A Look Back at 2022: “Irish riders and owners are now more engaged with breeding dressage horses”

  • 2 December 2022, 13:07

A Look Back at 2022 – Dressage

“Irish riders and owners are now more engaged with breeding dressage horses”


In the second part of the series ‘A Look Back At 2022’, Horse Sport Ireland review the tales of dressage success, from Irish riders recording excellent international results and to the bright future which lies ahead with Irish-bred horses and youth athletes.

Irish-bred Horses Shine at National Championships

Taking place in Barnadown Equestrian, Co Wexford, the Dressage Ireland National Championships attracted over 450 entries over the three days of competition, showing the growing popularity and appeal of dressage in Ireland. The role of Irish-bred horses within Irish dressage is also changing, with over 200 Irish-bred horses competing at the National Championships.

In the Horse Sport Ireland sponsored Four-Year-Old Championship 60% of the horses were Irish-bred. This included two Irish Draughts and three Irish Sport Horses. It was a similar figure for both the Category 1 and 2 of the Preliminary Championship with 60% of the entries in Category 1 being Irish-bred, and 61% in Category 2.

Nine of the top ten places in the Preliminary Category 2 championship went to Irish bred horses. The 6-year-old Irish Draught Diamond Rockn Robin claimed to the top spot with rider Caroline Lynch. Bred by Wicklow’s James Brady, this grey mare is by Keamore Diamond Clover (ID) and out of Sallygap Robin (ID).

Irish-bred horses continued to make up a significant proportion of the entries in the Novice Championship classes, 70% of the horses in Category 1 were Irish-bred and 55% in Category 2. This trend carried on into the higher divisions, an impressive 78% of the entries in the Elementary Category 2 were Irish bred, including the winner Fermoyle Charles. Ridden by Jennifer Rea, this bay gelding is a 7-year-old by S Creevagh Ferro Ex Siebe (KWPN) and out of the Irish Sport Horse mare Fermoyle Jane, by Captain Clover (ISH).

Third place in the same class also went to another Irish-bred horse and Irish rider combination, Carrick Diamond Lilly ridden by Wendy Seymour. Bred by Monaghan’s Tom Jones, Carrick Diamond Lilly is a 12-year-old mare by Carrick Diamond Lad (ISH) and out of the Thoroughbred mare Silver Pageant (IRE).

In the Advanced Medium Category 3 Championship Irish-bred horses filled two of the top three places and 70% of the overall entries. Finishing in second place was Harmony, bred by Dermot Cannon. Ridden and owned by Kate Dwyer, this 8-year-old mare is by Blue Hors Hotline (HANN) and out of Florestina L.

Breeding for the Future

Irish breeders are beginning to breed more dressage horses, one such breeder is Co Waterford’s Jo Breheny. A renowned breeder of event horses, Breheny bred the 9-year-old LEB Hugo who finished third in the Advanced Medium Category 3 Championship at the Dressage Ireland National Championships with leading Irish dressage rider Anne Marie Dunphy.

Talking about the role of Irish-bred horses within dressage, Horse Sport Ireland Level 3 Dressage Coach and Horse Sport Ireland Youth Dressage High Performance Director, Anne Marie Dunphy said; “Irish riders and owners are now more engaged with breeding dressage horses here, especially now as the cost of importing continues to rise. Be they traditional Irish bred, continental bloodlines or a mix of Irish and continental the quality of Irish dressage horses for riders of all levels continues to improve.

My own LEB Hugo is now at Prix St Georges level, was bred by Jo Breheny in Waterford and came to me as a 4-year-old. He is an embryo transfer, Hannovarian bloodlines out of Jo’s mare Her Highness Willow who I competed to Grand Prix level. There is enormous satisfaction for breeders, owners and riders in producing horses like this for the sport of dressage in Ireland.”

LEB Hugo and Anne Marie Dunphy. Photo: Alf Harvey Photographer

LEB Hugo did not come about by chance, Breheny went to Hamburg, Germany to buy a dressage foal where she selected Her Highness Willow as a six-week-old foal, and she arrived in Ireland at seven-months-old. As a young horse Her Highness Willow was first produced by Breheny before Anne Marie Dunphy took over the reins.

Speaking about her experience of breeding an Irish dressage horse Breheny said; “LEB Hugo was the result of our first successful embryo transfer. We carefully selected the stallion to best suit Willow, it really is all about suitability to the mare.”

“Having a proper match, focusing on temperament, confirmation and movement is essential for breeding a dressage horse.”

LEB Hugo is certainly showing the promise that Breheny hoped for, as a young horse she described him “as a dream from the start and a real gentleman.” Always eager to please and with the right temperament LEB Hugo has excelled up the levels. Reflecting on his first hack Breheny fondly tells tale of meeting all sorts and Hugo taking it is in his stride, giving her great hope for things to come.

Like many breeders Breheny is pragmatic. “You never know what’s around the corner, but he is showing a lot of promise to keep progressing to the top of the sport. Breeding a dressage horse in Ireland is an achievable goal, of course you do need a certain amount of luck. The golden egg for breeders is being able to see your horse be produced to compete at the highest level.”

Stars of the Future

Youth dressage in Ireland has been going from strength to strength and there was no doubting the upward trajectory when Irish youth athletes recorded multiple top placings at Keysoe CDI3* in October, many of which were riding Irish-bred horses.

Dubbed as a new dawn for Irish dressage, Irish riders made headlines as they won a total of four classes over the course of the international show. Martha Jobling-Purser won two Junior classes, and Pony rider Ellen McDonald and Children on Horses competitor Maeve Deverell both won a class each.

On the opening day British-based Irish rider Martha Jobling-Purser won the FEI Junior team test. The grandniece of Irish Olympian Juliet Jobling-Purser won for a second time the following day in the FEI Junior individual test class on a 68.412% total. Martha completed her Keysoe campaign scoring 67.290% in the FEI Junior freestyle to music class for fourth place.

Offaly’s Maeve Deverell made an impact from the start, placing third in the FEI Children on Horses Preliminary competition B class with the Irish Sport Horse dun gelding Annaharvey Dunowen, a 9-year-old by Radolin (KWPN) out of Who Dun It (ISH).

This was only the beginning for Deverell and Annaharvey Dunowen, who was bred by her grandfather Henry Deverell. The next day the combination scored an impressive total of 75.025% to win the FEI Children on Horses team competition class. On the final day of the show Maeve and Annaharvey Dunowen score of 72.135% proved to be good enough for second place in the FEI Children on Horses individual competition.

Maeve Deverell and Annaharvey Dunowen at Keysoe International

When talking to Horse Sport Ireland about Maeve’s success Anne Marie Dunphy, HSI Youth Dressage High Performance Director Anne Marie Dunphy said; “Annaharvey Dunowen competing successfully at FEI Children on Horses level with Maeve Deverell. Bred by the Deverell family in Tullamore, he has been rewarded by the international judges for his correct paces, temperament and super rideability.”

The performance in Keysoe was one of many this year for Maeve who still has another year to compete in Children on Horses and is currently ranked within the top 75 in the FEI Children on Horses World Rankings. She claimed the Junior National Champion title at the National Championships, and in June she finished second in the individual class at the CDICh-A in Jardy, France.

Pony Riders Show Promise

Pony rider Ellen McDonald and the 12-year-old chestnut gelding Dante Alighieri recorded Ireland’s second win on the opening day, winning the FEI Pony team test. Fellow Irish riders Lilly Larkin riding Blokland’s Hoeve’s Amor and Jessica Grogan riding Klein Roderijis Gold Fee placed sixth and seventh respectively.

Irish pony riders continued to demonstrate excellent form, Ellen McDonald recorded another great result, finishing second in the FEI Pony individual competition. McDonald was closely followed by Lilly Larkin and Blokland’s Hoeve’s Amor who finished .

On the final day of competition Irish riders filled of the top three places in the FEI Pony freestyle to music class. Ellen McDonald and Dante Alighieri finished second and Lilly Larkin and Blokland’s Hoeve’s Amor were third.

Reflecting on an incredible three days for Irish dressage, Horse Sport Ireland Youth Dressage High Performance Director Anne Marie Dunphy commented; “I am very pleased with the results, in addition to the wins we had good scores and good placings at Keysoe.”

The success of Keysoe came after another consistent year for Irish Youth Dressage riders at the European Championships. Ireland was represented by the team of Rachel Carr, Cillian Curran, Louise Hooijen and Oscar O’Connor at the Pony European Championships in Strzegom, Poland. There were two individual Irish riders qualified to compete in the Junior and Young Rider European Championships in Hartpury, Great Britain, Martha Jobling Purser in the Juniors with Ivan Carlos and Victoria Campbell qualified Iotti Van Bergsham for the Young Riders competition.

Senior Success

Three-time Olympian Heike Holstein recorded the best senior result on an Irish-bred horse in 2022. Partnering her Tokyo Olympic ride Sambuca, she finished third in the Grand Prix Freestyle to Music and eighth in the Grand Prix at the CDI3* in Wellington, United Kingdom in June.

Sambuca is not only Irish-bred but is homebred by Holstein, born in 2009, she is Samarant (HANN) out of Astoria (ISH) by Limmerick (HOLST). Holstein is a HSI Level 3 Coach, dressage coach to the Irish bronze medal winning Young Rider eventing team and one of Ireland’s leading dressage coaches.

Following her success in Wellington, Sambuca was sold to America later this summer.

Ireland’s para-dressage rider Michael Murphy won two Bronze medals at the ECCO FEI Word Championships in Herning, Denmark with his horse Clever Boy.

Horse Sport Ireland Autumn Development Series

Horse Sport Ireland in conjunction with the Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, once again supported the production and development of dressage horses in Ireland with the Autumn Development Series. The series included four qualifying legs and a final, with classes for 4-, 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, each with significant prize money on offer, as well as prizemoney for breeders.

The series final took place in Greenogue Equestrian this November. In the 4-year-old division it was the Traditional Irish Horse Ballyj Ed (ISH)[TIH] who claimed the top place, having finished second in the qualifier in Ower. The gelding by Black Hero (ID) out of Memories of Emly (TB) out of Pilsudski (TB). Bred by Fintan McGrath and ridden by Sinead McGrath. April Allen bred BW Bologna (ISH), who finished second with rider Emily Kate Robinson. Aisling Star (ISH) was the highest placed mare in third place. Bred by Michael Egan and ridden by Fraser Duffy, she is by Landenco (ISH) out of Aisling Cruise (ISH) by Bahrain Cruise (ISH)[TIH].

Fraser Duffy featured again when he partnered Fernhill Count on Me (ISH) to victory in the 5-year-old final. Bred by Joanne Murphy Hanley, this gelding is by Chacoa (HOLST) out of Buttercup Elm (ISH) by Aldatus Z (OLD). Nicki Russell finished in second place with the Connemara Pony mare Callowfeenish Silver, by Kippure Alkatraz (CP) out of Callowfeenish Homer (CP) by Dunloughan Scot (CP). Emily Kate Robinson finished third with Baby Guinness BW (ISH). Bred by T.J. Foley, this gelding by Guinness (KWPN) out of Sesheta Quality (ISH) by OBOS Quality 004 (OLD).

Tara Hayes won the 6-year-old final with Sandora BS (ISH). A mare by Spielberg (WESTF) out of Silver Grouse (TB) by Zagreb (TB), by bred William Hayes. Sorrell Klatzko bred Don Juan’s Doll (ISH), who finished in second place with Jennifer Egan, and Veronica Agnew bred Majestic Heartbreaker (ISH) who finished third with Gilly Crawford.

Another Traditional Irish Horse secured victory, Fortmoy Queen Bee (ISH)[TIH], a mare by Watermill Swatch (TB) out of Fortmoy Shinawill (ISH)[TIH] by Gurraun Zidane (ID), bred by Marie Deasy and ridden by Niamh Tottenham won the 7-year-old final. Wrapping up a very successful day for the Co Waterford rider, Emily Kate Robinson finished second with her homebred Kekepania (KWPN).

In part three of this series our attention will turn to the showing ring, looking at Dublin Horse Show glory for many Irish breeders, riders and owners, to Agricultural Shows and the impact Irish horses are making on the international showing stage.