Farming

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Young eventing star plotting another 'Miracle' summer season

Siobhan English

Published 13/05/2014 | 02:30

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PROSPECT: Elizabeth Hayden is hoping to build on her achievements last year when she finished second at the 2013 European Junior Eventing Championships in France
Elizabeth Hayden

YOU would be hard-pressed keeping up with the Hayden family these days, particularly Elizabeth as she follows her dream of making it to the top as a senior international event rider.

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Key sponsors Ryanair and Gain Horse Feeds have joined Zara's Planet, Cooney Carey and Panda on her support team which also includes her parents Martin and Joan.

And with some promising horses coming on stream, this young rider certainly has the world at her feet.

Sheer dedication, though, is the key to achieving your dreams and Maynooth-based Elizabeth has this quality in abundance.

Just 12 months ago she was studying for her Leaving Certificate, while also getting acquainted with her new horse, Miracle.

For many students, this intense change of focus from the classroom to competition arena would have proven too much, but not for this 19-year-old.

Within the space of one week in early June, she went from competing at the Tattersalls International Horse Trials straight to the exam hall.

"It was hectic at the time, but when September came around we had decided it had been a good choice for Elizabeth to continue competing for the Leaving Cert year," says her father Martin.

"By then she had secured her place on the business degree course at Griffith College and won two medals."

It was a dream summer for Elizabeth. Following the purchase of Miracle from his previous owner, Marie McCormack, in March 2013, she had great hopes of representing her country in her first ever European Championships.

But she hadn't anticipated that within five months they would win two medals and achieve a host of top results elsewhere.

In March 2013, two weeks after settling into his new surroundings, Miracle was taken to his first event with his new rider.

"It was at the end of March, in Tyrella, and my first time going cross-country on him," says Elizabeth.

"I didn't know what to expect, but he was fantastic to be honest. He just gave it his all on the day."

A month earlier Elizabeth's coach Ken Mahon, a long-time friend of the Haydens, had discovered the then eight-year-old competing with Sarah Ennis.

It was his imposing presence, and his jumping ability, that prompted Ken to call Elizabeth's father.

Competing

"We weren't really looking for a new horse," says Martin, "as Elizabeth was getting on so well competing with her other horse, Classic Piper.

"It's always the way though – you see something when you don't need it. It was a leap of faith buying him."

Sold with unknown breeding, but believed to be by a son of the thoroughbred Saracen Hill, Miracle had had a tough start in life, having been ill as a foal.

"He was bottle fed, and almost died so that is where he got his name," explains Elizabeth.

A pleasing result in Tyrella prompted Elizabeth to take on the junior one-star in Ballindenisk less than a month later. A creditable third placing there led them to Tattersalls where a second place drew the full attention of the selectors.

"But we still had to qualify," says Ken Mahon, "and after Tattersalls it was a case of getting to as many events as possible, but only after Elizabeth had finished her exams."

From late June her competition schedule included two British events at Barbury Castle and Brightling Park, before returning to the Camphire International in Cork.

Impressive results at all three deservedly earned Elizabeth and Miracle their place for the European Junior Eventing Championships in Jardy, France, in September.

It was only after the compulsory veterinary inspection for Miracle, however, that Elizabeth secured her place on the team itself. Over the next three days the partnership performed admirably.

"Our dressage test left us in fifth place ahead of the cross-country phase, which was run in the most horrendous conditions," says Elizabeth.

"We thought the weather would be lovely in France, but it rained for the entire week."

The early line-up had been dominated by the Germans and French, but, after a host of eliminations on course from the main contenders, it was the Irish who rose to the top.

Clears from Elizabeth and team-mates Cathal Daniels and Harold Megahey left them in the gold medal position before the showjumping phase.

Even more impressively, Elizabeth had moved into silver position in the individual rankings, a position she held on the final day with another clear which also kept the Irish ahead on the leaderboard.

Education

There was little time for celebrations. As soon as Elizabeth arrived back in Ireland it was all systems go again.

"I started college on the Wednesday and that evening headed to Cork to compete with my other horse Classic Piper at Ballindenisk," she says.

And it seems the pace has been frantic ever since, particularly in recent weeks as Elizabeth plans her qualification campaign for the young rider championship team in Portugal next September.

Having decided to bypass the upcoming Tattersalls International Horse Trials, she will instead return to Barbury Castle in late June as part of her bid to earn qualification, and ultimately selection.

"It will be a busy few months though, as my 15-year-old brother Marcus is also hoping to get on the pony European team."

With Anna, 13, following in their footsteps in eventing, James, 17, competing internationally in kite-surfing, and the youngest boy, Alexander, 11, keen on rugby, the Haydens could well feature in more sporting headlines during 2014.

Tune into Irish Horse TV this week for an in-depth interview with Elizabeth Hayden and behind-the-scenes footage

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