectators across the country when she put in a fantastic performance as a debutant on the Aga Khan team at this year's RDS Failte Ireland Dublin Horse Show.

The 23-year-old -- one of the youngest riders on the senior international team -- described her feelings at being a member of the Aga Khan team: "The week of Dublin Horse Show has been the most exciting week of the year for me since the age of 10. Little did I know back then that I would one day be competing in the Aga Khan."

On the day, Fitzgibbon and Puissance faulted just once in the first round but came home clear in the final round to put Ireland into a jump-off with Britain.

While it may have appeared to some that the Trinity engineering graduate this year burst onto the scene from nowhere, Fitzgibbon has a solid career behind her, having been Young Rider of the Year in 2008, National Champion in 2009 and Rookie of the Year in 2010.

Another rider to make a memorable debut -- but this time in the sport of eventing -- was Mullingar-born Joseph Murphy.

He finished best of the Irish at Badminton, taking 27th place after going clear in the show-jumping phase at the four-star event.

Riding Kevin Monroe's Irish bred Cruising gelding Electric Cruise, the 35-year-old moved up eight places from his overnight position.

In dressage, Ireland's Anna Merveldt recorded one of her best five-star results in recent years when she placed second at the Grand Prix Special at Munich, Germany, in June.

Canadian-born Merveldt rode her usual competition partner, the 15-year-old Bavarian Warmblood gelding Coryolano, and was narrowly beaten to first place by Britain's Richard Davison and Hiscox Artemis.

Last month, she boosted her chances of securing an individual Olympics slot for Ireland by finishing second on a score of 75.725pc in the Grand Prix Kür in Vienna, Austria. This made her one of the top three individual combinations in Group A of nations not already qualified for London and will help keep her in the chase when the final Olympics rankings are decided next year.

Merveldt's successes this year mean that Ireland has a dressage rider in the top 50 in the FEI World Dressage Rankings for the first time in many years.

Unfortunately, her quest for a place at London 2012 has now been temporarily set back by a car accident that forced her withdrawal from the Pappas Amadeus Indoor CDI4* in Salzburg, Austria, last weekend.

A broken rib means an enforced layoff of at least two weeks, losing valuable competition time before the March 1 cutoff date for individual qualifying scores for the London Games.

It's been a busy year with plenty of memorable highlights, so here's to an even busier and more successful 2012 for Team Ireland Equestrian.

Indo Farming