From a bang to a whimper as Ireland loses the Aga Khan trophy to Britain

Champagne tent is a recession-free zone

The Dublin Horse Show may have started with a bang for the Irish team, when chef d'equipe Robert Splaine's mini-bar exploded, but yesterday ended with a whimper when Team Ireland lost the Aga Khan trophy to Britain.

The Irish team finished joint third but Mr Splaine was bitterly disappointed. “Huge crowds here. We wanted to win for the people here and they just got behind the whole thing,” he said. “The lads fought hard but they just weren’t good enough on the day.”

So, unbridled joy for Britain and long faces for Ireland but never mind the neighsayers, we still have the Puissance today and the Grand Prix tomorrow before the 140th Dublin Horse Show draws to a close.

Before the Nations Cup got under way, the crowds in the main arena were wowed by the sight of scurry racing. Pairs of small ponies pulling carriages chased around the main arena, weaving through narrow sets of cones. While the drivers urged the ponies on, the grooms leaned to the left and right to keep the carriages balanced.


Impressionist Oliver Callan and sports commentator Brendan McArdle took the grooms' roles in the back of the carriages in a bid to add some celebrity cachet to the event. Callan looked to be instantly regretting his decision as his ponies charged into the arena.

“I’m not too sure about this one,” he said, holding the carriage rail with a death-like grip. McArdle seemed more at ease, whooping with delight when his ponies shot through the cones. But neither should give up the day job, finishing fourth and fifth out of six competitors.

If they were looking for a stiff drink after the race, they would have found themselves in a long queue as the crowds massed around the food and drink stands.

And if the Blossom Hill champagne tent is any indication of the health of the economy then the recession is well and truly over. There were lengthy queues for tables where people were enjoying €90 and €100 bottles of Laurent-Perrier Brut and €30 seafood platters .

Racoon coat, dahling?
"Mwah, mwah, dahling," was all that could be heard as the ice buckets were rolled out. Money was no object in the shopping halls either, where you could buy anything from rosary beads to a racoon fur coat. The 1940s full-length coat had been kept in cold storage and cost a cool €1,250.

It was hard to escape horses’ heads in the shopping area as they appeared on everything from toilet seats to cushions to earrings. One of the busiest stands was the Berney Bros equestrian shop, where six staff were flat out behind the counter, selling everything from saddles to socks.

But once the Nations Cup competition started, all eyes were on the main arena, where President Michael D Higgins and his elegantly dressed wife Sabina were the guests of honour.

Minister for Transport, Sport and Tourism Leo Varadkar was resplendent in his top tail and tails, clearly relieved to be talking about horses as a mode of transport, rather than striking buses.

The horse world likes its etiquette and if you put polished boot wrong, you risk becoming a pariah among the bowler hat brigade. Nowhere is this more evident than in side-saddle riding. Visitors to the show can see a showcase of the discipline tomorrow.

The rules are the stuff of legend. They include ensuring the rider’s hair bun touches the bottom of the hat, eschewing black gloves unless you are in mourning and, most peculiarly, ensuring that there is always an odd number of plaits on the horse’s mane. Breach these guidelines and the entire fabric of society could come crashing down.

Or maybe not. But just to be on the safe side, always leave your last waistcoat button undone.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times