Amateur heroes draw Sunday crowds at Dublin Horse Show
Gutsy club riders give spectators as much of a thrill as the professionals
Lorenzo Da Luca from Italy on Ensor de Litrange Lxii, winner of the Longines Grand Prix during his round on the final day of the Dublin Horse Show in the RDS Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Four low-flying aircraft roar overhead on their way to or from Bray Air Show, but the cheers from the crowd on the ground in Ballsbridge are even louder. They are shouting for some of the only equines around Dublin 4 this weekend who are not only unfazed by the noise, but seem to relish it.
These are competing in the final of the Pony Club Mounted Games competition in Ring One of the Dublin Horse Show. In the next ring, the working hunter ponies show their jumping prowess, while in the main arena, international riders walk the course ahead of the Grand Prix jumping event.
Looking through the rails at the pony games, eight-year-old Hugh Curran from Rathmines in Dublin marvels at the speed. “I didn’t think it would be as fast – it looks a bit dangerous,” he says seriously as one of the Shillelagh riders, who has dismounted to pick up a rolled-up sock, gets towed down the ring by an over-zealous pony. It’s the sock and bucket race and conditions are slippery after a recent downpour.
Hugh’s sister Lily (6) has gone to look at bees at a stall nearby, but he is sticking around to watch this until the end. It is his first time at the show and he wants to see the lap of honour. It might be the “best bit”.
As the teams fight it out – Laois finish on top, with Shillelagh in second – the atmosphere is as electric as on Saturday night when Tipperary man Shane Breen and Waterford’s Jack O’Donohue claimed the honours after clearing the Land Rover Puissance wall at 7ft 2in.
Watching Breen, another Shane from Cashel mused that the horse show has been underselling itself for years. “It’s not a show, it’s a festival,” he says, with a gin and tonic in hand.
“I thought it was literally just a bunch of horses trotting around but this is way more than that – there are horses, stands, art, bars and fashion – though some of that is questionable.”
Breen impressed again yesterday afternoon, finishing second on Golden Hawk in the Longines Grand Prix, which closed the international jumping for the show. Italy’s Lorenzo De Luca took the top spot, with the US’s Audrey Coulter in third and Ireland’s Cian O’Connor in fourth place.
Beyond the main arena, it was the amateur riders who drew the crowds. For Sherra Murphy, from Arklow, Co Wicklow, that’s what makes Sunday special. “From the pony games to this event in front of us – the riding club team jumping – it’s all about the local. It really shows the depth and quality of horse sport in this country. You can see that all on show today. The hard work that people put in all year, here’s where it pays off.”
One of the riders from the amateur jumping team event takes a breather before her second round. “There is nothing like jumping horses to scare the bejaysus out of you – it’s such a thrill,” says Dervla Quinn. She is competing for Wicklow’s Greenvalley Riding Club. She was talked into competing by teammate and friend Jennifer Kavanagh and was delighted to qualify for Dublin. The crowd doesn’t bother her, despite their roars of approval as another rider finishes a round without any faults. “It’s scary but great fun. And it’s hard to have a hot flush when you are looking for your stride,” she says, laughing, before heading back to the warm-up ring. The team end up in the ribbons, in third spot.
Back in the stable areas, half-doors doors lie open as horses and riders start to head home, the country smell leaving Dublin 4 for another year.