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Saturday 18 November 2017

All roads lead to Balmoral

The addition of a fourth day this year reflects the growing, popularity of the Balmoral Show

Pat Loughlin and Brian Murphy with the Balmoral-sourced Fort Knocks which won the hunter title at the RDS
Pat Loughlin and Brian Murphy with the Balmoral-sourced Fort Knocks which won the hunter title at the RDS
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

Late April signifies the start of the new showing season and last weekend exhibitors from around the country travelled to Thomastown in Co Kilkenny, a popular county show which traditionally serves as a wonderful venue ahead of the annual Balmoral Show which kicks off next Wednesday.

As the biggest show in the north of Ireland and the largest of its kind in the country, Balmoral is also one of the most popular for equine exhibitors across the board.

For the first time in its history, this year's Balmoral Show has been extended by one day and it will now run over four days from May 10-13.

The decision was made last year following some consultation with exhibitors, and also a review of the heavy traffic which has been a cause for concern since moving to the new venue of Balmoral Park in 2013.

It is hoped the extra day will now help alleviate traffic congestion within the show car parks in order to facilitate the 80,000 plus visitors that attend the show each year.

Commenting on the move, RUAS operations director, Rhonda Geary, said: "We are very excited to bring our amazing show offering to a fourth day, on a Saturday, which has been called for, for many years. The four days will include all that is brilliant about Balmoral, grassroots agriculture alongside a mix of shopping, entertainment and attractions.

"We are also delighted to see a marked increase in many livestock sectors including equine and beef, and are looking forward to a full house competing for prestigious Balmoral titles."

In the horse showing, the opening morning will see the judging of some of the heavyweight hunters, followed by middleweight and lightweights. The supreme championship will be decided in the Main Arena that afternoon.

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Last year's championship went to Michael Lewis' small hunter Carnsdale Irish Times, but regular Balmoral visitor Pat Loughlin from Co Kilkenny also had a Balmoral to remember having first spotted Fort Knocks who later that year went on to win the supreme hunter title at the RDS.

"I always go to Balmoral with our own few show horses, but also with the intention of finding a new hunter and last year I was thrilled to secure the Irish Draught gelding Fort Knocks after he won his heavyweight class there with PJ Casey."

It proved a wise move as two months later the six-year-old son of Gortfree Hero went on to give his connections their first Dublin title under rider Brian Murphy.

This year's entry from Gowran Hunt Horses includes the multiple-winning heavyweight cob Executive, but Pat Loughlin is a bit disappointed that some of the cob judging will now clash with the hunters in the afternoon. "It is a shame for those who will possibly have horses for both," he said. "I am not sure how it will work."

The showing schedule for Thursday includes ladies' hunters and Irish Draughts, while the performance Irish Draughts will take centre stage on Friday morning.

With the extra day, naturally the programme has been spread out and among the classes to be decided on Saturday are the children's ridden and working hunter ponies.

Another highlight will be the all-new Bluegrass Horse Feeds Schools Team Show Jumping Open Championship.

This will comprise of the top six schools in the open classes in the Equestrian Inter-schools Ireland TRI League as well as six pre-qualified schools from Northern Ireland.

The Young Event Horse Championship has grown to be a popular addition to the show and this takes place on both the Thursday and Friday.

Open to four and five-year-olds, it aims to identify high calibre horses bred in Ireland with the potential to become top class eventers.

Running alongside all the horse and pony showing classes is another packed show jumping programme. Boasting a prize-fund of £38,000 and running at two-star level, each year it attracts riders from both sides of the Irish Sea. Competition highlights include the Grand Prix which, despite the added day, continues to hold its Friday afternoon slot in the Main Arena.

The full show schedule is available on www.balmoralshow.co.uk


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