Riders in vintage kit mark 100th year of women competing in RDS

Susan Oakes wore side-saddle gear at launch of this year’s Dublin Horse Show

When Dorothy Bell, a famous horse-woman from Fota House in Co Cork, died in 1975 she left her riding gear to a friend, who in turn left it to a friend, who left it to her daughter, Susan Oakes.

On Tuesday, Oakes wore it at the RDS, where she, along with other riders, celebrated the 100th anniversary of women being allowed to compete on horseback in the Dublin Horse Show.

“We are honouring all the great ladies that went before us and that paved the way for us. It’s just such an honour to be here and to do the launch and to celebrate the 100-year anniversary,” she said.

Bell, who inherited Fota House, was an avid hunter and side-saddle jumper, as is Oakes who holds the world record for side-saddle jumping, having jumped over 2m in 2013.


Wearing gloves, stock, waistcoat, brown jacket and skirt, Oakes, from Navan, sported a brown helmet and black veil in tribute to Bell, who rode side-saddle habit in the horse show during the 1940s and 1950s, she said.

At the launch, the Meath woman rode retired showjumper, Cisero, in Bell’s riding gear, which she first wore hunting in Cork three years ago. She wanted to wear it first in Cork. “I want to do the right thing and only wear it where she would have crossed for many years,” she said.

Earlier this year, Oakes completed the Camino de Santiago, an 800km pilgrimage, riding side-saddle the whole way. She made the trip to raise money for the charities Acquired Brain Injury Ireland and SPANA, an international charity that provides support for working animals. When she arrived in Santiago, she posed in Bell's riding gear at the famous cathedral.


Also at the launch of this year’s Dublin Horse Show was Jennifer Cavey O’Donoghue from Kilkenny who wore 1950s riding gear owned by Diana Connolly-Carew, who represented Ireland in the showjumping competition in the Mexico City 1968 Olympics.

“She was a real trailblazer,” said Cavey O’Donoghue, “so it’s a real honour to be wearing her gear.” Equestrian sport is one of the “few where men and women compete equally,” Cavey O’Donoghue said. “Everyone’s equal and I think that’s important in the 100th year.”

A new generation of female showjumpers featured, too, including Lauren Adams (11), who will compete in August. Sisters Annie and Abigail Boland from Wexford will also be competing.

“It’s nice to be up here at the anniversary, it’s quite a big thing,” said Abigail (19) riding Camblin Tennessee. “I think in ponies and young riders it’s pretty even, but I think maybe professionally there’s a bit more men showjumping.”

The 146th show will be held in the RDS from August 7th-11th. The Grand Prix, which takes place on the Sunday, with a total prize fund of €350,000, is the richest in Europe in international showjumping this summer.