I've been to the Dublin Horse Show loads of times, always without a horse, apart from one year when the YD and Aero were asked to take part in a Dressage demo. The longest I've stayed there is two days - it's difficult to get away when you have a busy household of humans and animals to look after.
I wasn't going to go this year - too much to do, what with the preparations for the move to Provence, but when my daughters gave me a ticket for the whole week, for that Big Birthday I had a while back, of course I was going to go! At the time, there was talk of one or the other of them going to Dublin as well, for a day or two of horsiness, but that didn't happen. Nor did the LSH get the opportunity to join me - he was too busy looking after everything at home as well as trying to earn a living. I was happy to go off on my own, though, confident that I'd meet plenty of people I knew. I wasn't able to go for the full five days, unfortunately, but I had a great three days there.
Dublin is the highlight of the Irish Equestrian calendar. People have been frantically scrambling to qualify horses and ponies for the showing and show-jumping classes since May. It's an achievement to qualify - the YD tried hard to qualify for the showjumping, first of all with her 128cm pony Lady Ivy and then with her 138cm pony Ballyclough Lady, but it was not to be, she never rode there as a competitor.
When you walk in, first of all you have to pass the indoor trade stands. Hundreds and hundreds of them, many of them completely non-horsey, catering for the Dublin socialites who MUST be seen at The Horse Show. This year was the first year that I really, really "did" the trade stands, but I didn't buy much - I kept thinking in terms of "will it be easy to pack" and "will I use it" and "do I really need it." I'm not a great shopper at the best of times. I'm a big disappointment to our failing economy at the moment.
After the tradestands, you walk through a doorway, and suddenly the city around you fades away and you're in Horse Land. The two showing rings occupy a large space in between the Main Hall and one of the grandstands which overlooks the Main Showjumping arena, and they're busy all day long with ridden and led showing classes.
The first day, I arrived in time to see this slightly chunky judge riding the equally chunky Performance Irish Draughts. This is a recent innovation, traditionally, Irish Draught horses were just shown in hand. Now they want to show what good riding horses they make. I really liked this dark grey :
I watched and played with my camera for a while, trying to capture the moment when the judge asked the horse to gallop from the corner. I was happy with my timing most of the time :
Jean François Pignon and his troop of Camargue mares were one of the entertainments for the duration of the show. They appeared twice a day, sometimes in the main arena and sometimes in Simmonscourt, which is an adjoining section of the showgrounds - it's across a busy street, which is completely closed off to traffic during Horse Show Week.
They do some fairly circus-y stuff, to be honest; running along behind their trainer, rearing on command, kicking out on command, lying down on command...
This bit, pictured left, is quite exciting, when he stands on two of them and the herd moves around under him. The mares were still quite distracted by the lush green grass underfoot - the one who is tossing her head in the photo didn't really want to work, and got a couple of sharp taps with the long whip to remind her what her job was!
As soon as they stopped, so that Jean François could take his bow, all five heads went straight down to the grass again! Yum! Irish grass!
|That's grand, you stand there, we'll just eat|
|Ok, we'll lie down, so long as we can keep eating!|
The main focus of the Dublin Horse Show is undeniably showjumping, and the highlight of the week is the Nations Cup Class, when teams from different countries compete for the prestigious Agha Khan Trophy. This year, Dublin hosted the final leg of the FEI Nations Cup Super League - eights countries qualify for the Super League every year and compete at eight major international shows. The bottom two teams get relegated to the Promotional League the following year, so they all fight tooth and nail to retain a good position on the league table.
Proceedings start in the International Arena at 2pm, with a grand parade. There's marching bands, flags, top hats and tails, national anthems, excited horses, loads of dignitaries and cheering crowds. I've never sat through it before - I've always been on a tight schedule and considered it a total waste of time.
I loved it! Especially watching all the horses freaking out when they were expected to walk quietly behind one of these :
In the second round, Sweden faded away, leaving France, Ireland and Great Britian to slug it out. France's first rider, Penelope Leprevost, was eliminated. If the rest of the team went clear, they could discard her score, and they would still be on four faults. Robert Smith, second to go for GB, had a fence down for four faults. Again, if the rest of the team went clear, they could discard his score, but GB would still carry their five faults from the first round. Ireland's first two riders went clear, but third to go, Darragh Kerins, had one down for four faults.
It all came down to the last round.
If the French went clear, they would finish on a total of four, but if their rider incurred any faults they would all have to be counted, because of Penelope's elimination.
If the British went clear, they would finish on a total of five.
If the Irish went clear, they would win, but one fence down would leave us on a total of five, possibly in joint second place.
John Whitaker went first with Argento - he had two fences down and retired, knowing that his score would now be discarded, leaving the team score at nine. Next was France's Kevin Staut - he had a fence down early on, and the crowd gasped... did this mean Ireland had won? Yes it did! Our last rider, Cian O' Connor didn't have to jump, our final score was five faults, France were second on eight faults and Britain were third on nine.
Then we had all the pomp and circumstance of the prize-giving. As it happened, I was sitting just in front of the dignitaries box. The little leprechaun in the centre is Michael D. Higgins, who hails from my former home town, and happens to be President of Ireland! To the left of him is Fonsie Mealy, president of the Royal Dublin Society, which hosts the Horse Show, and to the left of him is the gleaming gold Agha Khan trophy - donated by the Agha Khan for this event. It's about the same size as the Irish president, so I was hoping he wouldn't have to lift it!
I made sure I got a photo of Olympic Gold Medallist, Steve Guerdat :
I left early on the last day and returned to my cousin's house, to join in the celebrations after her grandson's christening. She lives in the coolest house in Dublin. Yes, this really is her house - complete with clock tower and gargoyles!