Mr Tayto was only delighted to be back on the thick layer of raked sand spread across the Simmonscourt training circuit of the RDS in advance of the Dublin Horse Show, which kicks off today after two years of Covid cancellations and curtailments.
Astride the crisply-named beast sat Zara-Jane Kelly, from Tyrone, happily taking her charge through his paces before the summer show jumping competition the pair have been preparing for since the dark days of last winter.
Her mother Tracy tried to put into words how important the brighter days ahead were for the family.
“It is huge for the girls. This is really their pinnacle of the whole year. This is what they stay out late at night in the rain and the wet for, and this is what they train for,” she says.
It is not just the children who have made sacrifices for show jumping; three generations of the Kellys will spend the guts of a week living out of a horse box parked on a nearby rugby pitch in order to give the event their full attention.
“The kids would not stay in a hotel,” Tracy says. “Whenever we come to Dublin we have to stay in the truck. We make it comfortable and they absolutely love it, it is like a camping holiday for them. We are like a travelling circus every week but this is the big one for the year.”
It was very different last year when the Kelly gang arrived in Dublin.
“We competed for the day and went home, it was like an ordinary day and an ordinary show but this is huge for the kids. Everything seems to be back to normal in our wee community,” Tracy says. “Everyone missed it so much during those two years, the kids missed out on so much, so it was everything to try and get them here this year.”
Paul Hanley first walked through the wrought-iron gates of the RDS as an employee in 1997 and has climbed the ranks to become the director of the Horse Show this year.
He looks delighted as he watches over the hustle and bustle of the traders setting up their stands and horses settling into stalls all over the sprawling Dublin 4 complex. “It’s great to be back. We haven’t run since 2019. There is a great buzz around Ballsbridge.”
It is not all about show jumping, he says.
“It is a lot of different things for a lot of people. For some families it is definitely the economics, it’s their business. For some families it is sport and then for lots of other people it’s social. It’s that ability to spend time with family.”
A new initiative called Positive Strides will place considerable emphasis on the therapeutic and educational benefits of the human-equine relationship and voluntary organisations involved in education and development through horses are set to take centre stage. “That is something that has mushroomed and developed hugely over the last five years,” says Hanley.
He also highlights the financial benefit to horse traders of the Horse Show. “We will have a significant amount of overseas people here this week. Some of them are here to support the international teams and others are here because of our indigenous breeds, the Connemaras, the drafts, and we sell an awful lot of those horses abroad.”
Orla Griffin, the Fédération Equestre Internationale chief steward for the event, will oversee the horse welfare and ensure all the rules and regulations are followed over the course of the international competitions. It will be a labour of love for a woman who has been attending horse shows since she was a child.
“The place looks fantastic and it’s great to see everybody,” she says. “The judges and the stewards from all over the world want to come to Dublin and all the international riders want to be on the Aga Khan team for their country. It’s what everybody wants to do.”
Paolo Romeri will be overseeing hospitality for the event. He said “at least 50,000 bottles of wine” will be uncorked with 250,000 pints pulled and about 200 bottles of champagne open at any point in time over the course of each day. There will also be a pop-up restaurant run by Michelin-starred chef and food writer JP McMahon.
“It is obviously first and foremost about the equestrian side of things but as well as that it is a social occasion. [The RDS] gets transformed completely from its day-to-day use and we end up with a lot of areas that are transformed into hospitality spaces, spaces that wouldn’t even be touched for 360 days of the year,” says Romeri. “It’s great to see them opening up again.”
Dublin Horse Show runs from Wednesday, August 17th until Sunday, August 21st at the RDS in Dublin; various times and ticket prices; check the full programme here.