Five days from today Ireland’s dressage team will commence their bid for honours and a possible Tokyo 2020 place when the European Championships get under way in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The Championships feature Dressage, Show Jumping and Para-Dressage, and it will be the dressage competition that gets the whole affair underway on Monday.
The Irish squad has been preparing in Germany ahead of the Championships and will travel to the Netherlands ahead of Sunday’s horse inspection. The Irish team consists of Kate Dwyer with Snowdon Faberge, Heike Holstein with Sambuca, Anna Merveldt with Esporim and Judy Reynolds with Vancouver K.
They will be bidding to become the first Irish dressage team to qualify for an Olympic Games, though Holstein, Merveldt and Reynolds have all competed as individual riders on previous occasions.
Of the teams taking part, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden have already secured their passage to Japan, so Ireland will be vying with the remaining countries for one of three qualifying places that are on offer. Denmark will be highly fancied to take one of those, which makes the task look particularly difficult for the Irish.
Austria, Portugal, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium and Luxembourg are among the others battling for one of the Olympic places, but Italy controversially declined to send a team.
The dressage team medals and Tokyo places will be decided by Tuesday next, after which it will be the turn of the show jumping team to try to secure an Olympic place. They also need to finish in the top three among the countries that have not already qualified.
Ireland are the defending champions, having won in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2017. The show jumping squad features Darragh Kenny with Balou du Reventon, Cian O’Connor with PSG Final, Shane Sweetnam with Alejandro, Peter Moloney with Chianti’s Champion and Paul O’Shea with Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu. The show jumping action gets going this day week.
As well as dressage and showjumping, Ireland will be represented at Rotterdam in Para-Dressage later next week. The Irish team is made up of Tamsin Addison with Donna Siesta, Rosemary Gaffney with Jean Werona, and Michael Murphy with Skjoldsgaard Hippo-v. Ireland had intended to have a fourth member on the team but Kate Kerr-Horan’s horse has been withdrawn for veterinary reasons.
“They are all first-season combinations and it is a testament to their hard work, commitment and dedication to their sport that they have met our criteria to compete,” said team manager Dara Kearney.
“The European Championships are one of three major competitions on our calendar this year so it is vital for the future of this young squad to be there.
I am very confident they will compete to their highest standard and gain much needed experience at this level.
The week after Rotterdam sees the start of the European Eventing Championships, which this time around are being staged at Luhmühlen, Germany. Ireland will be in the hunt for medals, but have no need to chase Olympic qualification as that has been in the bag for the eventing team since last September when they won Silver at the World Championships in the USA.
This week a trial eventing competition is being staged in Tokyo to test the course and facilities ahead of next year’s Games. Yesterday saw the cross-country phase which took place in humid conditions, providing an opportunity to try out the onsite cooling facilities for horses and riders.
“The cooling facilities here at the venue were absolutely excellent,” said Australia’s Andrew Hoy, who was the overnight leader going into today’s show jumping conclusion.
As an Olympic venue it’s ready one year before because the ground is excellent and the construction of the cross-country fences is very good, but next year will be very different fences.
Millstreet’s busy August schedule is underway this week with its international show jumping fixture.
Last year’s Grand Prix winner Susan Fitzpatrick will be back at the Cork venue, though will not have Fellow Castlefield this time around, following the pairing’s efforts at Dublin Horse Show where they finished fourth in Sunday’s Grand Prix after posting the fastest jump-off time but with one pole down.
Also back will be last year’s runner-up Michael Pender, who, like Fitzpatrick, has had a very satisfactory year since the 2018 meeting, including victory in the Hickstead Derby, while Francis Connors will be hoping to continue his good spell with Erne Ladygoldilocks. National classes got underway yesterday, with the first international classes taking place tomorrow, including a Grand Prix qualifier. The Grand Prix takes place on Sunday afternoon at 3pm.
Following the show jumping fixture, the action at Millstreet will switch to eventing (August 21-25) with the schedule including an Irish round of the Event Riders Masters series.