Kilteel, Co. Kildare
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Dublin Horse Show Diary 16.8.11

“THE week of Dublin Horse Show has been the most exciting week of the year for me since the age of 10- little did I know back then that I would one day be competing in the Aga Khan alongside the ‘big boys’!

“The run-up to the show this year was particularly exciting after having been named as a member of the Aga Khan squad.

“The show began well for Puissance and me, we jumped in the Sports Council Classic 1.60m class on the Wednesday, jumping a double clear to finish in 5th place. Puissance, or Pardy as he is now affectionately known by most, felt really good in both rounds and I was happy that I’d done everything I could to show Chef d’Equipe Robert Splaine we were both on top form.

“The wait from Wednesday evening to Thursday morning, when Robert chose the four riders to jump on the team, was nerve-wracking!

“I couldn’t believe it when he told me I was to jump on Friday, it seemed like a dream… when the news was announced at the show, I had literally hundreds of people wishing me well by calling, texting, Facebooking, Twittering… and it was then that I began to truly appreciate the pressure I would be under the next day; every crowd wants to see the home side win and I reckon the Irish crowd is the most passionate in the world.

“Thursday night was when I was most nervous, and I found the only way to cope with it all was to switch off my phone and have an early night.

“The good sleep worked wonders and I woke up in a much better frame of mind. I got to the show early and walked the course with Niall Talbot in the morning, and after having seen the track I felt much more relaxed, as I knew Pardy and I were well capable of jumping it. After that came a whirlwind of TV and radio interviews, the official course walk and of course the parade with the marching band, which was very exciting!

“Watching Shane Sweetnam jump a clear round was inspiring, and shortly after it was my turn. Marcus Swail, team vet and personal advisor, told me to think of it as going in to jump nothing more than a 1.10m in the local equestrian centre down the road! The advice worked for me but Pardy felt a little bit tense in the first round, and an unfortunate rub at the planks meant we finished up on 4 faults.

“Both Denis and Billy also jumped well and we were in 2nd place going into the second round with a team total of four faults. France was leading on a zero score, with the British, Belgium and Germany behind us on eight. It was going to be a tense second round.

“Once again Shane got us off to a brilliant start with a clear. When I cantered into the ring this time, Pardy felt more relaxed, and he jumped like a dream all the way around for a clear. The roar when I crossed the finishing line could be heard in Cork. It was a very emotional experience for me to do so well in front of such a madly cheering home crowd.

“With the French performance deteriorating round by round it was beginning to look like it could be an outright Irish victory. Unfortunately for us the British team made a miraculous comeback, jumping three clears and forcing a jump off with Ireland.

“Nick Skelton then jumped the most perfect round on Carlo to end Irish hopes of claiming the Aga Khan Cup, but I think everyone can agree that it was by far the most exciting Nations’ Cup which has taken place in Dublin for many years, and personally it was the most incredible experience of my life. I hope I get the chance to compete on that team again, and that next time we finish just one place higher!”

 

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