Ireland didn’t garner the title “Land of the horse” for nothing. Whether it’s this year’s Cheltenham maestro Willie Mullins, the versatile Connemara ponies or the action of the Dublin Horse Show, there’s a lot to love about the Emerald Isle.
And what better excuse do we need than it being St Patrick’s Day today (17 March) to celebrate all things Irish and equestrian?
So grab yourself a Guinness, don an emerald sweater and get jigging.
1. Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins’ fleet of lorries arriving at Cheltenham last week for the Festival showed everyone that he meant business. And he didn’t disappoint. On the first day alone, the County Carlow-based trainer took a whopping four titles — and by the end of the Festival he had secured a record eight.
2. AP McCoy (pictured above)
Will jump racing ever get better than the mighty AP McCoy? The 40-year-old might be retiring at the end of this season, but the National Hunt world certainly won’t forget him in a hurry. With over 4,300 wins to his name and 19 champion jockey titles, he’s not an easy act to follow.
3. Irish Draughts
We’ve got a lot to thank Irish Draughts for. They may have been developed in the early part of the 20th century for farmers who wanted a horse that could work the land in the week, go hunting all day Saturday and then be ready to bring the family trap to church on Sunday morning — but their blood can be found in sport top horses across the disciplines.
4. Aoife Clark
Thirty-three-year-old Aoife is just one of an exciting crop of Irish eventers, having taken individual seventh place at London 2012, the CCI3* title at Bramham in 2014 and the Blenheim CCI3* in 2013.
Aside from needing to top up your hip flask more frequently, H&H finds out how hunting in Ireland differs from…
National Hunt devotees can be feeling flat post the Grand National — which is when the Punchestown Festival comes into play (28 April-2 May 2015). Five days of top class racing is the perfect remedy to cure jump racing withdrawal symptoms.
This year’s Ballindenisk Horse Trials (24-26 September 2015) is sure to attract eventing royalty — but the event had humble beginnings. The story goes that in the spring of 1974 Norman Van de Vater, master of the United Fox Hounds, was out hunting one Wednesday and whilst galloping across Ballindenisk, admiring the farm, he looked at Robert Fell and asked: “Robert, would it be okay to bring a few friends for a gallop around your farm?”
You may well curse the drunken men who stumble into you, spilling Guinness down your carefully chosen tweed at the Cheltenham Festival, but what would it be without the Guinness tent? And we only have the Irish to thank for that.
8. Bertram Allen
The 19-year-old showjumping superstar may be based in Munster, Germany — but he wears his green jacket with pride. Bertram finished seventh individually at the World Equestrian Games last year and will make his debut in the World Cup final in Las Vegas in April.
9. Dublin Horse Show
First run in 1864, this show is a Dublin institution. This year it runs from 5-9 August 2015, and spectators can look forward to watching showing’s biggest names in action, the Nations Cup showjumping — as well as the eagerly anticipated puissance.
10. Connemara ponies
With their athleticism, versatility, good temperament and enviable jumping ability, any child has hit the jackpot if they can land themselves a Connemara pony to kick start their competition career.
11. Extreme hunting
Hip flasks need to be sizeable (and full) for hunting in Ireland — and there’s no shame in hopelessly clinging onto your neckstrap. Or having dirty breeches within the first 20 minutes of getting on board.