Equestrian: O'Brien and Allen heroics help Ireland's pony squad to Euro success
IN a remarkable repeat of the spectacular results for the Irish pony squad last year, Ireland took individual gold and team silver in showjumping and individual bronze in eventing at the 2010 European Pony Championships at Bishop Burton College in England yesterday.
Wexford lad Bertram Allen from Enniscorthy claimed jumping gold riding the mare Acapella Z -- which never touched a pole all weekend -- while, adding to the sense of deja vu about the entire fixture, Sarah O'Brien, l5-year-old daughter of champion horse racing trainer Aidan O'Brien, from Ballydoyle in Tipperary, mirrored last year's performance by her older brother Joseph when she rode the same pony Ice Cool Bailey to clinch eventing bronze.
This was the perfect send-off for Pony High Performance manager Ian Fearon, who now retires after the most successful period ever for Irish pony riders.
On Friday, the showjumpers were tying for second place with Belgium on 12 faults after the first two rounds of the team competition but pipped their rivals for silver when producing the quickest three tours of the track in the medal-deciding jump-off.
A double-clear from Allen and Acapella Z gave them the perfect base on which to build the team score and when Tom Foley (Dibidoe) lowered only a single fence in the first round and Emma O'Dywer (Kalim de Montlieu) made just a single mistake each time out, then Shane Kenny's second-round 12 with More Clover could be discounted.
Allen's nerve was tested to the limit yesterday when he went into the individual final in the lead but without any room for error as Belgium's Julie de Pelsmaeker was hot on his heels with just a single time fault, while Holland's Niels Knape was carrying only two time penalties.
Allen was the riding the 13-year-old Mexico-born mare which was bred to be a horse but, born a twin, never grew tall enough and bred several foals before being broken as an eight-year-old. Exported to the world-famous Zangersheide Stud in Holland, she eventually found her way to Scotland where she was spotted and bought by the Allen family and yesterday she took the European title in fine style.
Event rider O'Brien was in the bronze medal position going into yesterday's final showjumping phase but, as Fearon pointed out, it was a case of 'ice cool Sarah' as she too kept her head.
Eventing Chef d'Equipe Sue Shortt said: "She rode with real professionalism and maturity and her all-round performance through all three phases was much admired by everyone here. The medal is a great credit to her."
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