‘These sort of horses don’t just fall out the sky’: Austin O’Connor steps up to Irish side following teammate’s withdrawal

  • Ireland’s Austin O’Connor and the eye-catching grey Colorado Blue stepped into the breach following Cathal Daniels’ last-minute withdrawal from the Irish eventing team to finish the first phase at the Tokyo Olympics on a score of 38.

    Tokyo is Austin’s first senior championship since 2017 and his first Olympic eventing appearance since Beijing 2008.

    “These sort of horses don’t just fall out of the sky,” he said. “They’re hard to find, hard to keep right, to keep us right so there’s two elements. There isn’t just the athlete, there’s two athletes involved.”

    Austin added he was disappointed with the test.

    “The horse has been working really well,” he said. “His prep was good, everything was going well, I don’t quite know [why] I think he got a little bit shy in the ring in the trot.

    “The changes are generally a lot better than that. He decided he thought he was seeing imaginary showjumps I think! But you know it’s done and we’ve got to look forward to Sunday and Monday.”

    Austin heard he would be riding at 6pm the night before his test, following the withdrawal of Cathal Daniels and the mare Rioghan Rua, owing to “veterinary reasons”.

    “I certainly wouldn’t be using [the call-up] as an excuse for being a bit disappointed today,” he said. “I felt very, very sorry for Cathal. Obviously I was here to compete and we’re all competitors, but we’ve all been in [Cathal’s] situation and it’s not nice.”

    Reflecting on Colorado Blue’s character, he added: “He’s quite a laid back character, but he is a competitor. He’s got a great heart. He wants to do the job and he’s a pleasure to ride. So I think I probably slightly let him down today.”

    Austin was followed into the arena by New Zealand’s Jesse Campbell, making his Olympic debut aboard Diachello. The pair scored 30.3, putting them in provisional 11th individually and the New Zealand team into sixth, ahead of the final rotation of team riders.

    “I was really pleased on the whole,” said Jesse, adding the 11-year-old gelding is a “lovely horse”.

    “He’s a horse who I think it’s going to just get better and better over the next few years. It’s a very difficult test, in terms of if you make a little mistake to then try and get those scores back it just comes up so fast. You’ve got no time to rebuild your score if you make a little mistake. I made a few little boo-boos, but on the whole, I’m really pleased.”

    Speaking about what it is like to be on a team with Tim and Jonelle Price, he added: “I think everyone knows what a fantastic team they are. It’s a real honour to be here with them and I’ve sort of been taken under their wing.”

    Britain holds the lead in the individual and team standings after the first day of eventing dressage, with Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class in provisional first place (23.6).

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