It should come as no surprise that Ireland show jumping manager Robert Splaine has pinpointed the sale of our top horses as the greatest hindrance to qualifying a team for the Olympics.
This year’s World Equestrian Games present the first opportunity to book a ticket for Rio, but the haemorrhaging of some of our top blue-blood equines is a cause for concern.
Splaine fully understands why some riders/owners capitalise on their investment, particularly when only the bravest could afford to gamble on a horse’s future versus the stake put up by well-financed buyers.
While the Corkman always takes the opportunity to show his appreciation to owners, he would be doing all concerned a disservice if he did not strive to put out the strongest team.
“With the World Equestrian Games approaching, it is no surprise that we are in changing times, where good horses are sought after. If our best riders are well mounted, we have a good chance to qualify for the Olympics.
“The sale of good horses is the biggest threat to us; recent examples are Cos I Can, Lisona, Amaretto D’Arco, and, of course, Olympic bronze medallist Blue Loyd, though we are hopeful Cian O’Connor has a replacement in Cooper. Traditionally, the sale of our top horses has been a stumbling block. Without doubt, we are short of championship horses for our riders, who have proven talent. It is understandable that we could lose our best horses but, if that continues to be the case, we will find it difficult to qualify for the Olympics.
“I believe this issue needs to be discussed. It is a perennial problem that should to be highlighted and tackled.”
The answer could be the setting up of a fund backed by investors to purchase potential equine stars for the country’s riders, which Splaine says is worth “exploring”. A tentative proposal at this stage, he feels it could be modelled on a Dutch fund.
“The Dutch system has worked reasonably well and I think something like it should be explored, and is being looked at. It is at an early stage. We have started that thought process. It will take a bit of work to set up, though, and will take time. I foresee that this fund would need Horse Sport Ireland approval, but it is imperative that it is run independently,” said Splaine, who added that, “ultimately, though, to maximise our chances of success we need to breed better horses, and there are indications this is happening”.
The Dutch fund, Springpaarden Fonds Nederland (SFN), was set up in 2006, with a 10-year term envisaged, and made headlines recently when it sold its star horse Utascha to the Qatari Military Sport Association.
Splaine feels the Dutch were looking to the Olympics, when Utascha will be aged 15, and felt it better to cash in.
“The fund is professionally managed and a decision was made to capitalise for their investors. Utascha is well capable of winning at the moment, but by the time Rio comes around, it is possible her best years will be behind her,” he said.
SFN director Gerrit-Jan Swinkels confirmed this in a comment to horsesinternational.com.
“The Lux-daughter is almost 13-years-old and still represents a considerable value. In the next period this value will decrease, given her advancing age. For the SFN, Utascha SFN has been huge value as an ambassador. Thereby, we say farewell to her with a heavy heart,” said Swinkels. ”
Splaine remains optimistic about the year ahead, buoyed in particular by Ireland’s third place in last year’s Furusiyya Nations Cup final in Barcelona.
“Our result in Barcelona was impressive, albeit there was a different formula in place. It was an encouraging performance with a championship year approaching,” said Splaine, who discounted that the failure to qualify a team for London is an incentive.
“We don’t need any further incentive. It is our overarching priority to qualify. We have always said we can win medals and would dearly love to put together a team that will allow us to fulfil this ambition. We’ve won an individual medal and can win a team medal if everything comes together.”
* Generous prizes are on offer at the Carbery Pony Club Area 5 show jumping day on Jan 12. It takes place at West Cork Equine Centre, beginning at 10.30am and, along with the usual classes, will feature two team contests. Tel: 087/6768701, 086/1681675.
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