Mike Dunne: Ireland equestrian teams battling for medals in the eye of a storm

The opening ceremony for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) took place last night in Tryon, North Carolina and the first of thirteen days of action gets underway today. Endurance, Reining and Dressage are the disciplines kicking things off and Ireland is represented in all three.

Mike Dunne: Ireland equestrian teams battling for medals in the eye of a storm

The opening ceremony for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) took place last night in Tryon, North Carolina and the first of thirteen days of action gets underway today. Endurance, Reining and Dressage are the disciplines kicking things off and Ireland is represented in all three.

Also, the Irish Eventing team will swing into action from tomorrow, while the Show Jumping team have until next Wednesday before their first contest. Ireland has only ever won one world championship medal, Dermott Lennon taking individual show jumping gold when the games were held in Spain in 2002.

The impending arrival of Hurricane Florence off the Carolina coast continued to be a talking point yesterday. Tryon, which is 300 miles inland, has on-site monitoring by the National Weather Service, with the latest update being that the worst of the weather would be to the west of the venue. Organisers say they have strategic and emergency plans in place for both the people and horses.

In the case of severe weather which requires immediate response, we have a robust evacuation protocol,” said a Tryon statement.

First into the fray (around noon today Irish time) are the Endurance riders with the Irish representation comprising Avril Bray (Moro Torcaz), Hilda Donahue (Al-Marah Speed or Mirage SR), Tom McGuinness (Horseware Sasha D’Aillais) and Jane Moss (Streak Afire TTF).

For the reining competition Bernard O’Sullivan competes with This Guns For Nic.

O’Sullivan, who is originally from Wicklow but now based in Australia, is a former dressage and eventing rider who switched to reining five years ago.

He traveled to Chile and Canada to gain qualification to fulfill his dream of competing at the WEG and is the first Irish rider ever to do so in this discipline. “We’re very optimistic about his ability,” Derek O’Byrne White of the Irish Quarter Horse Association said recently.

I think he’s on a level playing field with all of the competitors and, with the horse that he has, they are capable of doing it.

Judy Reynolds is Ireland’s sole representative in dressage. The German-based Kildare rider finished 18th individually at Rio 2016 following which she enjoyed a purple patch that went on for a whole year until an injury to her horse Vancouver K ruled them out of action for almost a year. It happened just before the European Championships in Gothenburg last August at which she would surely have been a medal hope.

Now, having had less than two months to prepare for the WEG, it’s difficult to see her getting in the mix but both rider and horse have experience behind them.

Tomorrow will see the start of four days of eventing, with the dressage phase taking place over two days before the riders tackle cross-country on Saturday and conclude with the show jumping stage on Sunday. The Irish team consists of Padraig McCarthy (Mr Chunky), Cathal Daniels (Rioghan Rua), Sarah Ennis (Horseware Stellor Rebound) and Sam Watson (Horseware Ardagh Highlight). Patricia Ryan and Dunrath Eclipse are the reserve combination.

The Irish show jumpers have another week to go before the first of their five days of competition. The Irish team features two of the combinations (Cian O’Connor with Good Luck and Shane Sweetnam with Chaqui Z) who were on the gold-winning team at the Europeans last August. Joining them in manager Rodrigo Pessoa’s line-up are Shane Breen (Ipswich van de Wolfsakker) and Paul O’Shea (Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu), while Michael Duffy and EFS Top Contender are the reserve pairing.

Elsewhere this week the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses take place in Lanaken in Belgium.

Horse Sport Ireland yesterday announced the appointment of three new board members to follow that of Joe Reynolds as Chairman last week. Lucinda Creighton, Clare Hughes and Mary Lambkin Coyle were confirmed as ordinary board members by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and Sports MInister Shane Ross.

The three government appointees will be joined by Lt. Col. Tom Freyne (Coaching and Education Advisory Council), Edward Doyle (Breeding and Production Advisory Council) and Taylor Vard (High Performance Sport Advisory Council). The changes at the governing body come with the implementation of recommendations in the Indecon report into HSI.

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