Miriam Lord: Mexicans in dreamland but Michael D’s in limbo

RDS was hopping with champagne, spice bags and tarot cards as President bides his time

President Michael D Higgins: still  doing what he has to do, even if journalists will be turning up in increasing numbers at his public events. Photograph: Inpho/Tommy Dickson

President Michael D Higgins: still doing what he has to do, even if journalists will be turning up in increasing numbers at his public events. Photograph: Inpho/Tommy Dickson

 

The Mexican showjumpers are in raptures. A large sombrero is lording it over the top hats and fascinators and a waistcoated Winston Churchtown is swanning about the turf in a black tail coat like he owns the RDS.

The public address announcer is beside himself.

“It’s not every day, ladies and gentlemen, you see scenes like this in the Main Arena.”

Scenes is right.

Winston, aka Minister for Sport Shane Ross, is filling a gap recently left by Michael D Higgins, who has just finished congratulating the victorious Mexican team and is now bowling along towards the Triple Combination and the members of the Irish team, which tied for second place in the Nations Cup competition.

They reach down from their mounts to shake his hand and one of the horses stands on his foot. Michael D keeps smiling. He takes off again, slightly bockety this time, and into the path of a skittish grey gelding.

“Whoah!” shriek the crowd in the Anglesea Stand, as Cameron Hanley pulls Quirex in one direction and the President does a sideways scuttle in the other, looking none the worse for his experience.

“C’mon Mickey D!” shouts a woman with a broad Dublin accent, the sort you don’t hear in certain areas of the RDS during Horse Show week.

The Army No 1 band and the Defence Forces Pipe band has massed down one end of the arena, all shiny buttons and pleated kilts. They strike up a rousing version of Courting in the Kitchen and suddenly everyone is swaying and tapping their feet.

The Mexicans have been given bouquets of flowers along with Longines watches and the trophy. They remount and wait as the formalities are completed and Winston Churchtown (where was his top hat? Perhaps the Mexicans were dancing on it) completed his tour around the teams, patting their noses. The horses’ noses, that is.

Small towel

Rider Enrique Gonzalez waves his bouquet in the air. His horse Chacna takes fright and throws him off. He lands on the ground with an unmerciful thump, still holding the reins and still holding his bouquet. A small towel is quickly placed over the horse’s eyes to calm him down. Enrique, meanwhile, bounds to his feet and does an exaggerated bow to the cheering crowd.

Such scenes.

Shane Ross doesn’t notice any of this because he is doing a television interview further down the arena, beside the Children of Lir-themed jump. It is tradition for male guests invited to the president’s box on Nations Cup day – when the RDS is heaving with diplomatic types – to wear morning suits. Michael D prefers not to wear the top hat and tails. Yet again this year, he sticks to the tweed on what might, or might not be, his last trip to the RDS as President.

He sticks to the tweed on what might, or might not be, his last trip to the RDS as President

Having presented the Aga Khan trophy to the jubilant men from Mexico (the country’s first time to win it), Michael D returns, via red-carpeted steps, to join his wife Sabina in the president’s box.

The annual Aga Khan competition is quite a formal affair. Those of us thinking of the forthcoming election wondered if he might take the opportunity to press some voter flesh among the horseflesh during his visit. He didn’t. Upon arrival, he was quickly escorted inside the stand.

“Uachtaráin, will you be doing any walkabouts today?”

“I’m not sure yet,” he replied, sounding somewhat disappointed. “I’ll have to be told.” And with that, a woman from the RDS materialised and steered him firmly away from the notebooks with a hissed “We’re on live television.” She came back to say the President would be performing official duties all afternoon and wouldn’t be doing any walkabouts.

Is this good or bad for Michael D, still serving as first citizen and bound by the strictures of office, but yet soon to be a candidate in what could be a bruising campaign?

Presidential limbo

He is existing in a sort of presidential limbo, as questions necessarily arise about his time in office and his plans for future office but with no way for him to address them – at least until the race begins in earnest late in September. And even then it’ll be interesting to see how he deals with them.

But for now, he is the President, doing what he has to do, even if journalists will be turning up in increasing numbers at his public events. And they won’t be waving notebooks in his direction to ask him for details about the lovely occasions he is attending.

Aga Khan day in Ballsbridge: Mexican team members Perez Garza, Federico Fernandez; Patricie Pasqual and Enrique Gonzalez and (centre) chef d’equipe Stanny van Paesschen. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Aga Khan day in Ballsbridge: Mexican team members Perez Garza, Federico Fernandez; Patricie Pasqual and Enrique Gonzalez and (centre) chef d’equipe Stanny van Paesschen. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Still, he seemed to enjoy Friday’s spectacle, which was a sellout. Away from the packed arena and the emotional Mexicans (their utter delight at winning melted the hearts of even the most partisan home supporters), there were big crowds for the various showing classes in the rings outside and more again attending the art exhibitions and trade shows.

You could have your tarot cards read for €50 and a consultation with a clairvoyant (“as seen on TV and newspapers”) for €50 or go all out and do both for the reduced rate of €80. What about some nice pick n’ mix to chew on while going about your business?

It was €7 a bucket, but the treats were for horses.

Representatives from Kara Creek Rank resort in Wyoming were at the show for the first time offering holidays with “an authentic cowboy experience”. Owner Monte Snook along with Brock Holbrook from Montana were manning the stand in their 10-gallon hats.

Real cowboys

“Are you a real cowboy?” we asked Brock.

“Yes, ma’am.”

It’s a pity the Dáil is up for the holidays. We could have directed them to Kildare Street to find some kindred spirits.

You can buy all sorts. We nearly came away with a dressing gown for the dog.

You can buy all sorts. We nearly came away with a dressing gown for the dog

There are lots of Americans about perusing the horses and hacking jackets. One of them is Evie Jobs, daughter of the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. She is a showjumper, but wasn’t competing in Dublin. Instead, she was supporting her boyfriend Eugenio Garza Perez, who was on the winning Mexican team.

You could buy a bottle of Cristal in the champagne tent for €365. The prosecco was flying out.

A young lad passed us in the Trade Hall. “These buckets are class, mam,” he said loudly to his mother. That’s the sort of thing you hear at the Horse Show.

Jack Murphy (13) from Swinford was with his mother Mary and cousin Emma (13). They are from Castlegate stud and are showing two three year olds this week and two mares in foal.

Jack had two large blue buckets. “They’re great because they are big and awful hard. Tough.” He was going to use them “for feeding big mares”.

Speaking of which, there was any manner of grub for those of us in the big mare category. Even that ubiquitous Chinese takeaway delicacy known as The Spice Bag is available.

But back to the Mexicans, who were deliriously and tearfully happy at the post-competition press conference. One of the team, Federico Fernandez survived a plane crash in 1987 in which 37 people died.

“After what happened to me, I feel an obligation to be happy and today is one of the happiest days of my life,” he said.

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