Expert judging, training and competition helping to improve the standard of Irish dressage

  • 21 October 2020, 14:04

Kate Dwyer and Harmony score 80% to win the six-year-old qualifier of the 2020 Horse Sport Ireland Development Series at the National Sports Centre (Photo: Equestrian Antics)

Irish International dressage athlete, Kate Dwyer speaks to Horse Sport Ireland Stable Talk’s Leanne O’Sullivan about the growth and improving standards of dressage in Ireland and shares her experience of life during a global pandemic

Up until 2019, Ireland had been represented by individual riders at Olympic level but had never before managed to qualify a full dressage team. That all changed at the 2019 Longines FEI European Championships in Rotterdam when a truly stunning performance from the Irish team of Kate Dwyer, Anna Merveldt, Judy Reynolds and Heike Holstein secured Olympic team qualification for Ireland.

Dressage is now the fastest growing equine discipline in Ireland and Ireland’s high-performance athletes are the very pinnacle of the programme, inspiring a whole new generation of equine enthusiasts to get involved in the sport of dressage.


Irish International dressage athlete, Kate Dwyer paid tribute to Ireland’s national judges for their contribution to the sport earlier this week saying: “I think a big shout out must go to the Irish judges, we should be really proud of them and should really appreciate them. In my opinion, I think they are really helping to improve the standard of Irish dressage.

“When a movement is good the judges are giving the marks and when it’s not so good, they are letting the riders know – so when you get a good mark you know that you deserve it. Riders are improving, horses are improving, the standard of competition overall is really on the up and the judging at national competition is a big part of that,” says Kate.


Kate Dwyer made history earlier this year at Doha in Qatar, by becoming the first ever Irish rider to win a Grand Prix Special at five-star level.



2020 has been a tough year for Ireland’s high-performance athletes with the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and many competitions cancelled. Luckily for Kate she scored a personal best (70.043%) earlier this year with her longstanding partner Snowdon Faberge and became the first ever Irish dressage athlete to win a Grand Prix Special at five-star level, an achievement which has helped her stay positive during these challenging times.

“Looking back now, my mum and trainer Maureen and I often say to each other that we are so happy we went to Doha because it has made our year. Doha was such a high that it has carried us through the disappointment of the postponement of the Olympic games and the restrictions caused by Covid.”


Kate Dwyer and Vaalserberg in action at the Tipperary leg of the 2020 Horse Sport Ireland Development Series (Photo: Equestrian Antics)

One positive for Irish equestrian athletes to come from the current global pandemic is the opportunity to spend more time developing their younger, up-and-coming horses. “Every cloud has a silver lining and having more time to develop my partnership with my young horses has been brilliant,” says Kate.

“I’ve been focusing on two young horses – Vaalserberg an eight-year-old, Irish-bred gelding and Harmony a six-year-old, Irish-bred mare. Vaalserberg or Joey as we call him is 18hh, he’s huge! He has been a bit of a slow developer because of his size but he has a wonderful character and is working toward small tour level at home, learning the changes and the pirouettes. We really love him.

“I call Harmony my little pocket rocket – she’s 16.2hh, but after riding Joey and Fabio [Snowdon Faberge] who are both 18hh she feels so small. She’s a real little worker bee and we’re very pleased with her progress, I’m hoping she will move up to small tour level next year. She’s super talented, works really hard and loves her training so I’m enjoying having the time to focus on her.”


“Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) has been doing everything possible to assist the high-performance squad with training and we have been benefitting from weekly virtual training sessions in Greenogue Equestrian with Johann Hinnemann. It’s really helped keep the squad motivated and to keep our goals for next year in mind. We alternate each week between riding our grand prix horses and our younger ones and I’m really starting to see the improvement in my younger horses now as we compete in the Development Series.”

The HSI Development Series aims to provide development opportunities for breeders, owners and riders by providing significant prize money, including breeders’ prizes, and by extending the competitive season, which was shorted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This initiative has given Irish dressage riders something to work toward. The prize money is fantastic, and it is doing a lot to raise the profile of dressage in Ireland – it’s created a real feel-good factor within the industry.”

Both of Kate’s young horses have qualified for the series final with top placings week-on-week. At the most recent leg, hosted by the National Sports Campus in Abbottstown, Kate won the six-year-old qualifier with Harmony on a score of 80% and Vaalserberg won the medium category with 73.5%.

Kate Dwyer and Harmony won the six-year-old qualifier of the 2020 Horse Sport Ireland Development Series at the National Sports Centre (Photo: Equestrian Antics)


The next leg of the Dressage Development Series takes place at Greenogue Equestrian on the 25th of October with the final taking place at the National Sports Campus in Abbottstown on the 1st of November.

The final will be livestreamed and available to watch for free. Follow Horse Sport Ireland on social media for further details and the best of luck to all of those taking part in the final.

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