HORSE Sport Ireland (HSI), the governing body for equestrian sport in Ireland, hosted an athlete reception at Killashee Hotel in County Kildare last Tuesday (November 23), to honour the outstanding sporting achievements of Irish equestrian athletes this year.
Despite the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 global pandemic, Irish equestrian youth athletes claimed no less than five team and individual European Championship medals this year. Ireland was also represented by teams and individual athletes at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
In his opening speech, Horse Sport Ireland Acting CEO Joe Reynolds welcomed those who had gathered to celebrate and recognise the achievements of Ireland’s equestrian teams and individual athletes during 2021. He thanked the owners of all the horses, who represented Ireland during the year and also thanked the team sponsors and Sport Ireland for their support and contribution to HSI’s High-Performance Programmes.
Ireland’s youth athletes were presented with specially commissioned equestrian-themed pieces of art at the HSI medal reception for their incredible achievements. In August, Kris Rohrssen and his pony ‘Checkmate’ produced a stunning performance at the FEI European Under 14 Carriage Driving Championships in Selestat, France to take home individual gold – the first ever Irish gold medal win at this level in Carriage Driving. Kris was managed by his father Folke at the Championships and was supported by the High-Performance Carriage Driving Committee, who were both recognised at the reception and received gifts as a token of HSI’s appreciation.
An amazing performance from Ben Connors and the Connemara pony stallion ‘Cornafest Fred’, at their first major championships, saw them claim individual silver at the FEI European Under 16 Championships in Strzegom, Poland. Ben, together with his GAIN Irish Under 16 eventing teammates Caoimhe Crozier, Sarah Keane and Ted O’Leary, managed by Becky Cullen, were also honoured for their fantastic performances at the Championships, where they won team bronze following three days of intense competition.
Grace Murtagh and Rachel Lucey were also recognised for their individual performances at the championships. It was an incredibly emotional event for all of the Irish athletes and their manager Becky Cullen, as they honoured their fellow team member Tiggy Hancock, who tragically died following a fall from her pony when preparing for the Championships and former team member Grace Tyrell, who passed away in 2020.
At Under 21 level, Team Ireland brought home two team silver medals in show jumping and eventing at the FEI European Championships. The GAIN Equine Irish Under 21 show jumping team of Kayleigh Soden, Jack Ryan, Sean Monaghan, Harry Allen and Jason Foley, managed by James Kernan, finished a very close second to Belgium in Vilamoura and Acting Chef d’Equipe at the Championships, Liam Buckley, was also acknowledged for his contribution to the team’s success.
The GAIN Irish Under 21 eventing team of Jim Tyrrell, Jennifer Kuehnle, Alannah Kelly and Brian Kuehnle, managed by Sue Shortt, produced another stellar performance in Segersjö, Sweden to claim Ireland’s second team silver medal. Representing Ireland individually, Zara Nelson and Heather O’Connor also received special presentations for their performances. Incredibly, all six Irish competitors finished inside the top 20.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics was undoubtedly one of the most challenging of all time, with the postponement due to Covid posing so many difficulties for all involved. HSI was proud to recognise the Herculean effort made by the athletes on each squad, and that of their owners, managers, coaches and support staff.
Show jumping athletes Cian O’Connor, Bertram Allen and Darragh Kenny all qualified for the individual final at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, with Cian O’Connor finishing best of the trio with the Irish Sport Horse ‘Kilkenny’, to take seventh place overall. The Devenish and Underwriting Exchange-sponsored senior show jumping squad, which included Cian O’Connor, Bertram Allen, Darragh Kenny, Shane Sweetnam and Michael Duffy, managed by Michael Blake, each received personalised framed photographs at the reception, as did the Chivers-sponsored senior eventing squad of Sarah Ennis, Sam Watson, Austin O’Connor, Cathal Daniels and Joseph Murphy, managed by Sally Corscadden.
Four-time Olympian, Heike Holstein was honoured for representing Ireland as an individual athlete in the dressage competition at the Tokyo Olympics. This was a very special achievement for Heike, as she also bred and produced her horse ‘Sambuca’, a 12-year-old mare, who made her Olympic debut in Tokyo.
In July, it was officially announced that Ireland would field a Para-Equestrian team at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. HSI were delighted to honour the squad, which represented Ireland: Michael Murphy, Tamsin Addison, Kate Kerr Horan and Rosemary Gaffney, managed by Debora Pijpers.
In his closing remarks, Acting CEO of Horse Sport Ireland Joe Reynolds said: “As we begin to look toward the Paris Olympics, which is only three years away, I think Team Ireland is in a very good place. We have great strength and depth in our squads. I was very impressed by the performances of some of our up-and-coming senior show jumpers this year, Max Wachman, Mikey Pender, Jack Ryan, Jason Foley ang Harry Allen. In dressage, it looks as though we will have eight athletes all hoping to get a place on the team. Similarly, it’s great to see more athletes participating in para-equestrian dressage and there are some fantastic horses within the squad, all capable of producing good results at the top level. Our senior eventing athletes are undoubtedly among the best in the world, the challenge for them will be retaining horses who are at the top level. But all in all, I think there is a lot to look forward to.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.