‘This is the start of the journey’: Irish hopes lift after mixed fortunes in early stages of Tokyo Paralympic dressage

  • Ireland’s Tokyo Paralympic campaign took a welcome lift in today’s team test, following a challenging start for some squad members.

    Michael Murphy (Cleverboy) headed into the Games tipped as a medal contender in the individual and freestyle tests. His individual test started well until the stopper on his right rein broke, leaving him with limited steering.

    His disappointment must have been huge – given the pair’s international average in this test would have put them in the mix for a medal. But Michael’s respect for his horse was evident, with the cameras picking up his whispered “good boy” to Cleverboy as the pair finished. As qualification for the freestyle is limited to the top eight in the individual contest, the tack malfunction cost the pair their place in Monday night’s final medal contest.

    Facing the unexpected can be par for the course at major championships, and having the resilience to be able bounce back some 24 hours later should not be underestimated.

    Michael and Cleverboy’s team test showed the elegance and class this pair is known for. After the pair’s final halt, Michael once again could be seen to whisper his appreciation to the 14-year-old Vivaldi gelding.

    “It was tough, but it’s nice to be able to go and show what he can do,” said Michael.

    “The horse has the quality, which is the main thing, and this is the start of the journey. I’m very lucky I’m on Cleverboy because the way he looked after me in there yesterday [when my tack failed] was amazing. Then today it was nice, just be able to go and show our quality, get the team score and [set the team] off to a good start.

    “It was nice to be able to bounce back from yesterday and put in a good performance. The arena under the floodlights in there is incredible, especially with the music playing.”

    Michael, 24, credited the support from the team around him for helping him to get past what had happened and look forward to the new day.

    “There was nothing that we could do [about the stopper breaking] – it’s just one of those things,” he said.

    “It was tough. It really helps having a great team around you. I just wanted to lock myself away, but my trainer, my brother, my mum – they were all there to pick me back up, willing me to do it. I’ve had some lovely support from the other riders as well. There’s no real other option than just coming out and showing what you can do so. So it’s really down to having a good team.”

    Reflecting on what he will take from the Games, Michael added: “I think it will be bittersweet. It’s been amazing to be here. The experience has been incredible. I’ve learned a hell of a lot as a rider and also for my team as well.

    “It was nice to be here after all the work that we put in, a little bit bitter because we know we could have done better, but at the same time we got a really nice test today. It’s in there and it’s just the start of the journey. Charlie and I have only been together for less than a year, and all in all, it’s just an amazing experience to be here.”

    Michael’s team-mate Kate Kerr-Horan and Serafina T produced a solid performance in the individual contest on Friday (27 August), but faced a costly 10 mark deduction under the incorrect compensating aids rule, which dropped the pair down the order.

    Kate also came back out the following evening to give everything she could for the team with the special Rossgold Sunstar mare.

    Kate explained she had needed to hold Serafina’s “hand” in the individual test and was delighted with how the horse grew in confidence next time into the atmospheric arena as part of the team.

    “She was still looking at things that I have to be ready for, but overall, she was a lot happier,” said Kate, who scored 65.77% in the team test and is H&H’s Tokyo rider of the day. “I was more ready for tonight so I was able to manage the situation a little bit better.”

    There is still all to play for in the team competition, with all three scores to count and 13 out of the 15 nations with at least one combination left to ride.

    Tamsin Addison and Farenheit are the last to go for the Irish side tomorrow and will enter the arena at 6.08pm (10.08am BST).

    The squad’s fourth member Rosemary Gaffeney, who partnered her mare Werona to a respectable 65.39% in the individual competition, summed up the enormity of what all riders who compete at the Games have achieved: “I went in as a nobody, I came out as a Paralympian – isn’t that wonderful.”

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