The road to Rio starts now, as we begin training teams again
Published 09/01/2013 | 06:00
In 2012, Irish riders banked Olympic medals, Paralympic medals, an Aga Khan win and seven underage European medals, so Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) has a lot to live up to in 2013.
On the international front, 2013 will be a year for planning and re-evaluating what we are doing as we begin a new Olympic cycle aiming towards Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
We will be interviewing for senior high performance managers in show jumping and eventing.
Robert Splaine and Ginny Elliot have both done excellent jobs in these roles, but the HSI board were of the view that we should advertise the positions for the next Olympic cycles.
Early in 2013, HSI and Horse Racing Ireland, in conjunction with Red Square media, will be launching a new web TV channel called Irishhorse TV.
This channel will be used to promote racing and equestrian sport in Ireland, as well as all things positive about the Irish horse.
There is huge interest in horses in Ireland and the new channel will aim to tap into that interest, as well as promoting the Irish horse sector abroad.
It is the first venture we will be entering into with Horse Racing Ireland and we are looking forward to the new channel coming on stream.
In terms of promoting the Irish horse, we are currently involved in developing an online portal for selling Irish horses abroad.
We are involved in a consultation process with existing sellers and suppliers of Irish horses and ponies to develop this concept. We recently had more than 60 people at a meeting to advance the concept and our aim is to have phase one up and running in the first quarter of 2013.
Our online database CapallOir, with performance links to the FEI, Showjumping Ireland, Eventing Ireland and the Association if Irish Riding Clubs, has been very well received. This will be available to Northern breeders from January 2013, following the decision of the Northern Ireland Horse Board to affiliate to Horse Sport Ireland. Further developments for CapallOir are also planned.
Another very exciting development in 2013 will be the installation of equestrian facilities in the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, Co Dublin.
The campus will be the base for Irish sport and with the GAA, rugby, soccer, swimming, hockey and others having facilities installed there, it is a very positive development that an equestrian facility will be constructed on the campus in the first half of 2013.
Initially, the facility will see the installation of an all-weather arena within the walled gardens at Abbotstown and the construction of 10 stables.
This development will mean that our high performance athletes will have access to facilities in the Institute for Sport, which is based at Abbotstown.
The move will put equestrian sport at the heart of one of the most exciting ever developments for Irish sport.
The international governing body, the FEI, brought in some key rule changes for 2013. One of the most important is that it will now be mandatory for anyone mounted on a horse at an international show to wear a helmet at all times.
Each year after the Failte Ireland Dublin Horse Show, we get a number of complaints from members of the public who have observed international riders warming up their horse without a helmet. While the rule will not be universally popular amongst top riders, it is important that they set a good example for younger people at these shows.
Another significant change was the move by the FEI to deal with unsanctioned equestrian events.
Under this new rule, any athlete who competes in an event that has not been sanctioned by either the international federation (FEI) or a national federation (HSI) will be excluded from a sanctioned event for a six month period.
Presently, HSI has no formal process in place for sanctioning events in Ireland.
However, with this new rule we will have to look at that and see how we can implement the rule in a practical way.
The rule is grounded in trying to ensure fair sport and good horse welfare which are things we need to have at the forefront of our mind at all times.
One other issue that will be very much on our radar in 2013 is the need for further funding for the sport horse sector.
A UCD report in late 2012 concluded that the sport horse sector was worth over €700m to the Irish economy. While the racing sector received €45m from the Government in 2012 and the greyhound sector received €11m, the sport horse sector got only €3m.
While we are grateful for the support we get, those involved in the sport horse industry feel an increasing sense of injustice in relation to how funding is dispersed when compared to these sectors. Most people involved in the sector have a great affinity with racing and we are delighted that they are well funded.
However we would like a commensurate allocation and we have made a strong case to Government.
It will be a huge challenge to relive the highs of 2012.
The London Olympics overshadowed the landscape for the last four years and now they are behind us.
While the emphasis shifts to Rio next year, there are no Olympic qualifiers in 2013.
The first chance to qualify teams will come at the World Equestrian Games in France in 2014.
However there are European championships in all FEI disciplines and these are very important in their own right.
Our underage teams have had unprecedented success in recent years with seven medals having been won in 2012.
The graph of our underage medals is remarkable in recent years. The challenge now is to bring these talented young riders through to success at senior level. The year 2016 may seem a long way off, but the journey starts now.
Joe Walsh is chairman of Horse Sport Ireland and a former minister for agriculture