Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

The Swiss-based Young Riders' Academy is proving a gateway to international success for Irish showjumpers


Bertram Allen graduated from the Young Riders' academy in 2014
Bertram Allen graduated from the Young Riders' academy in 2014
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

Since its inception in 2014 the Young Riders' Academy has seen an absolute wealth of talent pass through its doors.

Aimed at up-and-coming showjumpers aged between 18 and 23, the Swiss-based initiative has previously nurtured such international superstars as Wexford-born Bertram Allen in its first year, with fellow Irishman Jonathan Gordon a graduate from 2015.

While Allen needs little introduction having proven himself as one of Ireland's most talented riders in the past five years, 22-year-old Gordon is also on the rise, having last autumn secured a position with the high-profile jumping yard, Ashford Farm, in Germany. This is owned and run by Galway native Enda Carroll.

Run under the patronage of the European Equestrian Federation (EEF), with the co-operation of the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) and the support of Rolex, the 2017 YRA has been equally exciting.

Three Irish riders are among an elite group to have recently graduated after what they described as 'a life-changing year' working alongside many of the leading lights in the sport of showjumping.

"For me it definitely changed my life for the better," commented Galway-born Michael Duffy. "Between the educational programmes and coaching sessions, it was invaluable," the 22-year-old added.

Eleonora Ottaviani, director of the International Jumping Riders Club, and the FEI's Jumping Director, Irishman John Roche, with the 2016 YRA Irish participants Michael Duffy, Eoin McMahon and Jack Dodd. Photo: Fabio Petroni
Eleonora Ottaviani, director of the International Jumping Riders Club, and the FEI's Jumping Director, Irishman John Roche, with the 2016 YRA Irish participants Michael Duffy, Eoin McMahon and Jack Dodd. Photo: Fabio Petroni

In the spring of 2016 Duffy was among a select group of young international riders to be nominated by their respective equestrian federations. Joining Duffy from Ireland was Jack Dodd from Co Mayo and Clare native Eoin McMahon.

Along with a small group of riders who had also qualified using their results at European Championship level, the Irish trio had to undergo an interview and riding assessment in front of a panel which included show jumping legends Otto Becker, Emilie Hendrix and Dirk Demeersman. In the end, just 12 riders from across the globe earned a place in the year-long programme.

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From that group six riders were chosen for the full riding programme which included a six-month placement with a professional showjumping stable. This included Jack Dodd, who spent six months with Marcus Ehning, and Eoin McMahon, who trained with fellow German Marco Kutcher.

Of the experience, Dodd said: "The academy has not only improved my knowledge on everything to do with horses but it has also opened my mind to new ideas and concepts on running a stable, that otherwise I wouldn't have known."

Previously based at Hickstead with Shane Breen, Dodd is now a key member of Bertram Allen's team in Hunxe, Germany and specialises in bringing on young horses for the sport. A former bronze medallist at the World Breeding Championships with the mare Talks Cheap, McMahon works for Germany-based Andreas Kreuzer.

Kilkenny-born Emma O'Dwyer, who now rides for the UK having switched allegiance several years ago, took part in the full programme and trained with Markus Beerbaum. She said: "I really worked very well with Markus and it was incredible to watch Meredith working with her horses, and to understand what she does every day."

Michael Duffy attended the educational program which included mentoring from British rider Scott Brash and Dutch trainer Henk Nooren, along with a series of educational seminars. Several were held at the Franklin University in Switzerland. Topics included doping, physiology of horses and lameness.

A graduate from 2014, during his term Bertram Allen also gained experience with Marcus Ehning, while at the same time establishing his own yard some 50 kilometres from Dusseldorf.

While this is the ultimate ambition for all young riders, Duffy is fortunate that he too now runs his own operation not far from Hickstead.

Over the years Shane Breen has been credited with giving many young riders their start in the business and Duffy is another to have benefited from the Breen Team's expertise.

The Turloughmore native has been in the ribbons right from the early days and his many achievements include becoming the youngest rider at the age of 17 to win the National Championship in 2012.

"Since I set up my own yard in 2014 I have been very fortunate to secure some wonderful owners," he said. "These include Alan Burnell and Lady Georgina Forbes. At present we have 12 horses in work, but of course there's always room for more."

Last week Michael Duffy attended the FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne, where he was given the opportunity to voice his opinion on several topics including the future of the Nations Cup.

"It was a great chance to discuss the format ahead of the opening leg of the 2017 series which gets underway later this month in Belgium," he concluded.

A member of the senior Irish team since 2015, he has again been selected for this upcoming five-star show with Alan Burnell's 11-year-old gelding Belcanto Z.

Meanwhile, as the 2016 graduates now go their own way the search has begun for candidates for the 2017 YRA programme.

Among the 25 currently being put through their paces are Irish riders Michael G Duffy (Mayo), Dubliner Matt Garrigan and Gavin Harley from Donegal.

The next riding assessment takes place at the German show of Redefin in mid-May, after which the final selection will be announced.

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