‘Horse welfare is paramount, but the rule needs changing’: upset for Ireland in Hickstead Nations Cup

  • While Great Britain held court to triumph in great style in the Hickstead Nations Cup on Friday (28 July), the story could have ended very differently had it not been for an upset in the Irish camp.

    The two nations had been level-pegging all the way through into round two of the British leg of the Longines FEI Nations Cup series when Ireland’s second rider Mark McAuley and GRS Lady Amaro were eliminated due to a violation of the blood rules after jumping a superb double clear.

    “Mark unfortunately fell foul of the blood rule there – the horse had a very, very slight scratch,” Ireland’s showjumping chef d’equipe, Michael Blake, told H&H on day four of the Longines Royal International Horse Show. “I felt we were hard done by, but the rules are the rules.

    “My heart goes out to Mark – his horse jumped his heart out. Of course horse welfare is absolutely paramount, but when your horse jumps that hard for you, it’s not a good rule – it was just the slightest scratch, up at the saddle pad. I don’t make the rules, but it’s not a good rule, it needs changing.”

    Hickstead Nations Cup: ‘All our boys tried their best’

    With Mark’s second-round score therefore being dropped, all three remaining Irish riders’ scores had to count – Shane Breen on Cuick Star Kervec’s eight faults, with zero scores from Jack Ryan on BBS McGregor and Daniel Coyle with Legacy. If Mark’s score had counted, Ireland would have finished on a team total of four, alongside Great Britain, which would have forced a jump-off between the two nations. Instead, Ireland’s third and fourth team riders, Jack and Daniel, were left battling for a podium position, which they duly achieved, finishing a well-deserved second on 12 faults ahead of France with 16.

    Horse welfare is at the forefront of everything within the sport, but blood rules and spur use have created much debate and controversy in recent years, across the disciplines, and further new FEI regulations were approved for 2023.

    “It obviously kept us out of a jump-off – which of course, we may or may not have won – but the incident took away from the competition in my opinion,” said Michael.

    Jack Ryan and BBS McGregor, who jumped double clear for Ireland in the Hickstead Nations Cup, helping them to a runner-up spot

    Jack Ryan and BBS McGregor, who jumped double clear for Ireland, helping them to a runner-up spot.

    “But otherwise, I’m delighted with the team. When [final rider] Daniel Coyle came in for the last time, I said to him, ‘You have to be five seconds up, and you have to be clear’ – and he did both,” he explained. “That takes some doing. I was very pleased with Jack’s double clear, too. All our boys tried their best. Nobody goes in there to knock down jumps.

    “I’m very hard on them, but at the end of the day, they’re my boys and I won’t let anyone say anything bad about them. We’re off to Dublin next and hopefully we’ll do a little better there, but we’ve had a great year – we’ve done 14 Nations Cups and we’ve finished on the podium 11 times.”

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