I’ve been lucky enough to ride on a Dublin Aga Khan winning Nations Cup team on six occasions: three times for Ireland and three for Britain. I can personally say it’s one of the best experiences for a showjumper.
So the news that Hickstead is moving its superleague leg to the Sunday of the Royal International has put a smile on my face.
We should embrace this opportunity to make it the most important outdoor spectacle we can put on in showjumping.
It should be the dream of every young rider to participate in that parade of teams in the main ring and go on to represent their country. Hopefully, when all the back rings have finished, they will have the opportunity to stay on, watch, and gain some inspiration.
I finished school at 15 — through no fault of my own — and left Liverpool to work with horses in Ireland. I was lucky enough to be one of a group of young lads who were all starting at the bottom and trying to work their way to the top.
I remember well going to Dublin Horse Show to see the Nations Cup — one of the biggest sporting events in Ireland — and watching the whole showground come to a standstill as Eddie Macken, Paul Darragh, Con Power and James Kernan paraded in front of the band.
As a young boy, perched up in a tree, it was incredible to see them go on to win the Aga Khan trophy. It was the best thing I could imagine, and it gave me more motivation to succeed than ever.
The whole of Ireland was behind that team: it was on the news; the stands were packed and the streets were packed. The responsibility to win was enormous but the rewards were fantastic. There was widespread recognition and the horses became household names.
When I moved back to England aged 21, Hickstead’s Nations Cup used to be in the Sunday slot, before it was replaced by the King George V Gold Cup. I can recall the outside rings being finished and seeing Harvey Smith and David Broome jumping on the team, with the support of a full house. The atmosphere was fantastic then — a bit like Derby day.
I’m in the unusual position of having ridden both for Ireland at Dublin and for Britain at Hickstead. With the level of crowd participation, the history of the event and the buy-in of all the riders, the atmosphere at Dublin is undoubtedly unique. No one ever shies off taking a team place there.
Hopefully, moving the event to the Sunday at Hickstead will now bring back some of the prestige and allow people to give the competition the focus and respect it deserves.
If we build the day up to really mean something, then owners and riders will buy in and we’ll get the likes of Scott Brash and Ben Maher to put their best foot forward.
We should get as many ex-riders as possible to support it and give interviews. I would like to see a lot of Union flags waving in the stands for the parade — we need a partisan crowd behind our team and there’s no reason we can’t make this a fantastic British showjumping day.
Ref Horse & Hound; 8 February 2018