A Look Back At 2022: “They’ve the best brains and they’re fantastic cross country”

  • 25 November 2022, 15:04

As the eventing season for 2022 has concluded Horse Sport Ireland look back on the success of Irish-bred horses around the world.

2022 saw Irish-bred horses and ponies rise to the top of the sport once again, both with Irish and international riders. This year included 5* victories, European championship medals, Olympic Team qualification, the Irish Sport Horse Studbook topping the WBFSH World Rankings for Event Horses and much more.

Best of the Best

It seems only fitting to start with the success at the highest level of the sport. Irish-bred horses once again rose to the top at CCI5* level, most notably filling several of the top places in both Badminton and Burghley Horse Trials and recording numerous top ten placings at 5* events around the world.

Piggy French and Vanir Kamira on route to victory at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. Photo: Irish Eventing Times

The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials proved a happy hunting ground for Irish-bred horses this autumn with Vanir Kamira (ISH) ridden by Piggy March (GBR) winning the prestigious event and Capels Hollow Drift (ISH) partnered by Tom Jackson (GBR) taking the runner-up place.

Bred by Kathryn Jackson from Co Monaghan, Vanir Kamira (ISH) is no stranger to five-star success, having previously won Badminton Horse Trials in 2019. The 17-year-old mare is by Camiro De Haar Z (ZANG) and out of Fair Caledonian (WNTR) by Dixi (TB). Capels Hollow Drift, bred by Jeanette Glynn from Co Clare, is a 2011 gelding by Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvan (BEWB), out of Lucky Crest (ISH)[TIH] by Lucky Gift (TB).

A further five Irish-bred horses finished in the top 20, including HHS Noble Call (ISH) ridden by Irish rider Padraig McCarthy. The 2011 gelding is by Heritage Fortunus (HANN) out of Noblina (ISH) by Cavalier Royale (HOLST).

Bred in Kilkenny by Anne Hughes, HHS Noble Call competed as a showjumper up until 2017, including jumping in the Horse Sport Ireland Stud Book series, before starting his eventing career in 2018. He quickly progressed through the ranks, completing his first CCI4*-S in 2019, and first CCI5*-L in Bicton in 2021.

Earlier this year, at Badminton Horse Trials presented by Mars Equestrian, Irish-bred horses filled three of the top five places at the world-famous Gloucestershire event. Swallow Springs (ISH) finished third with Britain’s Oliver Townend, closely followed by Vanir Kamira (ISH) and Piggy March and Ballaghmor Class (ISH) and Oliver Townend in fourth and fifth respectively.

Bred by Galway’s Maria Keating, Swallow Springs is a 2008 gelding by Chillout (ISH) out of Kilila (ISH)[TIH] by Cult Hero (TB). The late Noel Hickey from Co Limerick bred Ballaghmor Class, another horse who is no stranger to five-star success, having won Kentucky in 2021 and Burghley in 2018.

Of the top 30 finishers, 30% were Irish bred. It may have been her Badminton debut but Irish rider Susie Berry certainly left her mark as she finished in 17th with the Irish Sport Horse John The Bull on a score of 45.6. Berry is no stranger to success, having progressed through the Horse Sport Ireland Youth High Performance programme. This performance was an indicator of things to come as Berry went on to play a vital role in helping Ireland secure Olympic qualification at the World Championships in Italy.

5* success for Irish-bred horses was not limited to the top British events. Four Irish-bred horses finished within the top ten placings at Luhmuhlen, Germany, this June. American rider Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp finished fifth with Cooley Quicksilver (ISH), an 11-year-old gelding by Womanizer (KWPN) out of Kylemore Crystal (ISH)[TIH] by Creggan Diamond (ID), bred by Galway’s Alan O’Brien.

SRS Kan Do (ISH) and British rider Kylie Roddy were 6th. The 2010 gelding is by VDL Arkansas (KWPN) out of La Vie En Rose (ISH) by Touchdown (ISH) and bred by Michael Donner from Co Westmeath. WSF Carthago (ISH) and Fiona Kashel were 7th and Lukas (ISH) and Oliver Townend were 8th. Mulvihill bred WSF Carthago, a 2010 gelding by Cobra (HOLST) out of Enigma (NEVH) by Viking (TB). Louise Parkhill bred Lukas, a 2011 gelding by Lux Z (HANN) out of Say Wonderful (TB)[IRL] by ROI Danzig (TB).

The highest place Irish rider at the German event was Cathal Daniels and his seasoned five-star campaigner Rioghan Rua (ISH). By Jack Of Diamonds (SWE) out of Highland Destiny (ISH)[TIH] by Flagmount King (ID), Margaret Kinsella owns and bred this 15-year-old mare.  Daniels and Rioghan Rua have been part of Horse Sport Ireland’s senior team, they were part of the silver medal winning team at the World Equestrian Games in 2018 and in 2019 won an individual bronze medal at the FEI European Championships.

Out of a field of 59 entries, there were five Irish-bred horses competing in Land Rover Kentucky Horse Trials, USA. Dondante (ISH) was the highest placed Irish-bred horse, finishing in 7th place with William Coleman (USA). Dondante is a 12-year-old gelding by Pacino (BWP) out of Muckno Clover [ISH] by Euro Clover [ISH], bred by Co Monaghan’s Francis Brennan.

Mars Maryland CCI5*-L was the second last five star of the year. The top ten included three Irish Sport Horses. Competing on home soil William Coleman finished sixth with the 12-year-old gelding Dondante (ISH), bred by Francis Brennan in Co Monaghan. In eighth was the 14-year-old gelding Morswood (ISH), bred by John Doherty in Co Louth and ridden by Alexandra Knowles.

Completing the trio of Irish-bred horses was Harbour Pilot (ISH), a 19-year-old gelding who was bred by Jacqueline Mars in Co Wicklow. His tenth-place finish brought his glittering career to a close in style. At the final five star of the year in Pau, France, Caroline Powell for New Zealand partnered the Irish-bred Greenacres Special Cavalier to fifth place. Bred by Meath’s Michael Callery, the nine-year-old mare is by Cavalier Royale (HOLST), out Greenacres Touch (ISH) by Touchdown (ISH).

Also finishing inside the top ten was Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto with the Irish Sport Horse Brookpark Vikenti. Bred by Tristan Kingston, the 14-year-old gelding is by Master Imp (TB), out of Tullineaskey Butler’s Simon (ISH).

Home Internationals

Irish-bred horses excelled at the six Irish international events in 2022. Ballindenisk played host to three of these internationals over the course of the year. At the opening event in April, 70% of top-ten placings went to Irish-bred horses, particularly dominating the CCI2*-S for Ponies and the CCI4*-S classes. In July, 88% of top-ten placings went to Irish-bred horses and in the final home international of the season in September, in the CCI4*S-NC Irish-bred horses finished 4th, 5th, 7th and 10th, with the latter three horses all ridden by Irish riders. Three out of four Horse Sport Ireland sponsored classes were won by Irish-bred horses, ridden by Irish riders.

Irish-bred horses also dominated at Millstreet International in August with 64% of the top-ten placings across all nine classes going to Irish-bred horses. Similarly, in Kilguilkey House in Mallow, 50% of top-ten placings went to Irish-bred horses. This included all top 10 in the CCI3*-S and 9 out of 10 placings in the CCI2*-L.

WBFSH Rankings

Ireland once again topped the WBFSH Studbook rankings for event horses this year. With six horses individually ranked in the top 25 internationally for event horses, the Irish Sport Horse Stud Book topped the rankings by almost 150 points.

Helping claim the studbook title were: Off The Record (ISH), Vanir Kamira (ISH), Cooley Quicksilver (ISH), Ballaghmor Class (ISH), Leamore Master Plan (ISH) and Capels Hollow Drift (ISH).

Bred by Peter Brady from Co Cavan, Off The Record is a 2009 gelding by VDL Arkansas (KWPN) and out of Drumagoland Bay (ISH), by Ard Ohio (KWPN). Born in 2011 and bred by Alan O’Brien, Cooley Quicksilver is by Womanizer (KWPN) and out the TIH mare Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond (ID). Leamore Master Plan (ISH) is by Master Imp (TB) and out of Ardragh Bash (ISH) by Cavalier Royale (HOLST), bred by Michael Byrne from Co Wicklow.

Bright Future Ahead Following Youth Success

The gold medal winning GAIN Equine Nutrition Irish pony team stand on the podium

Irish horses and riders showed their class at the Youth European Championships throughout 2022, winning a team medal in each age group. An impressive 57% of the horses competing for Ireland were Irish Bred.

The highest honours went to the GAIN Equine Nutrition Pony Eventing team who won team gold and individual silver at the FEI European Championships for Ponies in Strzegom, Poland in early July. For the second year in a row Kildare’s Ben Connors claimed an individual medal with the Connemara Pony stallion Cornafest Fred (CP). The nine-year-old is by Gwennic De Goariva out of Corrnafest Nora by Westside Mirah.

The team consisted of Josh Williamson with Ardeo Fireman, Ben Connors with Cornafest Fred (CP), Matthew Love with Lucky For Some (ISH) and Claire O’Ryan with Carhu Melody (CP), managed by HSI Level 2 Coach Jane Kinsella.

At the end of July, the Junior and Young Rider FEI European Eventing Championships took place in Hartpury College, England. The GAIN Equine Nutrition Junior team of Tom Rowlatt McCormick, Julia Adams, Ted O’Leary and Godfrey Gibbons claimed team silver, managed by Dag Albert, with Godfrey Gibbons taking individual fourth place with the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare Milchem Free Spirit, bred by Ralph Conroy.

Galway based Conroy also bred Julia Adams mount Milchem Ardeo who finished 8th individually. Speaking to Horse Sport Ireland Conroy said:

“I’m delighted, it’s a fantastic achievement. There’s a lot that goes into it and it’s great for the riders as well. To breed and produce horses to go and compete so successfully on the international stage is the icing on the cake. It’s very rewarding for a small operation to be so successful.”

When discussing what he thinks sets Irish breeding apart, Conroy said simply “the blood and brian of the Irish mare.” He went to expand on the how the traditional role of horses in Ireland and the ancestry has played a vital role in giving Irish mares such good brains.

The GAIN Equine Nutrition Young Rider Eventing Team at the HSI Tradestand Medallist Meet and Greet at RDS in Dublin, pictured with Joe Reynolds, Michael Phillips of GAIN Equine Nutrition and Denis Duggan, CEO of HSI. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/ Sportsfile

Later the same day, the GAIN Equine Nutrition Young Rider team of Jennifer Kuehnle, Alannah Kelly, Heather O’Connor and Zara Nelson, managed by Sue Shorrtt, won the team bronze medal. All four team horses were Irish-bred. Sammy Davis Junior (ISH), 2009 gelding by Imperial Hights (ISH) out of Cornasaus Connie (ISH) by Condios (HOLST), bred by Amanda Vogan. Kuehnle and Sammy Davis Junior also claimed individual fourth.

Cooley Bounce (ISH)[TIH], ridden by Alannah Kelly, 2010 gelding by Grange Bouncer (ID) out of Smart Fair Lady (ISH)[TIH] by Master Imp (TB), bred by Thomas Duffin. Heather O’Connor’s mount HSH Has it All (ISH), bred by Sean Barron, 2011 gelding by Puissance (ISH) out of Qeen Allo (ISH) by Aldatus Z (OLD). Zara Nelson’s homebred OLS King Aragon (ISH), 2011 gelding by Samgemjee [ISH] out of Just Beauty Queen [ISH] by Seamanship (TB), bred by Kieran Connors.

All Roads Lead to Paris

The Irish senior eventing team secured team qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, finishing fifth at the FEI Eventing World Championships in Pratoni, Italy this September. The team of Sam Watson, Austin O’Connor, Padraig McCarthy and Susie Berry, and individual rider Felicity Ward, included three Irish-bred horses.

Susie Berry and Monbeg By Design at the FEI World Championships. Photo: Irish Eventing Times

Susie Berry’s Monbeg By Design (ISH) was bred in Co Offaly by Fiona Molloy. The 10-year-old gelding is by Pacino (BWP) out of Eskerhills Lexis [ISH] by Puissance (ISH)[TIH]. Ballybolger Talisman (ISH), ridden by Sam Watson, is an 11-year-old bay gelding by Puissance (ISH) out of Ali Row (TB) by All Royal (TB), bred by Rosemary Ponsonby. Owner: Hannah Watson and Julia Watson. Rider: Ballybolger Talisman

Felicity Ward made her senior championship debut with the Miriam De Feu-bred Regal Bounty (ISH), the 11-year-old black gelding by Orestus VDL (KWPN) out of Edge of Reason (ISH) by Senang Hati (TB).

At the FEI WBFSH Eventing World Breeding Championships for Young Horses in Le Lion D’Angers, France this October Irish horses proved a force to be reckoned with. Following the opening dressage phase of the championships, Ireland, for the first time, had two Irish riders on Irish-bred horses in the top three in both the six-year-old and the seven-year-old division.

Ireland was one of the most represented nations with 37 Irish-bred competing at the championships. In the six-year-old class American rider Caroline Martin and the Irish Sport Horse, HSH Connor, narrowly missed out on gold having held onto poll position since the opening day of dressage. The bay gelding by Connor 48 (HOLST), out of Galwaybay Merstona (ISH), by Mermus R (KWPN), and the American rider finished in silver medal position.

Speaking about HSH Connor, Caroline Martin said “he’s such a great jumper, such a great brian.” “He’s really bred for the sport”

It’s no secret that Caroline Martin, a rising star on the international stage, is a big supporter of Irish horses, speaking about them to Horse Sport Ireland at Le Lion D’Angers, she said;

“I would say 90% of my horses come out of Ireland. They’ve the best brains and they’re fantastic cross country. I think sometimes people get so caught up with the dressage but at the end of the day you have to have a good cross-country horse that you can trust and that’s where the Irish horses come in.”

Three Irish-bred horses finished within the top six in the six-year-old class, and five Irish-bred horses finished in the top ten in the seven-old-class. The highest placed Irish-bred seven-year-old was Dassett Arthalent, ridden by Britain’s Piggy March. Ian Cassells was the best of the Irish riders finishing 5th with the Tabasco Van Erpekom (BWP) sired and Rosconnell Alto.

A special thanks goes to all breeders, producers, grooms, support staff, sponsors and the wider support teams who work with every horse and rider combination helping to make so many dreams a reality and help bring Irish-bred horses to the forefront on eventing on the international stage.

In the next article of this series Horse Sport Ireland will look at the tales of dressage success, from Irish-bred horses making up over one third of the entries at the Dressage Ireland National Championships, to the success of Irish Youth athletes and beyond.

For full details of the breeding of each horse mentioned in this article please click here.