Dublin Horse Show: Stress levels high as Italy gets jump on Ireland
Hay fever and sunburn would normally be the expected ailments at a summer equestrian event.
But 'Aga Khan stress' was the biggest complaint among attendees as the best of international show jumpers took to the RDS.
Anticipation was running high at the Dublin Horse Show yesterday, as punters and trainers focused on the Nations Cup later that afternoon.
In a cliffhanger finish, Italy clinched the top prize from Ireland with a clear round in a tense jump-off.
This was Italy's fifth victory in the 90-year history of the Aga Khan Cup, and it was a special win for the country that first lifted the trophy back in 1955 when the legendary Lt Raimondo D'Inzeo was a member of their team.
Cheers boomed across the arena as Ireland's four hopefuls lined out on the grass before the crucial clash.
But the crowd was almost equally jubilant for the American team, the all-female group with Jessica Springsteen and Georgina Bloomberg on the bill.
Indeed, Jessica's dad Bruce watched on from the stands as his daughter gave her all on the challenging course.
But it was Ireland's Cian O'Connor, Denis Lynch, Greg Broderick and Bertram Allen who really drove the crowds wild with a clear first round.
The powerful performance was a fierce statement of their intention of keeping the trophy on this side of the Atlantic.
Alas, victory evaded them in an 11th-hour jump-off against Italy, after Denis Lynch gained six faults.
Visibly disappointed after the loss, Irish chef d'equipe Robert Splaine said: "I'd be a lot happier if that trophy was sitting here."
However, he also congratulated the Italian team on their show-stopping performance.
"It was a tough battle, as we expected," he said. "We didn't underestimate anybody."
Earlier, Rio-bound Greg Broderick insisted he was focused on the Aga Khan and a possible victory in front of a home crowd.
"I don't know if even winning a gold medal in the Olympics could feel better than winning an Aga Khan in Dublin," he said.
President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were on hand to present the coveted trophy to a beaming Italian team.
Joining Mr and Ms Higgins in the presidential box was Princess Anne and Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr.
Earlier in the day, three Irish female competitors chose to take things a little easier. Suzanne O'Brien and Lyndsey O'Brien from Adare, Co Limerick, both came second in competitions on Wednesday.
"I was second in the small riding horse and Lyndsey was second in the large riding horse," Suzanne (26) said. "None of us are on now, we'll be back on Saturday and Sunday."
Suzanne is set to compete against her long-time friend Esme Mansergh-Wallace on the day.
But the girls were far from adversarial while wandering around the RDS enclosures.
"We've been here since we were really small, when we were in the youngest class," Suzanne explained.
"The horse that I am riding was actually bred by Esme and her mam, so it's all okay," she added.
"It's not like we're really competing against each other," Esme (26) said, before joking: "Well, maybe Suzanne is."
While many were less concerned with fashion post-Ladies' Day, a group of Dublin girls didn't miss the opportunity to don their finest.
Sharifa al Abri, Julie Campbell and Sinead Phipps were with a group of friends to celebrate a 30th birthday.
Wearing headpieces that Julie had designed herself, the glam ladies were a rare sight as Aga Khan Friday got under way. "We knew it wasn't Ladies' Day, before anybody asks," quipped Sharifa. "Julie made every single one of these hats herself," she said, while Julie added that each hat could take a full day to make.
Sinead explained that it was the group's first time to an equestrian event, and they were far from disappointed.
"We've never been to Ladies' Day, or racing, or showjumping, and our friend loves dressing up," she said. "We thought it would be a really nice event for her big day."
The equestrian excitement at the RDS is far from over, with more competitions due to take place today.