MORE than 1,000 days had passed since the last Northern Ireland Festival in 2019, but this year’s three-day show, held at Cavan Equestrian Centre from April 22 to 24, continued to be immensely popular with competitors. With nearly 2,000 entries, it meant most classes were large and highly competitive.
Organising this one-off show post pandemic has become so much more difficult. Insurance and medical cover has become extremely difficult to source, whilst covid continues to cause problems with the very late withdrawals of judges and stewards due to positive tests, prior to flying over to Ireland. Thankfully, the versatility of the remaining judges and the kindness of several people offering to steward, allowed the show to go ahead as planned.
The weather was kind all weekend, with competitors and spectators enjoying the long spells of Spring sunshine. With six rings running each day, there was something to interest everybody. As all judges are flown in from the UK mainland, the show offers the opportunity for competitors and their animals to be assessed in front of somebody different. NIF 2022 also honoured three people who have passed since the last show: committee member George Boyd and young riders Tiggy Hancock and Ellie McDonnell had rings and championships named in their memory.
Friday, April 22 saw performance jumping, side saddle, equitation, amateur classes and working hunter. It was also the inaugural Connemara Cup, which enjoyed huge entries as riders looked to win through to the prestigious evening performance.
‘The Flanagan Family’ Fancy Dress Championship always opens the Friday night show and it was The Wizard of Oz and Eirin Wardle who went champions. Reserve was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Ella Latto. ‘Rosscon Camille’ and Thomasina O’Reilly were winners of the ‘Starview Hot Tubs’ Connemara Cup Final. Reserve was ‘Newtown Melody’ and Leah Chambers. ‘Mr Bloomfield’ and Lyndsey O’Brien won the ‘Excel Roofing and Cladding’ Ladies Championship and ‘Horeb Captain Marvel’ and Megan Dumigan took the ‘Formula Karting’ Pony Performance Working Hunter Championship.
The ‘Kilmaconnell House Stables’ Horse Performance Working Hunter Championship went to ‘Doublmax’ and Lesley Jones, whilst the ‘Equine Viewer Ireland’ Connemara Working Hunter Pony Champion was ‘Glasson Shadow’ and Freya Alken. The ‘Cara Network Solutions’ Home Produced Working Hunter Championship was won by ‘Treaty Stone’ and Tara Rocca Houlihan. Joanne Anderson rode ‘Hope’ to claim ‘The Cunningham Family’ Amateur Working Hunter Championship and the Novice M&M Ridden Championship went to ‘Waterside Last Edition’ and Piper Lewis Copeland. The M&M Young Rider Championship was won by ‘Regal Diplomat’ and Tara Murphy.
On Saturday, there were seven opportunities to qualify for the Horse of the Year Show in Birmingham this coming October. These classes were kindly sponsored by Plus Vital and attracted some excellent entries. ‘Frosthill Jackaroo’ (Isla Coad), ‘Clonad Rose’ (Aoibhinn Ruane), ‘Knocklucas Chloe’ (Jodie Creighton), ‘Into the Morning’ (Jodie Creighton) and ‘Gortfree Lakeside Lad’ (Linda Murphy) won the working hunter golden tickets. The HOYS Connemara qualifier attracted a whopping 37 entries and it was David Wightman and ‘Rockfield Blackthorn’ who eventually turned out victorious.
The final HOYS qualifier was for the In Hand classes. The champions from the daytime classes won through to the Supreme Championship during the evening performance. The Hunter Horse Youngstock champion ‘KSF Spotlight’ and Aidan Williamson were picked from the impressive line up by judge David Froggatt. Clearly delighted, they will now head across the water to Birmingham in six months time for the Price Family In Hand Championship at HOYS.
‘Killone Dasher’ and Conor Cusack took the ‘Tiggy Hancock’ Novice Working Hunter Pony Championship and Jamie Smyth on ‘My Diamond Solitaire’ won the ‘Böckmann Trailers Essex’ Novice Ridden Horse Championship. The same pair went on to take the ‘Equine Viewer Ireland’ Novice Supreme Championship later that evening.
Victoria Laverty on ‘Millennium Indi’ won the Veteran Ridden Champion and with it the perpetual Arabian Knight Memorial Trophy.
The supreme Mini Novice Champion of Champions was won by ‘Tresparrett Indian Tribute’ and Casey-Lee Miller.
‘The Lewis Family’ Mini Pony Supreme Championship was won by ‘Hightopps Honey Bee’ and Kjerstin Chissel. ‘Rhydygrug Peter Pan’ and Cameron Barry were reserve. The Ridden Horse Supreme Championship was won by ‘My Diamond Solitaire’ and Jamie Smyth. Kathryn Boyd riding ‘Brother Hubbard’ were reserve. The ‘Ellie McDonnell’ Ridden Pony Supreme Championship went to ‘Greyland Maid at Sundown’ and Chloe Salley, with ‘Copley Lane Ringo’ and Charlotte Smiley in reserve.
There was some excellent competition in the Festival Working Hunter Finals, in which all competitors had previously qualified. The top 10 from each class won through to the evening performance for their final placings. The winners of each class then went through to the supreme working hunter championship, with the winning pony and horse taking home £1,000 each. They also won a beautiful trophy donated in memory of George Boyd. Emily McGowan riding ‘Tullaree Fear Bui’ won the pony title, with ‘Comberton Coda’ and Carla Williamson going reserve. ‘KBF Paved with Stars’ and Ciaren Feldman are the new horse champions and reserve was ‘Mountview Silver Fox’ and Gwen Scott.
Despite the enforced three year lay off, the Northern Ireland Festival seems to retain it’s popularity amongst competitors. Numerous children and even some adults were overcome with emotion upon winning a rosette. For others, making it to the evening performance was the realisation of a long held ambition. But perhaps more than anything, the return of the equestrian holiday at the end of April, is a sign of things returning to normality once more. Roll on NIF 2023.
For full results, please see the website: www.northernirelandfestival.co.uk
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