The Stena Line Dublin Horse Show takes place this week (7-11 August) and if you’ve never been to this premier Irish show, you really should put it on your bucket list.
Here’s why a visit to Dublin is just so special…
1. The Friday of Dublin is Longines Nations Cup day, when countries compete for the Aga Khan Trophy, and it’s one of the glistening jewels in the annual worldwide calendar of horse sport. The class has a long history stretching back to 1926, when the late Aga Khan donated the magnificent trophy in appreciation of all the pleasures he had had at previous horse shows and in gratitude to his Irish tutor, Mr Kenny.
Initially, any country winning the trophy three times — not necessarily in succession — won it outright. This changed in 1930, after Switzerland won the first trophy and the Aga Khan provided a new one, so countries now have to triumph three times in succession to claim the trophy. The present trophy is the sixth in the series. Such is the prestige of winning the Aga Khan that in 1975 Britain missed the European Championships in order to send a strong team to Dublin and win the cup outright.
The Nations Cup is preceded by an hour’s build-up — the arrival of the president of Ireland and the parade of teams, with a band — and the crackle around the arena as the anticipation grows is second to none. The main arena stewards wear morning dress on Aga Khan day, come rain or a heatwave.
Just to add to the drama, Dublin is usually the last Nations Cup before the final, so it’s down to the wire as teams try to secure a place at the series finale.
The rolls of honour on the wall of “the pocket” — the famous rider’s bar — display each year’s winners of the Nations Cup, Saturday night’s puissance and Sunday’s grand prix and are a physical manifestation of a special piece of history.
2. The show really is in the city centre, so you can easily fly to Dublin, take a bus to the showground and book a hotel nearby (if you get in early) so you don’t need a hire car. You can wander out of the showground and be in a restaurant in sections.
3. The showing classes at Dublin are also hugely prestigious, with every producer wanting to take home the champion’s sash. And you can get involved — every day there is a public judging competition in selected classes, with a €1,000 prize-fund. If you fancy yourself as a judge of horse flesh, you can put your money where your mouth is…
4. The organisers always lay on super masterclasses, with Mark Todd, Laura Kraut and Christoph Hess on the menu this year. There are also displays, with Santi Serra bringing dogs and birds of prey as well as horses for his display this time.
5. The show is threaded through the history of Irish equestrianism, with a strong family to family tradition. Irish kids grow up here riding 12.2hh ponies — whether showing or showjumping — and dream of riding in the Aga Khan. For some of them, it comes true and there will be no prouder moment for them or their families.
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6. The showground is beautiful. The main arena is one of the very best grass rings in the world. On Aga Khan day, there isn’t a spare seat in the house and every inch of the ringside is crammed with spectators. Just behind the main arena, crowds line the ring boundaries to watch showing classes under the trees.
Across the road, there’s a whole other world, Simmonscourt, where jumping action and demos continue on an all-weather surface.
The show has everything, from classes for the very top professionals through to riding clubs, a Pony Club musical ride, a donkey display, combined training and a hunt scurry-style team competition. Oh — and there are lots of classes for Connemara ponies. Who doesn’t love a Connemara pony?
Some top ex-racehorses also usually appear in the racehorse to riding horse parade in the main arena on Saturday.
Full report on the showing and showjumping from Dublin in next week’s H&H magazine (dated 15 August).