Irish eventer Eric Smiley has been appointed to coach the Belgian event squad until the 2012 Olympics.

Eric (pictured) told H&H how he got the job: “They didn’t have a trainer at last year’s World Equestrian Games [WEG], so they were scouting around and looking for someone. Various people had been approached or applied in a private way.

“I hadn’t applied or even heard the job was going, but they rang me up and asked me to do it, so that was nice. I went to Belgium 10 days ago and met the federation and talked what they wanted and what I can do. Then I came home, sat down and wrote a business plan and that’s now been approved.”

Led by star rider Karin Donckers, Belgium qualified for the Games by finishing sixth at WEG and also won team bronze at the 2009 European Championships.

“They’ve always been one of those teams who are competitive with a fair wind,” said Eric. “They punch above their weight — they don’t have many riders or many horses, but they’ve got two or three riders who are competitive in any company. The riders have all reached four-star without me, so I hope to tidy and sharpen things up and add polish here and there.

“It’s great that the pressure of qualification for the Olympics is off so we can make plans from now until London. For the next 530-odd days, the focus will be on the three- and four-star riders, but it would be lovely to also have the opportunity to bring on the next generation.”

Eric Smiley’s first team trainer job

Eric is based in Northern Ireland and was a regular member of the Irish team in the 1980s and 1990s, winning two European team bronze medals. He is a renowned coach, Fellow of the British Horse Society and FEI international judge who often sits on ground juries up to four-star level.

He retired from competing at three- and four-star after Badminton 2005, but still rides up to two-star level, which he says is why he has not had the opportunity to take on a team trainer’s job previously.

“Most riders my age [59] stopped competing 20 years ago,” he says. “I’ve never said, ‘I’m a coach’ because I’m a judge, trainer and competitor — I do a bit of everything.”

Eric says the logistics of this new venture are an “unholy nightmare” but he will be able to keep up his own competing with the help of wife Sue and his team at home.

This news is the latest development in the 2012 build-up following the appointment of Prue Barrett as Australian national performance director and the revelation that Lucinda Green is coaching the Austrian team in an attempt to help them gain their Olympic qualification.