‘My heart was thumping’: an unusual Irish team celebrates, a 14-year-old stallion returns and a coming-of-age performance

  • In this week’s international showjumping news round-up, there is plenty to celebrate for a unique team of Irish horses in the Nations Cup at Wellington International’s Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) – something team manager Michael Blake said he’d never seen “in 100 Nations Cups”.

    A young British rider also posts a landmark first five-star victory in Doha, Qatar, and a highly anticipated rising British equine star achieves a watershed coming-of-age performance.

    Read on for a round-up of the highlights of this week’s international showjumping news and results.

    Showjumping news: “This team is a little unusual”

    Ireland fielded a mix of Olympic veterans and team debutant horses for the $150,000 CSIO4* Nations Cup during week eight of WEF, which proved to be a winning formula as they topped a cracking contest between the 10 teams.

    Pathfinder Darragh Kenny (Eddy Blue), David O’Brien (El Balou OLD), Shane Sweetnam (RR Combella) and Cian O’Connor with Fancy de Kergane topped the leaderboard ahead of Canada and the USA. Great Britain’s squad of Jessica Mendoza (I-Cap CL Z), Tim Gredley (Imperial HBF), Sameh El Dahan (Oscar-A) and Ben Maher (Ginger-Blue) finished in fourth.

    “This feels amazing – I’m so lucky that my parents had their flights organised, all my students, my clients and my sponsors are here, we’ve had a great night,” said Irish squad debutant David, who jumped clear in round one, just adding two time-faults in the second leg for owners Chansonette and Leap Year Farms.

    David O'Brien of Ireland makes his Irish debut in the Nations Cup at WEF in this week's showjumping news

    David O’Brien of Ireland makes his Irish debut in the Nations Cup at WEF with “fighter” El Balou OLD. Credit: Sportfot.

    “It was a very strong team, I was thinking to myself how many times have the three of them [Shane, Cian and Darragh] competed for Ireland compared with some other teams. It’s really special for me to be sitting up here with three Olympians. They are so experienced.

    “I came in on a horse who was willing to fight for me and who doesn’t want to knock any poles down. The horse has a long history and I got him because he was a difficult child, and he needed a continuing program. To me, he’s my number one, so every day we’re out for a long time and it’s a process to keep him focused. But results-wise, I’m very happy with him. He’s probably been the reason I was able to go out on my own and have a business.

    “I’m delighted it paid off and everything came together. It’s a great atmosphere, when you come in the ring everything is pumped up. My heart was pumping, the horse’s heart was pumping. There was a big cheer when we cleared the last fence.”

    Darragh Kenny jumped for clear and four on Kerry Anne LLC’s Eddy Blue.

    “I love to ride for Ireland. It’s one of my favorite things, second to winning, of course,” he said. “But winning with an Irish team, that’s even better.

    “Eddy Blue has never done two rounds like that before, but he seemed to step up to the occasion very well.”

    Showjumping news: Darragh Kenny and Eddy Blue in action for Ireland in the WEF Nations Cup.

    Darragh Kenny and Eddy Blue in action for Ireland in the WEF Nations Cup. Credit: Sportfot.

    Anchorman Cian O’Connor on Coolmore Showjumping’s Fancy De Kergane jumped clear in round one but was able to sit out round two, with team victory already in the bag.

    “We saw a bit of everything in the course tonight,” said Cian. “Obviously, it plays a part with one round in the daytime then one at night. Both rounds were light, delicate and the plank was difficult to judge.

    “This horse is only nine, so he’s just stepping up to this level. There aren’t many nine-year-olds able to do this, so I’m very happy with him. There’s something very special about the night classes here. So many people were here tonight and it’s one that everyone wants to win.”

    Shane Sweetnam and the mare RR Combella jumped for four faults in each round.

    “That’s the purpose of giving her a chance in this – you really do learn a lot,” he revealed. “She showed her character and how good a horse she is. I think the rider could have done better, but I was very happy with her, especially at the end to go and give a solid round to make sure that we did win.”

    Irish chef d’equipe Michael Blake said: “This team is a little unusual. In 100 and something Nations Cups that I’ve been involved in, I’ve never had a full team where none of the horses ever jumped a Nations Cup before. That shows true depth in that we could put out a team of new horses, very good horses, but still new horses.

    “On paper we didn’t look like the favourites, but I knew we’d be hard to beat. Canada looked strong, the US looked very strong, but we had a lot of experience, and we know how to dig deep.

    “We love to come here because the atmosphere is amazing. To see a full house, that’s what lifts you, it’s very special.”

    Olli Fletcher and BP Pocahontas land a memorable win in Doha, Qatar.

    Olli Fletcher and BP Pocahontas land a memorable win in Doha, Qatar. Credit: LGCT.

    “A big day in the office” for 20-year-old Olli Fletcher

    British rising star Olli Fletcher described winning his first five-star class, at the LGCT of Doha, Qatar, as “a big day in the office” and he couldn’t have been happier with Alison Walton’s 12-year-old BP Pocahontas after winning the opening tw0-phase.

    “It was an amazing show – the stadium and the arena are beyond anything I’d ever jumped in, so I’m happy the horses enjoyed it with some good results,” Olli told H&H. “Winning my first five-star is definitely a memory that won’t be forgotten, that’s for sure. It was very special.

    “My mum and owners Alison and John Walton had come from South Africa to watch, which was lovely because they’ve been instrumental in my career,” added Olli, who also made his debut for GCL team Monaco Aces on Hello William. “Both the horse and I learnt a lot and we’re looking forward to the season ahead.”

    Another five-star winner at the show was Ireland’s Denis Lynch with the mighty stallion Vistogrand.

    Showjumping news: Holly Smith and Fruselli win the grand prix on the Andalucia Sunshine Tour

    Holly Smith and Fruselli win the grand prix on the Andalucia Sunshine Tour. Credit: Mackenzie Clark/Andalucia Sunshine Tour.

    Holly Smith’s 14-year-old stallion makes sensational comeback

    Making a welcome return to the showjumping news headlines this week was Holly Smith’s 14-year-old stallion Fruselli, who jumped to a victory double after a year on the sidelines.

    The flying duo landed the ClipMyHorse.TV grand prix on the CSI2* Andalucia Sunshine Tour in Spain, having topped the Vejer Trophy speed class on Thursday, where she beat Tabitha Kyle on last week’s six-bar winner Desterly. Holly described it as “a bit of an emotional” result after “a long road back from injury” for the stunning chestnut.

    Guy Williams was among the other British winners this week on the tour, landing the 1.45m ranking class on 12-year-old stallion Ernie Of Greenhill Z.

    Abdel Said lands the LGCT grand prix of Doha, Qatar.

    Abdel Said lands the LGCT grand prix of Doha, Qatar, with “big, sensible lady” Bonne Amie. Credit: LGCT.

    Showjumping news: an emotional victory as LGCT season kicks off

    The first Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) crown of the new season was earned by Belgium’s Abdel Saïd riding Bonne Amie in the €375,000 grand prix of Doha, Qatar, after a 10-way jump-off. The winning duo edged out Ireland’s LGCT grand prix first-timer Harry Allen on Calculatus by less than a quarter of a second, with Marcus Ehning third on relatively new ride Coolio 42.

    “Bonne Amie is incredible, but she’s a big, sensitive lady and I struggled a little in the jump-offs last year,” said Abdel after securing his first LGCT grand prix victory. “I would maybe over-ride her a little, or not ride with enough feeling. But today it felt as though she matured and grew with some small changes and I’m thrilled it all came together. She truly deserves this win.”

    Abdel has qualified for the new-look LGCT Super Grand Prix at the GC Playoffs in Riyadh this year.

    Tom Wachman and Cathalina S find winning form at WEF.

    Tom Wachman and Cathalina S find winning form at WEF.

    Tom Wachman and 15-year-old mare soar to glory

    Next in this week’s showjumping news round-up is young Irish rider Tom Wachman, who teamed up with his European team gold and individual silver-winning 15-year-old mare Cathalina S (Salt N Pepa S x Sandro) to win a 1.45m speed class at WEF.

    “I think I was the only one in the class to do five strides to the double of verticals,” said the 19-year-old. “Cathalina has a huge stride and that’s one of the big things for her, how she can be very quick in the speed classes. I think that’s where I probably won. She’s super.”

    Showjumping news: Ben Maher and Point Break land the grand prix at CSIO4* WEF.

    Ben Maher and Point Break land the grand prix at CSIO4* WEF.

    A winning streak for Ben Maher and a coming-of-age performance

    And finally in this week’s international showjumping news round-up, the reigning Olympic champion Ben Maher celebrated a coming-of-age performance from rising star Point Break in the $200,000 CSIO4* grand prix at WEF, Florida.

    The 10-year-old Swedish warmblood Action-Breaker x Balou Du Rouet stallion, owned by Charlotte Rossetter and Pamela Wright, produced the only double clear after a five-way jump-off.

    “This is probably the biggest grand prix he’s won,” said Ben, who acquired the stallion as a six-year-old. “He’s just an incredible horse. He started at WEF in the seven-year-old jumpers. It wasn’t so long ago he was spooking off every golf cart and we were in the back arenas; I kept switching arenas trying to get the groundwork in. But he was always a very talented horse and he’s progressed very nicely.

    “He’s a stallion and he’s had quite a few very nice foals now, but he’s like a pet when you’re not on him. But his athleticism is what separates him from the other horses. The way he can bend his body and move his shoulder allows my job to become much easier. I can ride at the jumps and trust that he can do the job for me.”

    Earlier in the week, Ben had triumphed with Jane Clark’s 13-year-old mare Ginger-Blue in the WEF Challenge Cup, who also made her Nations Cup debut with Ben this week.

    “It’s always special to win any FEI competition, especially here in Wellington; there’s a lot of good horse and rider combinations any week,” said Ben. “But there’s a lot of people that fly in especially for this week, so to start it like this is a confidence boost.

    “There’s strength and depth in my team, both horses and people. It’s a great time to be able to ride right now,” added Ben, whose groom Kirsty Bond won the groom’s award in the grand prix.

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