By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Kildare horsewoman Judy Reynolds has added her chapter to an unforgettable day for Team Ireland by booking a place in the dressage final with a brilliant Grand Prix Special routine in the Olympic Equestrian Arena.
Reynolds and her 14-year-old gelding Vancouver K are the 25th ranked pairing in the world following a stunning rise over the past 18 months but faced a tall order to reach the Freestyle final with only the top 18 getting through.
Just as they did in the opening Grand Prix, the pair performed right up to their very best in recording a score of 74.090.
The 35-year-old German-based dressage rider was second into the arena and faced a long wait to see if she would make it.
At the time of writing, competition is ongoing so Reynolds’ finishing position is as yet unknown but in her current position of ninth, she cannot be overhauled with only nine riders remaining.
Reynolds and Vancouver K – known in the stable as JP – have been smashing Irish records since the start of last year and after securing Olympic qualification in Doha last March, where she set new national records once more in the Grand Prix and Freestyle, she followed up by becoming the first Irish dressage rider to reach a World Cup final, finishing eighth.
Following a break, the build-up to Rio began in earnest, with JP giving the Kildare native her first big tour GP victory at Achleiten in June, with another national record. Since then, there have been top 10s in Rotterdam, Fritzens-Schindhof and Aachen.
“He’s one in particular that has taken a lot of time and patience to train” said Reynolds in a recent interview with this writer.
“We’ve done all the work together which I think is the best way for a dressage combination because you know how he’s going to respond to different things. The trust has to go both ways. It’s between you and your buddy. You’re in it together. Essentially, nobody else has ever ridden him other than me. It sounds soppy but we have a bond.
“At the beginning of our time together, nobody believed in JP except for me. Most people said he’s not trainable enough, he doesn’t have the right temperament at shows, he can be difficult.
“We always joke that the line between genius and being crazy is a fine one and JP definitely treads that line. At the beginning he was more crazy than genius. Most people thought he didn’t have the brain for it but I could see it there.
“Two years ago I could tell he was capable of doing Grand Prix tests of 70-plus. Over the last year he has become an awful lot more confident in himself, more self-assured.
“He knows when he’s done well. If he’s done well, you’re not allowed leave the stable without giving him a bucketful of carrots. He demands them. If he hasn’t done well, he’s asking ‘Can I have a carrot?’
“You just kept reassuring him and the moments of nutjobness and spookiness were reduced. Now he’s confident, he’s showing what he can do.”