Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

striving for even better future

AIRC success story still going strong as it nears its 40th year

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

In 1973, 16 riding clubs joined forces to create the Association of Irish Riding Clubs (AIRC) under the chairmanship of Eddie Fowler and administration of Helen Mangan.

The founding clubs included Ait Aoibhinn from Co Cork; Ards, Ashbank, Capall and Warrenpoint & District from Co Down; Bann Valley from Co Derry; Ballyteigue from Co Limerick; Bord Failte and Bord na gCapall from Dublin; Castle Howard and Foxborough from Co Wicklow; Cork; Galway; Waterford; Meath; and South Wexford.

Now approaching its 40th anniversary, the AIRC has grown exponentially to its present tally of 130 affiliated clubs, eight regions nationwide and over 3,000 active members.

Here, we talk to AIRC chairman Tony Ennis and director general David Abbott about the association's achievements and challenges for the future.

What was the AIRC's greatest achievement of the past decade?

Tony Ennis: Seeing Greenhills Riding Club win the senior showjumping title at the British Riding Club show jumping championships last year, representing AIRC.

Also, our ability to budget and run our activities in a profitable way that ensures the viability of the association.

David Abbott: Over the last decade, the association has increased its membership by approximately 20pc and even during these difficult times, we are managing to sustain and, in some cases, increase our membership.

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This growth has been a welcome development and I hope it will continue well into the future because without our members, we would not have an association.

How do you see the AIRC evolving in the next decade?

Tony Ennis: I believe the AIRC will continue to grow as it provides a fun, sporting, competitive outlet for its members. Its best attribute is that existing members can encourage their friends, by passing on their experiences within the AIRC, to also join a local club where they too can share with others a common interest in the horse.

David Abbott: There is great scope for further development of our online services and I see this as being one of the keys areas over the next few years. Later this year, we will launch our results database, which I believe will add value to the animals, benefiting our members and breeders.

The results database will link up with the Horse Sport Ireland Capall Oir database, giving the breeder a better picture of horses competing in the amateur sector.

The organisation is largely run and assisted by a large group of volunteers throughout the country. Our success depends on their effort and one of our key objectives is to ensure that the right infrastructures are in place to ensure they can continue in their role and also to help make their role less demanding.

What are the biggest challenges facing the AIRC?

Tony Ennis: To be able to continue to stage our National Championships and National Festival whilst meeting the demands of the members in the current economic climate.

We will be doing our utmost to ensure we retain our current level of membership while always trying to attract new members.

David Abbott: Sustaining and growing from our current position is the biggest challenge we face.

With our success comes new challenges, as other organisations target our membership, but we've faced these challenges before and will continue to meet them face on in the years to come.

We have been supported by many leading global brands over the past decade including Connolly's Red Mills, TRI Equestrian and Horseware. Without their continued support, it wouldn't be possible to be in the position we are in today.

How has the economic recession impacted on the AIRC and its members?

Tony Ennis: Participation at national competitions has dropped by approximately 10pc but club activities are holding their own and so far it is looking like we will increase membership by 3pc this year. We were lucky that we were in a position to offer a reduction in the membership and club capitation fee for 2011.

David Abbott: Our members are more conscious of where they will go to compete and perhaps they are staying more local rather than travelling to our national championships. We do try and offer as cost efficient an entry fee for our events as possible but for some, the rising price of fuel is adding a huge burden onto the costs.

We have been very lucky to see our membership levels withstand the economic woes without any significant drop and at the moment, we're seeing an increase in numbers, which is testament to the efforts of our board of directors, club officials and members throughout the country.

What will be the highlights of the next 12 months?

Tony Ennis: Seeing a full complement of competitors partake in the Connolly's Red Mill Master Series Final at Mullingar.

David Abbott: For me, the role out of our results database will be one of the main highlights this year as it will be beneficial not just to this organisation, but the industry as a whole. Also, the revised equitation and horse knowledge exams will give a renewed vigour to one of our keys objectives, namely education.

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