Eilberg appointment a positive move, says O’Connor

It is almost a constant that Irish eventing riders’ dressage performance leaves them at a serious disadvantage in achieving their objective.

In fact, it may be that they are almost damned even before they put a hoof inside the arena, such is the low level of expectation that judges automatically mark them down compared to their more illustrious counterparts.

Now, it has fallen on the shoulders of Ferdi Eilberg to change this situation.

The German-born Worcestershire-based rider/trainer was last week announced as dressage coach to the Irish eventing team by High Performance Manager Ginny Elliot, replacing Sandy Phillips.

Naturally, Elliot and Eilberg were upbeat.

The former said: “I worked with Ferdi when he was coach for the British eventing team. He is a gifted trainer and I believe the squad will benefit greatly from his expertise.”

The latter said: “I have a long history with eventing, particularly in Britain and I have worked with some of the Irish dressage riders before. I’m looking forward to working with the eventers and I think Ginny and I can make a considerable difference. I am very excited at the prospect of working with Horse Sport Ireland and the Irish team.”

Eilberg, who has been based in Britain for 20 years, has an impressive CV, serving his apprenticeship with the legendary Reiner Klimke, before moving to England and taking out British citizenship. As a competitor, he represented Britain at the 1993 and 1995 European Championships and at the 1994 and 1998 World Equestrian Games.

He was the former World Class Performance Director of Coaching to the British dressage team. He was also dressage trainer to the British eventing team and accompanied them to three Olympics.

Without hesitation, rider Austin O’Connor described the appointment as “another positive, forward-thinking move by Horse Sport Ireland”.

He said he has worked with Eilberg a number of years ago and he was rightly recognised as “one of the top dressage riders and trainers in the world”.

Somerset-based O’Connor agrees Ireland’s dressage performance has blighted hopes of success in the past, but he is satisfied matters are changing, albeit marginally.

“The standard has improved in the past five years, which is being reflected in the scores,” said the Corkman, who pointed out that a number of Irish riders were sub-55 after dressage at the 2007 European Championships.

“This shows there is progress. Unfortunately, all the others are also improving. In saying that, if we were at the standard of 10 years ago we would have fallen back dramatically.

“But it has got to keep going that way if we are to become more competitive. It is all about progression,” he said.

O’Connor cautioned against any dramatic upswing with Eilberg’s appointment.

“There is no quick-fix solution. Some riders are putting in a big effort in terms of dressage and, by and large, are adopting a more professional approach, but the Irish squad is comparatively young.”

O’Connor said Sandy Phillips’s contract was not renewed in 2008 and it was up to riders, such as himself, to avail of her services on an individual basis.

“Letting her contract lapse was a mistake, but at least this new appointment means we can get back on track.

“We must be patient, the foundation is there, but now it is a matter of building on that,” said O’Connor, one of 18 riders on Elliot’s long-list for 2009 and hoping to make the team for the European Championships in Fontainebleau, France, in September.

Meanwhile, two-day training camps — in Britain and Ireland — for the squad begin this month and are expected to continue up to the championships.

For those lucky enough to have access to Horse and Country TV, Eilberg is currently been screened giving a masterclass.

Denis Lynch ended his year on a good note last weekend when placing fifth in the World Cup qualifier at Mechelen, Belgium.

The performance earned him his first points — 12 — putting him in equal 35th place in the Western European League.

Lynch was one of eight into the jump-off of the 1.60m class, but four fault with the 10-year-old gelding Nabab’s Son kept him down the line.

Tipperary’s Shane Breen and Carmena Z found the going tough, putting up 13 faults in round one.

The World Cup finals take place in Las Vegas in April.

A SHOW jumping league being held by Carbery Pony Club for Area Five begins on Sunday at the West Cork Equine Centre. Subsequent rounds take place on January 11 and 18.

There will be three main grades: mini, midi, maxi, complemented by a handy pony class.

A team competition is sponsored by O’Brien Saddlery, Bandon.

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