International Women’s Day – High Performance Dressage Director Anne Marie Dunphy part 2

  • 8 March 2024, 19:11
In part one of our International Women’s Day feature, we spoke to Horse Sport Ireland High Performance Dressage Director Anne Marie Dunphy on her role at the helm of the youth High Performance programme. In part two, she tells us about her role as senior manager ahead of the Paris Olympics.

Anne Marie Dunphy won National Dressage Championships back-to-back. Photo: Alf Harvey

“It’s a massive honour to be going to Paris as High Performance Director. What I really hope is – and I know it will be the case – that the entire dressage community will get behind whatever athlete is chosen, and that it provides inspiration to the up-and-coming athletes. Not just the senior athletes that are Grand Prix athletes, but the youth riders that will come down the line in four years’ time, and in eight years’ time,” says Dunphy.

Short term excitement but long-term planning – it’s what Anne Marie Dunphy is all about. 10 years as youth High Performance director and now also in the senior manager’s position, she is moulding the future of dressage in Ireland.

“You’ve got to think in those cycles all the time – it’s Paris year this year but I can’t think short term, as exciting as it is,” she adds.

“I’m obviously very much looking forward to it, and what I really want is for the athlete chosen to embrace the challenge and put their best foot forward. Because we have a real opportunity here to inspire our next athletes coming along. That for me is very important.”

It’s a pressure cooker, of sorts, managing expectations, helping the potential Olympians excel as we build towards Paris – as we said in Part One, that slot is very much up for grabs.

“There’s obviously hopes and dreams in play here, and all of the athletes are human – there’s a balance to it. Everyone has that grit and determination but they also have vulnerabilities and it’s my job as their team manager to bring the best out of them so they can perform at their best.

“In some ways, it’s multi-faceted – it’s very much about communication for me. You asked if there’s an element of friend stroke big sister stroke mammy, and maybe subconsciously there can be an element of that because again, they’re human beings. But it’s about being professional. You know?

“And like I said about Riesenbeck – you know, that was a series of things that went wrong but the team’s professionalism never wavered. They remained level-headed and calm. There was an opportunity there for everyone to lose a bit of faith, but that never happened.

“They all remained calm and got on with the job – played the hand they were dealt, and that was something I was very pleased with. Because everything is always fine when things are going well but when they’re not, you see what their made of, what the backbone of the team is made of.

“You need athletes who will stay with you and stay together, and what I saw there showed me that we have that – it showed me that we do have a strong bunch of riders and a strong programme.”

From competitor to manager, there was potential for kickback from some of the senior riders in the programme – it’s only natural in all sport when a peer becomes the boss. Dunphy still competes and keeps that aspect of her career separate from her role as director.

Thankfully, that didn’t materialise.

“I find it quite good – genuinely. I try to communicate with the riders a lot, without badgering them. A text or a call, I stay in touch. They send me videos and they will ask me for feedback. I’m not coaching them, by any means, but we discuss their plans and discuss their thoughts, and it’s all been very positive.

“And everyone is very much looking forward to putting their best foot forward to try earning that slot in Paris.”

So, if it was tomorrow, who would be her first choice?

“Absolutely no chance I’m telling you that,” she laughs. “But in all seriousness, it really is up for grabs and these next few months will absolutely determine who ends up in that green in the arena in Paris. I obviously have a list of my Grand Prix level riders and horses and it will take one of them to stick their head above the rest to get there.

“What I will say is that I want someone who will go there and give it everything. The Olympic Games is the pinnacle of our sport and while getting there is an achievement in itself, whoever is chosen will hopefully embrace it and give every inch of themselves to excel and compete to their very highest level.”

GAIN Equine Nutrition equine business manager Michael Phillips with, from left, Oscar O’Connor, Sophia Donehy, Lily Larkin, Horse Sport Ireland Dressage High Performance Director Anne Marie Dunphy, Jessica Grogan and Maeve Deverell during the HSI Youth Dressage Final Team training at National Horse Sport Arena in the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

She is a fascinating interviewee, thoughtful and insightful, and her vision for the sport is abundantly clear. Dressage seems to be in a good place – for now. With Dunphy at the helm, it is growing, and that good place can become a great place.

As a final thought, I wonder where she sees the future of dressage in Ireland.

“The future is very bright. I think we have to keep developing the youth programme and have to keep developing young horses. Our established riders who are there now have their horses; they know how to produce young horses.

“It’s the riders coming up through the system, they’re the ones that we need to keep helping and keep developing because they’re the future, as well as the young horses that are coming up now.

“And if we can get quality young horses being produced well by not just our existing top riders but also our up-and-coming riders. Then I think we’re going to get there.

“As a small country it’s very hard to get that depth of horses to be where we want to be but I have to utmost confidence that we have a programme and riders who have the want and the determination to produce these horses and to develop themselves and be the athletes they would like to be.”