Four more faults for Irish show jumping
EQUESTRIAN SPORT OLYMPIC SELECTION:FOUR years on from Beijing and eight years since the Athens Olympics, Irish show jumping has once again come under the spotlight of the non-equestrian media, but this time before the Games have even begun.
While the general public must be baffled, and sceptical, by what is happening in the sport at an Olympic level, for those involved in the national equestrian scene, it is the perception of the Irish horse which worries them most.
In the main, our top international riders live outside the country; their owners, who are mostly non-Irish, generously allow their horses compete under the tricolour; and, the horses on which they compete are usually foreign-bred animals which are rarely seen in this country.
Earlier this month, Co Waterford’s Paul Beecher became the first Irish rider since 2003 to land the famous Hickstead Derby. The 29-year-old won on a home-bred horse and, what’s more, was the first rider to win having been the pathfinder over the Derby course.
There was little fuss made of this achievement and few outsiders have since become aware of Beecher’s name.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the Olympics, nearly everyone in the country who is old enough can remember Cian O’Connor being stripped of the gold medal he won with Waterford Crystal at the 2004 Games in Athens.
They can also recall the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the equestrian competitions were staged in Hong Kong and Denis Lynch was withdrawn from the final stage of the individual show jumping competition as his mount Lantinus had tested positive for the banned substance capsaicin.
Three other riders – from Brazil, Germany and Norway – also had to watch the action from the sidelines as their horses, too, had tested positive but Irish show jumping certainly didn’t need this second body blow in two successive Games.
What has happened in the past week regarding the nomination of show jumping riders to the Olympic Council of Ireland for this summer’s Games hasn’t helped raise the image of the sport among the general population.
Show jumping is the biggest equestrian sport in this country and every weekend thousands compete up and down the country, from very young children and their tiny ponies upwards. Many are professionals who produce horses either for themselves or others which are often sold on while the amateurs usually keep the same horse for a longer period. Both sectors are important to the breeder who needs an outlet for his stock year on year.
While the top show jumping riders now prefer the Dutch or German-bred animal, there is still a huge market abroad for the Irish horse, mainly in Britain and the United States, and for those involved with equestrianism, the integrity of the Irish horse and related sports in this country must be maintained to a high standard.
We have a lot of very talented young show jumping riders in this country who will wonder what they have to do to get on a senior team. Some come up through the pony, junior and young rider ranks but fail to progress further because of lack of opportunity. For most riders here, be they involved in show jumping or eventing, they have to sell horses to continue in their careers and then watch others climb the ranks with horses they have started.