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also recall the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the equestrian competitions were staged in Hong Kong and Denis Lynch was withdrawn from the final stage of the individual show jumping competition as his mount Lantinus had tested positive for the banned substance capsaicin.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.
All, however, would love to wear a green jacket on the international stage as that is where their talents will be noted. Others have already had the chance to show their skills at the highest level and have been found wanting on occasion, let down not by their riding or their horses but by failing to live up to the standards expected of them.
When Horse Sport Ireland nominated Billy Twomey and Denis Lynch to the OCI early last week, its chief executive Damian McDonald stated of all shortlisted riders: “I know they are determined to ensure that Ireland and Irish show jumping is represented with distinction at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.”
Let’s hope the sport is remembered for all right reasons this time around; it hasn’t been a great start.
Riders at the centre of another Olympic storm
THE SHOWJUMPER won the individual gold in Athens in 2004 but was stripped of his medal and forced to hand it back when a sedative was found in the system of his horse, Waterford Crystal. A human sedative, unlicensed for equine use, was administered to Waterford Crystal when the horse was injured and out of competition. The medication was expected to have left the horse’s system before he resumed competing. It hadn’t.
Protesting his innocence throughout, O’Connor found the media spotlight rather more glaring than in the euphoric days immediately after Athens. But things got rapidly worse when Waterford Crystal’s B urine sample was stolen from a lab in Newmarket, and then documentation taken in an alleged break-in at the Irish Equestrian Federation (IEF) offices was faxed anonymously to RTÉ.
With the urine sample out of the picture, the international governing body despatched Waterford Crystal’s B blood sample to a New York laboratory for confirmatory analysis, but it was O’Connor himself who announced the results. Waterford Crystal had tested positive for two human anti-psychotic drugs, fluphenazine and zuclopenthixol.
O’Connor was subsequently cleared of deliberately attempting to enhance the performance of his horse but banned for three months.
He returned to the show jumping circuit shortly after serving his ban but became embroiled in another controversy regarding team selection in 2005 and, after allegedly receiving threats, felt it necessary to hire 24-hour protection for himself.
Lynch was stopped from competing in the final round of the 2008 Games after his horse tested positive for a prohibited substance in Hong Kong. Lynch admitted using an over-the-counter product Equi-Block on his horse Lantinus, a product that contained the prohibited substance, capsaicin, a derivative of chilli pepper.
Equi-Block, a US product available by mail order, was not stocked in Ireland at the time and listed capsaicin – a drug known to be on the Olympic, as well as FEI, list of banned substances – as a main ingredient. On the labelling it claimed that use of the product would not “result in a positive test”.
With Horse Sport Ireland vowing to adopt a zero tolerance approach in future, Lynch was handed a three-month ban by the FEI and returned to showjumping late in 2008.
– NOEL O’REILLY