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Saturday 25 November 2017

Irish pony riders take Europe by storm with two gold medals

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Equestrian stars ride off with a raft of events, including the Hickstead Nations' Cup and European Pony Championships

Ireland's young guns proved they are the best in Europe by sweeping to victory at the European Pony Championships in eventing two weeks ago.

The under-16 team of Cathal Daniels, riding Master Murrose; Ana O'Brien, on Ice Cool Bailey; Lucy Latta, on Nono, and Gavin Smiddy, riding Mr Hale Bob, took Ireland's first ever team gold in Fontainebleau, France, after an assured performance in all three phases of the competition.

Co Galway rider Cathal Daniels put the icing on the cake by taking the individual gold medal, while Tipperary's Ana O'Brien claimed the individual bronze medal.

Beaten at the last European championships by just one tenth of a point, the Irish team took command of proceedings from day one of the championships and became the first ever Irish European pony team to emerge in the lead after two days of dressage.

With both Britain and the Netherlands in hot pursuit, the Irish produced superb cross-country performances to extend the lead over the second-placed British team and then confirmed their dominance by producing both a team and individual win after the showjumping phase.

The championships also highlighted the future potential of one young combination, with individual rider Kirsty Connell and seven-year-old Little Indian Feather finishing in eighth place overall.

Pony eventing high performance manager Sue Shortt said she had a good feeling about the Irish team's potential before the competition began.

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"I knew in the past few weeks that we had the best team Ireland had ever fielded at the European championships, and their performance was fantastic," she said.

"I'm delighted for the kids, they deserved everything they won today.

"This is the first time an Irish team has ever led the field after dressage and we owe that to our dressage coach, Sue Smallman, who turned the riders inside out in the months leading up to this.

"Also, Tom Slattery was magnificent helping us with the jumping phase, and I do believe that without the wonderful services of our team vet Con Kennedy we wouldn't be on the podium today."

Horse Sport Ireland chairman Joe Walsh was also thrilled with the result.

brilliant

He said: "This is a brilliant achievement. I want to congratulate all of the riders and their families as well as team manager Sue Shortt, dressage coach Sue Smallman, showjumping coach Tom Slattery, team vet Con Kennedy and high performance administrator Aileen Cartwright."

Mr Walsh added that the support of the Irish Sports Council and Eventing Ireland had been vital, along with team sponsors Horseware Ireland, Bluegrass Horse Feeds, TRM and Champion Hats.

The Irish team finished the dressage phase of the competition with a narrow margin of just 1.3 penalties between them and the British team, but moved on to an upward trajectory from that point on.

After three clears on the cross-country course, Ireland's team riders stretched their lead to 20 penalties before the showjumping phase began.

Galway rider Daniels rode as pathfinder in the cross-country on his striking grey Master Murrose.

The pair finished the competition with a clean sheet on top of a dressage score of 45.2. No other combination could touch them and their score was enough to clinch the individual gold medal.

Daniels finished 3.8 penalties ahead of Britain's Louise Nesbitt, riding Carrowmore Gemstone, whose final score was 49 penalties.

Ireland's most recognised pony, Ice Cool Bailey, ridden by Tipperary's Ana O'Brien, and Lucy Latta with Nono knocked down two poles each in the showjumping phase, adding eight faults to their respective scores. Both were acutely aware of the difference a single pole could make to the overall result, having been in the silver medal-winning team of 2011.

O'Brien's final score of 49.9 was good enough to take the individual bronze medal place, while Latta and Nono finished in tenth place on 57.8.

Ice Cool Bailey has been a prolific winner throughout his career, and was also ridden by Ana's brother Joseph to a European pony bronze medal in 2009. The eldest O'Brien has since made his mark in racing, piloting many of his father Aidan's -- the famed racehorse trainer -- charges to victory.

This year, Joseph and Aidan became the first father-son/trainer-jockey combination to win the Epsom Derby with Camelot.

Unfortunately for the Irish Gavin Smiddy and Mr Hale Bob finished on 123.7 after two stops in the cross-country and knocking three poles down in the showjumping. This made them the team's discard score.

Sadly, Susannah Berry and Quiverhill Remember Me were eliminated from the individual competition.

achievement

The young riders' achievement compounded a great weekend for Irish equestrian sport, in which the senior showjumping team won the coveted Hickstead Nations' Cup.

Richie Moloney with Ahorn van de Zuithoeve, Darragh Kerins on Lisona, Shane Breen with Cos I Can and Clem McMahon on Pacino recorded just four faults over two rounds to beat the world's best showjumping teams.

US-based Kilkenny native Moloney spearheaded the Irish attack with a double clear on Ahorn van de Zuithoeve in their first Superleague competition, but clear rounds also came from Sligo's Darragh Kerins on the Irish Sport Horse Lisona, and Tipperary rider Breen on the team's other Irish Sport Horse, Cos I Can.

Clones rider McMahon almost shattered Irish hopes when he retired in the first round with the eight-year-old stallion Pacino, but the pair stormed back in the second round with a winning zero score.

France took the runner-up spot at Hickstead on eight faults, while favourites Germany finished third on 12.

Ireland last won the Hickstead Nations' Cup in 2001.

The Irish assault on Hickstead continued when Breen won the Hickstead Speed Class with Ominerale Courcelle, while Moloney took second on Alsvid.

Tipperary's Breen also finished eighth in the King George V Gold Cup with Cos I Can, as well as having a second place in the two-phase competition with Balloon, and another speed class win with Ominerale Courcelle.

McMahon claimed the runner-up spot to Breen in the Hickstead Speed Class with Point Two Elvis.

Finally, Keith Doyle and Walk Tall II claimed another Irish victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

However, Ireland's recent success has not been limited to equestrian sports that require a saddle.

In driving, Ireland's Barry Capstick beat a top international field to win the horse pairs in Beekbergen in the Netherlands recently.

In a smoothly-driven cones competition with the KWPN-horses Jack Hackett and Connor, both offspring of the famed stallion Patijn, Capstick recorded only two knockdowns.

His nearest rival Claudio Fumagalli also had two knockdowns but many more time faults than the Irish competitor.

Based in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, England, Capstick switched his allegiance to Ireland in 2003 by making use of the famous 'granny rule' favoured by a number of soccer players.

His horse Jack Hackett, the grey in the pair that won in the Netherlands, is named after the foul-mouthed and decrepit Father Jack from hit TV comedy show Father Ted.

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