Pijpers excited with Para Dressage programme as Murphy eyes gold

  • 4 April 2024, 15:19

Horse Sport Ireland Para Dressage High Performance Director Deborah Pijpers with the team who competed at Addington

Horse Sport Ireland Para Dressage High Performance Director Deborah Pijpers is looking forward to an exciting season in the run-up to the Paris Paralympics in August – with the ultimate goal of delivering medals at the Games.

Irish athletes impressed at the recent CPEDI3* show in Addington, UK, with wins and podium finishes across multiple classes for the likes of World and European medallist Michael Murphy, Jessica McKenna and young Clodagh Walsh.

There were also notable performances for Kate Kerr Horan and Katie Reilly, who made international debuts with new horses, while Angela Lyons, Heather Lemmon and 15-year-old Walsh all impressed – the latter at international level for the first time.

Pijpers said: “I’m very happy – it was a positive start to our 2024 season. After the Grand Prix A and Grand Prix B, we received a lot of compliments from the judges about the general improvements they noticed with Irish para dressage riders in general.

“The riders at this show were a mix of established well performing combinations and new promising combinations. Michael and Cleverboy won the Grade I three times, scored a brilliant 77% in the Grand Prix B and almost 80% in their Freestyle.

“Jessica and Davidoff finished second twice and third once in the Grade III, with almost 70% in the Grand Prix B and a great 72.3% in the Freestyle.

“Both Kate (with Lykkebo’s Don Akino) and Katie (with Lymepark Rigeletto) introduced new horses and both showed promising moments in their Grade 3 tests. Angela and Woodcroft Santa Cruz are growing in confidence and showed improvements in connection and collection in the Grade IV.

“Heather and Lady Chapel Narnia showed lots of improvements in their walk in Grade II and take valuable learnings from this competition to further improve at home.

“It is so exciting for me to see that young new talents keep joining our programme. In Addington, Clodagh, who is just 15 years old, made her international debut with Chantal in the Grade I 1*. They scored almost 69% in their Novice B test and in their Freestyle, and they won their class three times.”

Michael Murphy and Cleverboy have ambitions of winning Paralympic gold in Paris

Murphy, who has hit the ground running this spring with success in Addington and is very happy with Cleverboy’s progress with Paris on the horizon.

With Herning World Championships medals and European medals won at Riesenbeck already in his back pocket, Murphy will travel to Paris with Cleverboy eyeing up some more hardware – and gold is the colour he is focusing on.

He said: “I’m very happy with how Cleverboy is progressing. He wintered very well and he has been showing me all the signs of a horse who is ready to compete for a gold medal in Paris.

“He performed brilliantly to kick 2024 off with three wins in Addington and we will be out in Waregem, Belgium in a few weeks. We’re working on a lot at home, tweaking things as we go, and I’m sure we’ll be ready to peak at the right time come Paris.”

Expectations will naturally be high for Murphy and Cleverboy, with such lofty ambitions and with recent performances trending towards a big showing – does that pressure affect him?

“There is no greater pressure than the pressure I put on myself – I know what we can do and I know how good Cleverboy is. We are right up there with the best in the world and I have no problem saying that I’m hunting for that gold medal. It’s a situation that I want to be in and it’s something we are working very hard towards achieving.

“There is obviously still a long way to go before we get there and before we can hopefully win but I welcome the pressure and I’ll be going all out to deliver that gold medal.”

Reflecting on her brilliant performance, McKenna: “I’ve had a very busy winter moving my horse over to England and training hard. I am delighted with how the first show of the year went with my new team as it has given us a great opportunity to build on everything for the next competition in a few weeks’ time.”