Riders out of this World
Irish competitors land six championship medals in the space of a week, reports Siobhán English
FIVE world championship medals in one weekend and six in the space of a week — it was unprecedented in Irish equestrian sport, but not surprising given the depth of talent we have in both riders and horses at present. For Ireland to win both team and individual silver at the FEI World Equestrian Games in eventing in Mill Spring, North Carolina, last week was truly the icing on the cake after years of hard work by all concerned.
Just 24 hours beforehand, Ireland had created history when three medals were won in the five-year-old category at the FEI/WBFSH World Breeding Jumping Championships for Young Horses in Belgium.
The previous week, it was the turn of our pony riders, who were crowned world champions at the FEI Youth Nations’ Cup World Finals, also in Belgium.
Never before had one country claimed gold, silver and bronze in Lanaken, a result which will push the ISH Studbook back up the showjumping rankings in the coming weeks.
Eleven horses from these shores boasting the ISH prefix had qualified for the three main finals for five, six and seven-year-olds, but it was in the five-year-old category that we shone best.
Fifty-three horses from all over the globe qualified for this final, and 24 of those made the cut for the jump-off, where the Irish trio of Richard Howley (Uppercourt Cappucino), Darragh Ryan (CSF Sir George) and Mikey Pender (HHS Vancouver) claimed the first three places.
By the late sire Pacino, Uppercourt Cap- pucino is out of the OBOS Quality 004 mare Uppercourt Posh and was bred in Kilkenny by Paul O’Byrne.
Of the winning horse, which is now owned by Howley and his partner Morgan Kent, the rider said: “I bought him after a show in Millstreet. The horse was owned at that time by Ger O’Neill and Jason Higgins. I think the world of him and he has done enough now for this year.
“It’s amazing, I came here two years ago to watch and this was my first time riding here. It was an absolute thrill to ride in front of this wonderful crowd.”
Not only was it a fantastic result for Irish breeding, but also for our young riders who showed their immense talent on the world stage.
Ryan (22) set the pace when scorching through the finish in 35.34 seconds, but Howley shaved 0.17 seconds off that to take the lead which could not be bettered. Next best was 18-year-old Pender, in 35.75.
A native of Kildare, Pender created a sensation two years ago at these championships when taking silver and a bronze medals at the tender age of 16 with the Irish-bred horses Z Seven Caretina and Z Seven Canya Dance.
Up-and-coming teenage riders aspire to compete at this level, and at the FEI Youth Nations’ Cup World Finals we saw the quartet of Ella Quigley (Clemens), Charlotte Houston (Toscane Davnir), Katie Power (Ghost Rider) and Seamus Hughes-Kennedy (Rock Dee Jay) finish on a zero score, along with the home team from Belgium, to set up a jump-off to decide the winners. Hughes-Kennedy went forward to the decider and came out on top against Belgium’s Gilles Nuytens to give Ireland the gold medal, with silver going to the hosts.
It was a fitting end to a sea- son, which saw the Irish team unbeaten, with victories in Belgium, Holland and Germany on the way to the final.
Ever competitive, the Irish eventing team travelled to the USA with one main goal in mind: to qualify for Tokyo 2020 with a top-six result. Anything else would have been a bonus, so to come home with team and individual silver was the result of huge dedication from not only the riders but owners, grooms and a back-up team led by team manager Sally Corscadden. The quartet of Cathal Daniels (Rioghan Rua), Sam Watson (Horseware Ardagh Highlight), Padraig McCarthy (Mr Chunky) and Sarah Ennis (Horseware Stellor Rebound) had been lying in seventh place after dressage, but pulled up into silver medal position when all four went clear on the cross-country.
Another superb performance on the final day saw them secure the silver behind the British gold-medal winning team.
Ms Ennis also went into the final day with a medal in her sights, but sadly one error in the showjumping saw her drop to eventual seventh, while a clear round from McCarthy saw him claim individual silver.
Daniels, who was the youngest competitor at just 22, finished with just one fence down for 26th individually, while Sam Watson claimed 14 th individually on his dressage score of 35.5.
It was some achievement for Carlow-based Watson, who was following in the footsteps of his father John — 40 years ago, he won individual silver at the World Eventing Championships in Lexington, Kentucky.
Competing as an individual, Patricia Ryan finished in 61st overall with Dunrath Eclipse.
Commenting on the result, Corscadden said: “We really did make history there. It’s been so long since the senior team has won a medal and to do it at the World Championships was just extra special.
“I had belief in these guys that we could be competitive and that was our goal the whole time, to be competitive and we just stuck to that goal and this is where it got us.
“There was nothing lucky about this. This was made to happen by the whole set-up and the team behind them — I just can’t tell you how many people have worked to make this happen.”
Individual silver medallist McCarthy agreed that the large back-up team was instrumental to their success.
“We had a very good team around us, between vets, physios etc. All were working hard to make us and the horses feel good. Sally has put together an unbelievable team of people around us which we really need to protect,” he said.
“I just hope now that eventing can get a little more recognition, and maybe a little bit more funding. We were punching above our weight in terms of some of the other nations and we spent the winter here trying to get money together to fund this trip.
“Looking forward to Tokyo, we can now make a serious plan on how to match this result, or even go one better.”
THERE WAS NOTHING LUCKY ABOUT THIS. IT WAS MADE TO HAPPEN BY THE WHOLE SET-UP