Category Archives: Dublin Horse Show 2015

Guest Blog: Dublin Horse Show – Part 2 by Moira Duncan

It’s Friday, which means the Aga Khan Trophy. This is the biggie. The world’s best showjumpers – and I have seen Scott Brash with my own eyes, so I know he is here – pitch up in teams of four for an afternoon of thrills and spills. Volunteers are handing out flags and it would seem that the whole of Ireland is here; there surely can’t be anybody left in County Mayo. There is only one way to get through the crowds: keep your line and kick on.

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Ireland’s president arrives amid much fanfare and then everybody settles down for the first entertainment of the afternoo  n: the parade. This is almost worth the ticket price alone. About a hundred pipers march into the arena, blowing for all they are worth, to lead each team round the ring. Frankly, anybody who is prepared to get on a sparky warmblood and attempt to follow this lot at ten paces deserves as much of the 200,000 euros up for grabs as they can get. Whenever the band strikes up – which is often – the goggling equines plant, plunge, run backwards and wave to the crowd. What’s wrong with them – haven’t they seen men in orange skirts before? You can almost hear the riders grinding their teeth, although one cheery Spaniard manages to keep his reins in one hand and take pictures of us taking pictures of him as he passes the grandstand.

Ireland gets off to a flying start and just keeps on flying. At the end of the first round the home team – Greg Broderick, Darragh Kenny, Bertram Allen and Cian O’Connor – are well on the way to winning back the trophy they last lifted three years ago, in front of a crowd that should really be wearing a martingale. The commentator, who sounds disturbingly like Bono from U2, gives up all pretence of impartiality and begins wishing the Irish riders the best of luck. Is there a rule against this? I don’t know. Who cares. The spectators are approaching hysteria. The British team, who went clear in the first round, begin knocking poles and Charlie Jayne of the US ends up face down in the water jump, his horse having sensibly stayed on dry land. The grandstand can barely contain its glee at this turn of events. Ireland has given a masterclass in how to ride a Nations Cup and has ended up so far ahead of the other teams that the final rider doesn’t even need to get his horse out. That’s what you call a good day at the office.

Saturday brings one of the most popular events at the show, the Racehorse to Riding Horse class.

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The ex racehorses line up – sort of – after their first trot round.

In a country not overrun with sporting heroes, Ireland’s thoroughbreds are its pride and joy and the class always includes one or two four-legged celebrities, who tend to do rather well. Top jockey Barry Geraghty is to be the ride judge and nobody seems at all bothered by the fact that he is on first name terms with several of the horses he is assessing. Lady Jane Cecil, widow of the late Sir Henry, is judging the conformation.

There is an actual scrum for seats. People are climbing over each other, sitting on laps or attempting to squeeze four buttocks into a small square of plastic that really is meant for just the two. At Dublin you can win a share of 1000 euros if you correctly guess the first three horses in the line-up (this is the same for all the showing classes), which brings out a certain competitiveness in the crowd.

The woman next to me has increased her chances by forming a small syndicate with a friend who is evidently on the other side of the ring. They discuss the ex-racers at length as they canter past – some a little faster than others – and it takes the ladies a while to decide who is going on the score sheet, except in the case of one gelding with a rather hgh head carriage. ‘Not that chestnut,’ my neighbour barks into her phone. ‘It’s a donkey.’

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It’s thirsty work piping in those showjumpers

Mr Geraghty, unrecognisable in tweed and a bowler hat, hops from horse to horse, but doesn’t bother altering his stirrups when he climbs aboard. I guess if you can ride with your knees round your ears, you can ride with them dagling anywhere.

Forpadydeplasterer (just say it out loud) is declared the winner for the second year running and adds a Royal Dublin Society red rosette to the Arkle Trophy he won at Cheltenham in 2009, while Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander is pulled in second, to the disgust of my neighbour. Better luck next year, eh?

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A middleweight hunter performs his individual show

There is so much at this show that I simply didn’t see and unfortunately can’t tell you much about. I missed the thoroughbred stallion parade, though I did catch them backstage as I scurried past on my way to the shopping village, and I made a conscious decision to give the Irish Pony Club games a miss on account of my nerves still being a little frazzled from the mayhem of 2010.

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I glimpsed some coloured cobs while I was waiting to buy a Guinness in the grandstand and was aware of young event horse classes taking place somewhere over yonder. I made it all the way to the Simmonscourt arena (miles away on the other side of a road) for Rob Hoekstra’s showjumping masterclass, but had to dash out after ten minutes to get back to Ring 1 for the Draughts. I managed quite a bit of the middleweight hunters and the working hunter ponies but made the schoolgirl error of giving up my place at the rail in order to fetch a coffee. After an absence of 15 minutes there was just no way back. Ah, well. Time to go and try on some more breeches.

All photographs are copyright Moira Duncan

Guest Blog: Dublin Horse Show – Part 1 by Moira Duncan

A few years ago I noticed an advert in Horse and Hound for the Dublin Horse Show. That sounds like fun, I thought, and cajoled a friend into joining me for a hop across the Irish Sea.

Dublin was indeed fun. It was Royal Ascot meets Father Ted, a society event packed with elegantly dressed ladies, farmers from counties I’d never heard of, and a never ending procession of grey ponies. It was an enormous, heaving party and we loved it. In no time at all we were leaning against the white rails every morning consulting our 352-page catalogues as if we knew what we were doing – because this is a serious, knowledgeable crowd of people. When you take your seat for the Irish Draughts stallion parade you can be sure you will find yourself sitting next to somebody who has just put their mare to the winner.

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Hunter mares and foals

We decided it was time for another visit and arrived to find that everything was reassuringly familiar. The Dublin Horse Show takes place under the auspices of the Royal Dublin Society whose aim is to promote economic and cultural development in Ireland. The unassuming stone building that houses the society is on a main road in the suburb of Ballsbridge and as you approach you would never guess what lies behind it: 1500 horses, a large jumping arena, a smaller jumping arena, two large show rings, several smaller collecting rings and a shopping village. It is possibly the only horse show in the world where you can walk through an art gallery and take in an exhibition in the library before settling down for a spot of show jumping.

Wednesday is a fairly quiet day by Dublin standards. There are plenty of folk about but everybody – exhibitors, horses, spectators – is settling themselves in. We have a season ticket, which means we have the same seats in the grandstand for the next five days. The ticket cost 108 euros and is an absolute bargain. We watch the Speed Stakes, where I am rather perplexed by the fact that some of the horses are going so slowly they end up with time faults. Don’t they know the clue is in the name? Not so the Irish riders. It’s foot to the floor and they take the first five places in the class.

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Ridden Connemaras

Next, we go for a stroll. This is not a simple matter. Although the showground is compact in relation to the number of horses, there is so much going on it is difficult to know where to start. I spot my favourite thing – a Connemara pony – and we hop into a couple of seats by Ring 2. This turns out to be the performance hunter class.

A Connemara pony takies a stroll before his class
A Connemara pony takies a stroll before his class
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It’s the Spanish Riding School. Oh, wait …

The ponies are dazzling and when they fan out after the line-up they look like a slightly smaller, slightly more ragged version of the Spanish Riding School, though this effect is slightly spoilt by a yellow dun suddenly popping out behind all the greys. Where did he come from?

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Ladies Day. The winning lady was wearing black and white, but I rather liked this red look.

Thursday is a very big day. Not for the horses, but for the ladies. Unlike other events, which have to install funfairs and dancing diggers in order to tempt the public through their gates, Dublin has come up with something much simpler and more attractive: a class for the two-legged fillies. If you think you are in show condition you can win a package worth 10,000 euros. That’s right. Ten. Thousand. Euros. I was almost tempted into my Kurt Geigers myself.

When we are not goggling at some of the Ladies’ get-ups, we remember to look at the horses. Today we have more grey ponies, lightweight hunters, the Irish Draught Stallion parade and hunter mares and foals.

There are 11 lightweight hunters, until one of them broncs down the long side and deposits his rider in a heap. The remaining ten are scrutinised by two judges and a rapt crowd. The woman behind me is tutoring her daughter: ‘Now, you see that chestnut? That’s the one that’s going to win the class.’ I turn round to find a tiny girl of four studying what did indeed turn out to be the winner, a seven-year-old gelding called Woodfield Alight.

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One of the judges in this class is a lovely, quiet rider and a couple of the horses go better for her than they do their own riders. I enjoy watching her expression – it is evident that some of the horses are nicer to ride than she expected, some not what she was expecting.

There is a real sense at Dublin that the horses being shown have been bred with a job in mind; it is not about showing for showing’s sake.

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Watching the Draughts trot up. Those trees really come into their own when it is pouring with rain!

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Draught stallion parade. The commentator gives us a rundown of the lineage and the offspring – this one has a son jumping in Holland, that one has a daughter competing at elementary dressage in the UK. The Draughts are the backbone of the Irish sport horse industry and it is quite something to see so many of them together.

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Irish Draught stallion Gortfree Lakeside Lad looking distinctly unimpressed with the rain.
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Another of the lovely Draughts. Notice the hardy souls toughing it out in the pouring rain.

Some are smaller than I was expecting and they come in a variety of colours, though I cannot pretend there aren’t a lot of greys. They are all quite beautiful and full of character. They don’t think twice about hopping onto two legs and staying there. The handlers, as professional as they come, don’t take much notice of what’s going on on the end of the lead rope and have clearly had plenty of practice at dodging waving hooves!

Next: the Aga Khan Cup, MiddleWeight Hunters and Retraining of Racehorses

All photographs are copyright Moira Duncan