The Irish show jumping team’s competitive season gets underway in earnest this weekend with a nations cup fixture in Slovakia.
It is the first of five such outings for the team, the last of which will be the Aga Khan contest at Dublin Horse Show in August.
The nations cup run will be followed by the world championships in Tryon, USA in September, and yesterday Ireland’s team manager Rodrigo Pessoa spoke to the Irish Examiner of the new confidence that prevails following last year’s gold medal performance at the European Championships in Sweden.
“The drought of championship medals has ended and Ireland is not just a participant anymore but will be among the favourites in Tryon,” he said..
A medal in September would end another long-standing quest - Olympic qualification - which has not been achieved since 2004. A top-six finish in Tryon would be enough for a ticket to Tokyo 2020 but such is the confidence in the Irish set-up that medals are this year’s focus.
In the meantime Pessoa has a lot of planning and balancing to do, seven months on from his last competitive outing with the team. “From year to year things change a little bit and some riders have some new horses and some horses have changed hands.”
There are also, as always, the individual commitments of riders to be factored in, and what will make his task a little trickier this year is the increase in Irish riders participating on the Global Champions Tour.
He acknowledges the riders’ commitments to owners and to their own livelihoods. “I do understand that because the nations cup shows are not the ones that pay the most, but it’s a balance that we have to find and it’s a commitment that they have to take also towards their national team.”
One of the features of last year’s gold-medal success was the team spirit Pessoa engendered, something he says he is constantly nurturing. “It’s something that you have to continue working on.
Of course we changed a couple of things in the team spirit. We’re going to keep storing this mentality of good communication and transparency between us. Good communication is they key to the success of a group like this.”
The Aga Khan Trophy in Dublin in August is much higher on the manager’s wish list that it was a year ago.
Last year the competition came only twelve days before the Europeans and the best Irish combinations were held back, but this year there is a full month to spare ahead of the world championships and Pessoa expects a much better showing.
“I understand the importance of the Aga Khan in Dublin and I really could measure that last year when we didn’t do so well, but it didn’t work in the programme towards the Europeans and I’m happy that I was proven right.
“This year we have more time and we’re going to take the Aga Khan very, very seriously and try to put our hands on the trophy.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved