Ryans ride towards Olympic dream

AS Ireland’s eventing riders go through an intensive training period in a final push to secure a team place in the Olympics, rider Michael Ryan noted how the vagaries of the sport impacted on him and his wife four years ago.

Recalling the run-up to 2008 Games, he pointed out that, though he was originally on the long-list and his wife Patricia was not, it was she who carried Irish hopes in Hong Kong.

“I had three horses on the long list at the start of the year for Hong Kong. Trish was not on the list, but by the time the Olympics came around, it was she who made the trip as, for one reason or another, my horses were not in a position to compete,” said the Limerickman.

Four years on, the scenario is opening along similar lines, with Mike among a provisional squad of 12 riders and 14 horses that honed their dressage skills last weekend in Dublin’s McKee Barracks at the start of a vigorous programme that runs over the next two months.

Understandably, while he would not like to see a repeat of 2008, he is hoping for a change to the current list... except this time both Ryans will feature in the Games.

“Trish is not on the list, but people in form can be included and those out of form can be taken off. We are hopeful she will show form and will ultimately make the team,” said Mike.

The couple took the unusual step this week of issuing an open letter through a PR agency, “asking the people of Cork, Munster and Ireland... for your support of Team Donegan Ryan in their bid to secure a place on the eventing team which will represent Ireland in Greenwich”.

“We have a PR company working full-time and this is a bid to drive our profile,” said Mike. “We are asking the public to get behind team Donegan Ryan as it goes forward towards the Olympics.

“We want to make the people aware of what is going in equestrian sport. If we are lucky to make the Olympics, then the public would recognise us. Horse Sport Ireland are doing some work in promoting equestrian sport, but they are not going to butter my bread.”

In terms of qualifying a squad through the individual Olympic rankings, Ireland are in a “reasonable position” according to high-performance manager Ginny Elliot, with four riders well placed, Michael, Mark Kyle, Camilla Speirs and Jayne Doherty, while Ciaran Glynn and Capt Geoff Curran fighting for a fifth place.

In that regard, Ballindenisk is staging an event next month, in what is the last opportunity for Irish riders to pick up Olympic-ranking points ahead of the March 1 cut-off date. A similar fixture takes place in Italy, one of our main competitors, along with the Netherlands, for a team in London and Mike says the Cork outing could be defining.

“The training went quite well last weekend. Ballylynch Adventure is going quite nicely. It’s just a matter of fine tuning him as we get closer to the events. We are back again this weekend, just dressage, but we will have show jumping at the end of month and we have three more sessions in February, before Ballindenisk. That event is going to be crucial for us.”

“I have four horses qualified for the Olympics, Annestown Emperor, Ballylynch Adventure, Old Road and Ballylynch Skyport, and I am hoping for one more, Drumgurrihy Blue. You need back up, you need horsepower, as insurance. Ballylynch Adventure is my first string, so if he goes down, then I can call on the second, but in saying that, my fifth horse could prove the one that earns a place. You just never know.”

* CIAN O’CONNOR did not hang around on the opening day of the $6 million FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, winning the curtain-raiser with Everything.

The Meath-based rider had a test run with Blue Loyd that netted him a clear round, showing he is getting acquainted with his latest acquisition.

His time with the 12-year-old gelding ultimately earned him sixth place, but with Everything, O’Connor opted for a short route to fence two. Negotiating tight lines to each obstacle and using all his experience to gently rein in the attacking eight-year-old Belgian warmblood gelding, the pair finished with a winning margin of almost three-quarters of a second.

US-based Corkman Shane Sweetnam steered Traffic Boy into fourth place, while Darragh Kerins and Lisona finished seventh.

“He’s pretty mature, for an eight-year-old to go straight in that big ring on the first day and do what he did there, I’m pretty happy with him,” he said. “I think he’s a really exciting horse. I’m looking forward to the rest of circuit on him,” said O’Connor

* A STABLE management course designed to provide the student with the skills to care for horses begins next week at Hyde Equine, Glanmire, Co Cork.

Described by proprietor Corinne Hyde as “a fun and educational evening”, it will look at psychology, grooming, saddlery, feeding, shoeing, health and fitness, etc.

The six-week course, costing €90, will take place on Tuesday evenings. Further details: 087-2265075.

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