Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

Country's most-talented young stars set to saddle up and go for gold at forthcoming championships in Spain and Italy

best of the irish ready to ride for european glory

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

The record high temperatures of last week might have made us all hot under the collar but it was the perfect weather for the Irish riders, horses and ponies preparing for the upcoming European Championships in Spain and Italy.

Ireland's most-talented riders have been preparing for these competitions for months and are aiming for a medal haul even bigger than the 2012 tally of seven medals.

First to face the challenge will be the young riders, juniors and children-on-horses teams, who are already in Spain and ready to compete. Taking place at Vejer de la Frontera in Andalusia, the competition runs from today, July 16, to July 21, and 10 Irish riders will go up against European rivals.

Commandant John Ledingham, Horse Sport Ireland team manager, coach and chef d'equipe, is in charge of all 10 riders in each of the three categories.

Leading the charge will be 19-year-old Mark Murphy from Co Louth, who rides Cruisings Micky Finn in the Young Rider competition. His mount is owned by Brendan Murphy/Horseware.

The junior team is headed up by prolific winner and former European Champion Bertram Allen, who rides Molly Malone, owned by Ballywalter Farms.

The boy wonder from Wexford has been on fire this year, recording a double clear on his debut appearance for the senior Irish Nations Cup team at Linz, Austria in May on Wild Thing.

Now based in Germany with Billy Twomey, he continued his run of showjumping successes with a win in the Portuguese Grand Prix and a win in the jump-off class at Fontainebleau in France in June, seeing off challenges from some of the world's top-ranked international riders.

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Joining Bertram on the junior team are Michael Duffy from Co Mayo, who rides Murchu, owned by John Murphy; and Jeremy Sweetnam from Co Cork, who rides Unique, owned by Marie Sweetnam. The junior quartet is completed by Co Clare's Tom Foley, who rides Paddy Fly, owned by Carmel King.

The children-on-horses team includes Jessica Kuehnle from Co Laois, riding Baby Guinness, owned by Ashford Farm; Jack Ryan from Co Kilkenny, riding Sandballin, owned by Marguerite Ryan; Jenifer Rea from Co Cork, riding Deirdre Bourns' Brecht Van De Romstee and Jessica Harty from Co Waterford, riding Young Limerick, owned by Helen Harty. Clare rider Conor McMahon rides Simply Be, another horse owned by Deirdre Bourns to complete the squad. Emily Larkin from Co Meath and Flexing, owned by Lloyd and Claudia Thorsrud, are the non-travelling reserve combination.

Gain Horse Feeds is the official sponsor of the pony eventing and pony showjumping squads for 2013 and the company will be hoping for a repeat of last year's results when the eventing team swept to victory in the eventing championships, taking home team gold and individual gold for Cathal Daniels.

This year's eventing squad consists of Nessa Briody on Rathnaleen Dark Secret, Patrick Dennehy on Rose Down, Lucy Latta with Nono, Shannon Nelson on Millridge Buachaill Bui, Donnacha O'Brien with Ice Cool Bailey and Holly Wray on Holiday Chase.

The eventing European Championships take place in Arezzo, Italy from July 23 to July 28.

Speaking ahead of the competition, high performance pony eventing team manager Sue Shortt said she had a very strong squad of ponies again this year.

"We are in the lucky position that the standard of our ponies and riders is improving every year. Three of the riders were selected in our performance-based selection system whilst the other three riders were given wildcards," she explained.

"Selection has been difficult this year with such a high standard of combinations to choose from. I am very happy with the way the selection system worked and it should help prepare the riders to deal with the pressures involved in competing at the championships."

The manager has very clear targets set for her team.

"It takes a dressage score in the low forties and the riders need to finish on their dressage in order to be in individual medal contention," she maintained.

"On our team we have two ponies, Nono and Bailey, who are capable of being in the top three or four after dressage and the other ponies should be in the forties," she said. "In the cross-country they will be tackling fences at one-star size but two-star technicality, so we've been working at home on different lines, skinnies and corners. In the showjumping, the fences will be one metre ten in height.

"From what we've heard about Arezzo, its sounds like it could be a twisty course," said Ms Shortt. "It's a showjumping venue so space is going to be a bit tighter and I've heard they've ordered 20 portable fences from France so I would expect to see lots of portable fences on bending lines."

The venue also features a lake at the centre, which is guaranteed to incorporate one or two influential fences.

Ireland's top event ponies tend to reappear year after year, either at home or abroad, and it's no surprise to once again see Ice Cool Bailey on the squad.

The eye-catching grey has now carried no less than three of Aidan and Ann Marie O'Brien's children to European medals and this time it is the turn of their youngest, Donnacha, to reach for the podium.

"These ponies are effectively mini two-star event horses," maintained Ms Shortt. "They need to move well, with a loose shoulder to extend in the dressage and gallop cross-country. They need good hind-leg action, very correct conformation and a good brain."

European-level ponies are generally worth in the region of €100,000-150,000, with some seasoned campaigners valued at up to €300,000.


"They are a special breed and you couldn't put a price on some of them," added Ms Shortt.

Meanwhile, Tom Slattery, high performance manager for the Gain Horse Feeds pony showjumping squad, is looking forward to competing against Europe's best.

"I am very happy with the squad we have travelling this year. We have had some good results at international shows.

"We were third in both the Nations Cups in Fontainebleau and Hagen and have also had some very good individual results," he said.

The squad consists of Susan Fitzpatrick on Rock Dee Jay, Matt Garrigan with Future Interest, Tim MacDonagh on Imagine If One, Killian Norris and Javas Alun and Michael Pender on Blackwoodland Rock.

"These riders were selected from their results at our international trials and also performances at international shows. I am confident travelling out to Arezzo and all we need is a bit of luck," said Mr Slattery.

"We recreated a championship competition here at home, with two Nations Cup rounds and a grand prix round for the riders and ponies to jump. The course builders were Alan Wade and Mark McGowan, and were able to build tracks of a really high standard to test the combinations," he explained.

"What we need in Arezzo is consistency. To be in with a shot for an individual medal, the riders need to stay clear for the week. There is a little more leeway in the team competition but not much.

"We have a nice squad heading out and I'm very hopeful of a good result."

Irish Independent