Equestrian: "It’s a bit cold for Florida, but it’s all relative, I suppose," joked Conor Swail yesterday.
Cold or not, the Co Down rider has been a hot commodity at the Winter Equestrian Festival, scoring many wins, not that he’s one for scratching a notch for each.
“To be honest, I don’t count my wins. I’m lucky to have a nice bunch of horses, owned by Sue and Ariel Grange, plus I’ve a few of my own. It’s a great team, which makes the job a whole lot more straightforward,” said Swail.
He’s in form physically too, having fully recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in November 2013, when his spur got caught in a fence during a competition in his new home country of Canada.
“Things are going very well. I’m feeling very good. I was quite weak, not myself, but now I feel great. I’m riding very solid.
“This is the start of year three with Sue and Ariel, but I lost six months, through the injury. I’m anxious to make up for lost time,” he said.
He’s one of a number of Irish riders bidding for a slice of the $372,000 (€280,000) on offer in tomorrow’s World Cup class at the Winter Equestrian Festival and he gives an emphatic “I do” when asked if he believes his recent success can continue.
The mare Martha Louise gets the nod, as Lansdowne continues his recovery from an injury to his pastern joint.
“Basically, it needs bone regeneration. It could take four months, or nine months, it’s just a matter of time. Everyone is telling me he will make a full recovery. To be honest, I was happy to find out what was wrong, because he had lost a lot form. However long it takes, I will be looking forward to getting my old horse back.
“Martha Louise is looking good, though. She started out well and has jumped two weeks here. I won a 1.50mtr class on her second week and I should have been second in the first grand prix, except for an error on my part that cost me four faults at the last.
“She is a real winner, but has yet to prove herself at the top level. She’s not telling me yet that she’s an out and out grand prix horse, so I’ll always go with Lansdowne if I have the choice.”
While Swail has his eye on tomorrow’s World Cup contest, he was speaking ahead of last night’s qualifier, but was upbeat.
“To qualify, we have to be in the top 40. It’s not a given, there are 73 starters, but I’m hopeful of getting over that hurdle and I intend to give it a good go on Saturday.”
Unsurprisingly, the European Championships in August is a consideration, particularly with Olympic qualification as the main prize.
“It is on my radar, though I would not see myself as one of the contenders, at the moment.
“If the horses are jumping well, I am ready for the challenge. All the riders realise how important it is and we need to step up to the plate.
“If I have something to go with, I will be delighted to be there and, if not, I know that those that are there will do their best.”
Meanwhile, this weekend’s four-star action in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, has attracted Denis Lynch and Billy Twomey.
lBertram Allen goes back to the bread-and-butter stuff this weekend, after qualifying for the World Cup final when second in Zurich, Switzerland, last weekend.
He lines out at the three-star show in Villach Treffen in Austria, riding Belmonde and the seven-year-old bay male Cheese W Z.
He is joined by Alex Duffy (Dancing Queen Z, High Valley and Wrangler II).
* The Association of Irish Riding Clubs (AIRC) is asking members to “help shape the competition schedule for this year’s Riding Clubs Festival.
The National Committee is to review the schedule in the near future and the association is urging members to undertake a short survey relating to the competition aspects. The survey, available on airc.ie, closes on February 9. The AIRC recently announced its Lancelot Awards shortlist of nominees.
Award recipients will be determined by a voting process split evenly between a jury and registered clubs. The results will be announced on Saturday, February 14.
Club of the Year nominees: Clonough Riding Club, Dunamase Riding Club, Earl’s Well Riding Club, Waterford Riding Club.
Club Secretary of the Year nominees: Eileen O’Neill (Clonough), Fiona O’Rourke (Clonshire), Niamh Rothwell (Tinahely), Ruth Whelan (Abbeylands).
Club Member of the Year nominees: Fionnuala Brennan (Waterford), Fiona Coughlan (Earl’s Well), Angela Day (Cheval), Lawrence Smyth (Donegal Gaeltacht).
Person of the Year nominees: Mary Bradley (Kerry), Aishling Bradwell (Cheval), Dan Foley (Non Member), Paddy Carroll (Ballyteague).
* The Irish Quarter Horse Association (IQHA) this week became a full affiliate of Horse Sport Ireland.
Previously, the IQHA was affiliated to the Reining & Western Section.
IQHA, which is headquartered in Drumcoura, Co Leitrim, was established in 2000 to promote what is the largest registered breed of horse in the world, the American Quarter Horse. Today, the not-for-profit organisation offers all western riding disciplines, from halter class, showmanship, pleasure, to the FEI discipline of reining. There are also timed events, such as barrel racing and pole bending.
IQHA chairman Ron Weisz said: “The last five years of the organisation has seen a growing standard in both the youth and adult sections. The youth team that represented Ireland in the AQHA World Championships in Texas in July 2014 did exceptionally well, beating far more established teams, such as France and Israel, and tied with the UK.
One youth team member achieved a silver medal.
“There are approximately 100 American quarter horses in Ireland and many other Irish horses that have been trained to ride in the western style, where one rides with their feet long in the saddle and with loose reins.
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