Just the Job as much-maligned mule turns mane attraction
Cowboys and cossacks among the thrills as century-old show returns, writes Louise Hogan
WHISPER it. There was a four-legged animal on the grounds whose IQ reputedly soared above that of the esteemed horse.
Kentucky cowboy John Fox (56) may have survived many a narrow escape from the claws of a grizzly bear in the wilds of Wyoming, but he was truly taking his life in his hands as the cavalcade rolled into leafy Ballsbridge for the 138th Dublin Horse Show.
Swaying back on his heels, with his thumbs wedged in his leather chaps, the bow-legged cattle rancher praised the stamina, strength and, of course, patience of the mule, which is a cross between a donkey and a horse. John's own mule was named Job, after the Bible story.
"They are more intelligent than a horse. It is a proven fact that a mule is much more intelligent, and that is the point and the fact that a lot of people in the equestrian world don't want to deal with that," he bravely uttered.
He was enticed to the RDS by his Dublin-born wife Hazel to tell of the mule's many attributes. And the crowd was intrigued.
"You can't bully these animals into anything. They want to think about things and because of that fact people want to classify them as stubborn. That is just the way they are."
There was a palpable sense of relief in the air yesterday as the century-old show returned with all of its traditions firmly intact despite those hovering economic woes.
And, in keeping with tradition, the gilt-edged carriage dating from 1791 was dusted off and taken out of storage for its annual outing to the show.
There was no danger of its inhabitants putting a foot over the speed limit as the four black Friesians clip-clopped out at a leisurely "a mile every 15 minutes or so" for the official opening ceremony.
Out stepped Lord Mayor Andrew Montague -- the mastermind behind the successful Dublin bikes scheme and the much maligned 30kmh city centre speed limit -- who traded in his two-wheeler for a ride in the carriage alongside his partner Sinead Ahern, and his nephews Fearghus (13) and Darragh (11).
On a previous occasion at the show, the Lord Mayor had been left frankly "petrified".
"I qualified as a veterinary surgeon in 1991 and one of the very first jobs I did -- I was three weeks qualified -- was to come over here and be one of the vets on duty," he said.
There was a bit of bling hanging around his partner Sinead's neck in the form of the Lady Mayoress's chain.
And Lord Mayor Montague swiftly put his political wiles to the fore as he neatly side-stepped the question of whether more jewellery was in the offing.
"You never know what'll happen," he quipped.
Elsewhere, Irish rugby hooker Rory Best, from Poyntzpass, Co Down, was enjoying an afternoon off after a morning's training at Carton House for the upcoming World Cup.
Accompanied by his wife Jodie, one-year-old son Ben, and niece Alex, they were keeping an eye out for his father, who had been showing a pony in the Connemara classes. However, on his first visit to the show he confessed he had been more interested "in the rugby" than the horses as a child.
His rugby mates Ronan O'Gara and Paul O'Connell were tipped to be attending, while Tommy Bowe was seen enjoying the atmosphere.
In the main arena, the international show jumpers were left gaping in awe as the world-renowned stunt riders, the Ukrainian Cossacks, showed supreme balance as they performed a six-man pyramid aboard three horses.
It wasn't all fun and games as a delighted Jennifer Dawson (25) was left with her arms full feeding seven-year-old Gloster Boy, who claimed the sash in the Connemara Performance Hunter Championship with her younger sister Lydia (15) aboard.
Jennifer, from Kilronan Equestrian Centre, in Swords, Dublin, said this had been her sister's "main aim" and they were thrilled by the win.
From Banbridge, Co Down, John Donaghy, who was showing Caesars Palace in today's two-year-old geldings and colt class, said he'd favour a trip to the RDS over a "sun holiday".
"If you have a nice horse then this is the place anywhere in Europe to show," he said.
And today, at least some of the attention may turn to the well-heeled variety as the judging gets underway for Ladies Day.