The year is getting off to a familiar start for Irish riders based in the US as the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) commences in Wellington, Florida today and continues for three months.
Many of the Irish will spend the full 12 weeks competing at the festival which is held at Palm Beach International Equestrian Centre, and some, like Shane Sweetnam have permanent operations there.
On the move for most of the other nine months of the year, the Cork native told the Irish Examiner that he is happy to be back at base for now.
“This is my home. My kids go to school here.
“It’s a busy time of year but it’s great to be home in your own bed.”
Sweetnam maintains 2018 was probably the busiest year he’s had. Not that he is complaining. Apart from the normal calendar, last year saw him jump for Ireland at the World Equestrian Games and he had an extended season in the Global Champions League in which he was the top rider for Shanghai Swans which kept him busy all the way to mid-December.
“We start all over again and off we go — it’s a long year,” he said as prepares for more of the same.
For the Irish team the main target will be booking a place at Tokoyo 2020.
“Hopefully we can do better this year and get Olympic qualification. The plan is we can be good at the European Championships obviously.”
Sweetnam was a member of the Irish team which won the last Europeans in 2017 in Gothenburg and his gold-winning mount Chaqui Z is ready for a new season after a spell on breeding duty following the world games in September. The Cork rider will also be campaigning once again with regulars Main Road and Indra van de Oude Heihoef, as well as less-experienced mounts Kirchwasser and Palina De L’Escaut, horses he feels are ready to step up to the bigger classes.
“I’m excited about those two,” he said of the latter pair.
Kirchwasser has already scored this year for Sweetnam, winning the pre-WEF Equiline Grand Prix at the weekend when posting the fastest of only two double-clears in the contest, while Palina showed her promise with a win in a $35,000 (€30,565) Holiday series event in Wellington in December.
The first classes of the opening week of the festival get underway today, with the $75,000 (€65,495) Rosenbaum Grand Prix concluding the first week’s action on Sunday.
Back in Europe, Denis Lynch has announced the retirement from competition of his long-time servant All Star 5 who will now go to the stud of former German ace Paul Schockemohle. Lynch and All Star had many successes over their seven years together both in individual events and for the Irish team. Perhaps their finest achievement came at the aforementioned Europeans in 2017, when the pairing were on the gold-winning Irish team. Later that year came their last team appearance in Barcelona at the Nations Cup final where, despite Lynch and All Star jumping clear, the Irish team bowed out early.
Another of their memorable achievements was individual ninth at the 2014 World Equestrian Games, and in 2016 came an impeccable display of jumping at the FEI World Cup final where they finished fifth.
Lynch is one of three riders competing in Basel this weekend at a Swiss round of the FEI World Cup series, with Bertram Allen and Billy Twomey also in action.
Shane Breen, Trevor Breen, and David Simpson continue their new year exploits in the United Arab Emirates, representing Irish interest in the four-star Al Shira’aa fixture in Abu Dhabi.
The latest show jumping world rankings show Darragh Kenny ending 2018 as the highest-placed Irish rider in 21st position, one slot ahead of Shane Sweetnam. Daniel Coyle holds 29th, with Bertram Allen (32nd), Denis Lynch (41st), and Conor Swail (45th) completing the Irish representation in the top 50. Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat takes over the number one position from Dutch rider Harrie Smolders.
In the eventing standings, Sam Watson closed out the year in 11th place with Cathal Daniels 14th and Pádraig McCarthy 19th. All three were on the Irish team which won silver at the World Equestrian Games at which McCarthy claimed silver. The fourth member of the team, Sarah Ennis is ranked 32nd. The eventing top spot is held by British rider Oliver Townend.
Judy Reynolds, who made only a handful of appearances in 2018, has moved up to 54th in the dressage rankings, regaining some of the ground lost while her horse Vancouver K was out of competition with an injury. Germany’s Isabel Werth tops the dressage rankings with Weihegold OLD ahead of American Laura Graves and Verdades, the current world champions.