IT was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of the founder and former chairperson of Dressage Ireland, Joan Keogh on Wednesday, July 6. Joan was the most influential person in the history of Irish Dressage, founding the then Irish Dressage Society (now Dressage Ireland) at the Spa Hotel, Lucan in 1989. Joan was someone who led by example, she inspired many, many people in Irish equestrian sport with her vision of the future, integrity, empathy, dedication and hard work. Joan leaves a lasting legacy of excellence and achievement.
In conversation with the writer, Joan described herself as “never being afraid”. That was one month after the official opening of the Spruce Lodge Equestrian Training Facility at Ballyrogan Stud in October 2009, which marked another chapter in the rich and varied life of Joan Keogh.
Born in Dublin, Joan Donohoe lived in Leeson Park Avenue until her father bought Stepaside Stables in 1953. For her 15th birthday, Joan got a present of six riding lessons at the renowned Burton Hall.
Joan married Michael Keogh in 1960 and seven years later, and with five children in tow, the couple moved to Spruce Lodge, Kilternan, County Dublin. She passed her BHSAI examination at Burton Hall in the early 1970s and started giving lessons in Spruce Lodge. At the same time, Joan recalled: “Helen Mangan and I visited the British Horse Society in Stoneleigh to seek permission to set up the Association of Irish Riding Clubs structure to mirror theirs. Fortunately, they gave us their blessing and the AIRC was born.”
A bad fall from a horse saw the riding school close in 1976 for five years and, in 1981, Joan had the first of five hip replacements. An accomplished pianist, Joan used her spare time to take her BHS stable managers’ exam and to read extensively about horses and horsemanship. She also gave music lessons, played the organ in the local church and was involved in the ICA. The riding school re-opened in 1981 with a new indoor arena.
Joan’s initial involvement with then Irish Horse Trials and Dressage Society (now Eventing Ireland) was through her youngest child Aidan competing at events. In 1983, Joan wrote to the IHTDS suggesting that she would provide a dressage bursary for children to promote the sport in Ireland. She was soon co-opted onto their sub-committee to promote children’s dressage, serving under the indomitable Pam Stokes.
Two years later, Joan became the chairman of the sub-committee. That would lead to the formation of the Irish Dressage Society in 1989. Its name was changed to Dressage Ireland in the mid-nineties. Joan attended the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when Anna Merveldt placed 11th in the Olympic final.
“We earned a lot of respect from the other organisations because of that,” she recalled.
In 1994, Joan was asked by the then Equestrian Federation of Ireland secretary general Michael Stone to meet Pat Duffy of the National Coaching and Training Centre (NCTC) in Limerick. This was the first step in what ultimately developed into the Introductory Level One and Level Two equestrian coaching syllabi drawn up by Joan, William Micklem and Gerry Mullins. They went on to be adopted by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and to be delivered worldwide.
A member of the original group who travelled to Sweden in the late 1990s to look at setting up an umbrella body for equestrian sports in Ireland, Joan welcomed the setting up of Horse Sport Ireland in 2008. A year later, having moved from Kilternan to Ballyrogan Stud in County Wicklow, Joan opened her new training and equestrian facility. Sadly, her husband Michael died in 2010. In 2012, the Irish paralympic medal winning quartet trained at Spruce Lodge before competing in London. Joan resigned from all committees in 2016, having been diagnosed with Farmers Lung.
Joan had a positive outlook on life. In 2009, she said: “We are all learning from each other and there is much we can learn from other sports. We need to be open to new thinking and generous of spirit in our vision.”
Joan Keogh, a woman of vision with the track record to prove it.
Deepest sympathies to the Keogh family following the sad passing of Joan.
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