All roads lead to Balmoral
Balmoral Show has grown to be one of the most important events on the equestrian calendar and exhibitors from across Ireland will be preparing for three busy days at the popular Balmoral Park grounds from May 13-15.
Now in its 147th year, it caters for everything agricultural - from sheep, to cattle and pigs - but each year the equestrian programme marks an important start of the official showing season for a large number of exhibitors across the country.
In addition to the showing, there is also a full programme of show-jumping which draws a large crowd of spectators from both sides of the border.
The history of Balmoral dates back to the 1800s, when prize money was £1,000. These days the show jumping alone for the two-star fixture boasts some €50,000, with the curtain-closing Grand Prix on the Friday offering a fund of €24,000.
Winner of this feature class in 2014 was Alexander Butler on Will Wimble. He also won it the previous year, and again in 2011 with the same Irish-bred gelding.
Butler is among a large contingent from the south that is expected to travel north to contest the seven international show-jumping classes which also include the Connolly's Red Mills Spectacular on Thursday, May 14.
This year Pegus Horse Feeds will sponsor the Young Event Horse Championship at Balmoral. This is confined to four and five-year-old horses with the potential to become top-class eventers.
Qualifiers took place around the country in recent weeks, and the top four horses in each class at each qualifying venue will compete in the final which will take place over two days.
Horses will be put through their paces in dressage on the Wednesday, with the jumping taking place the following morning.
Declan Cullen of Pegus, who is a long-time supporter of eventing, says: "This was a great class last year and the crowds flocked around the main area to see the final phase in the morning.
"The feedback from the riders was very positive. This year we extended our reach of qualifiers as far as Wexford and it should help attract the best young horses from all over Ireland."
The young horse and ridden hunter classes at Balmoral are particularly popular and these take place on the opening day, Wednesday.
Winner of the champion filly crown in 2014 was the two-year-old Notalot, owned by Rebecca Monahan, but the now three-year-old will not be returning to defend her crown this time round. Instead the daughter of Lancelot will most likely be aimed at shows leading up to the Dublin Horse Show, a venue which also saw her crowned champion filly last August.
Balmoral and the RDS have also proved happy hunting grounds for the McIlwaines' home-bred Dancing Queen, which was winner of the hunter mare championship at the 2013 Dublin Horse Show and then supreme hunter at Balmoral, before she claimed the reserve hunter mare sash back at the RDS last August.
Highlights of Wednesday's showing schedule will be the ladies' side-saddle and Connemara ponies, while Friday is reserved for working hunter horses and ponies, amongst others.
The inter-hunt chase is the exciting finale to the Balmoral Show and takes place in the main arena at 6.30pm on the Friday evening.
The East Antrim Hunt will be on display on Thursday before the horse parade and also before the inter hunt chase, won in 2014 by the Killinick Harriers from Wexford.
For full details on Balmoral 2015 see www.balmoralshow.co.uk
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