Ireland’s Nations’ Cup squad for the five-star meeting at Hickstead in England has been confirmed.

The riders, from whom a team of four will be chosen by Ireland’s show jumping high performance manager Rodrigo Pessoa before Friday’s competition, are:

Shane Breen (Golden Hawk)
Daniel Coyle (Cita)
Richard Howley (Chinook)
Richie Moloney (Carrabis Z)
Shane Sweetnam (Chaqui Z)

With Coyle, Moloney and Sweetnam on the squad, Pessoa has reached into Ireland’s rich vein of US-based talent, while Breen (who is based at Hickstead) was almost a given. Howley and Chinook gave a good account of themselves at the Nations’ Cup in St. Gallen at the beginning of last month, with just one mistake in each round.

Ireland will need substantial league points from Hickstead to ensure that the pressure on riders and horses at Dublin’s horse show in August is not overwhelming. Ireland must finish in the top seven of competing FEI Nations’ Cup teams in order to qualify for September’s final in Barcelona, and Dublin will present the last opportunity for points.

One more third placing, or even a two-way share of third, from the remaining two qualifiers would be enough for the Irish to qualify, though less may be required depending on how the final two events work out.

Pessoa also has the added pressure of needing reserves from his top combinations to be fresh and fit for the European Show Jumping Championships at Gothenburg in Sweden in the third week of August.

Though one of the most successful nations in the world when it comes to individual achievements in show jumping, Ireland’s team performances under the aegis of Horse Sport Ireland have often been less than mediocre during the governing body’s eight year tenure.

Though Pessoa has not had a lot of time to mould the individual riders into a more cohesive team unit, it is believed that morale and co-operation between riders has increased significantly under his management.

Performances this year will be scrutinised and no doubt in some cases criticised, but the ultimate target for Pessoa’s strategy is qualification for the 2020 Olympics. Ireland, despite its wealth of talented riders and superb horses, has not managed to qualify an Olympic team on three successive occasions during a twelve year period.

Jack Burns