In driving rain in East Sussex, Ireland finished in fourth place in the British Nations Cup at the iconic Hickstead arena today with 17 faults on the scoreboard, after a rider disqualification saw Germany drop three places to team seventh.
With just one qualifying competition left – Dublin’s Aga Khan – this means that the Irish team chosen for the RDS will require only a top five finish to ensure qualification for the Nations Cup Final at Barcelona in September.
Only seven nations go through to the final, and at the moment Ireland are in sixth spot in the Nations Cup league, with France and Spain now ranked below, following the amended Hickstead result.
It is almost certain that Ireland’s new show jumping team manager Rodrigo Pessoa will not be fielding his best horses for the Aga Khan, with the European Championships in Sweden looming just a few weeks later, but only a truly major upset at Dublin could prevent Ireland now booking its ticket to the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona.
Pessoa’s declared ambition at the start of his tenure was to remedy Ireland’s historical team championship weakness, and his strategy so far – including the gamble of giving new riders and horses a chance to gain a cap – suggests that his main targets are the European Championships and next year’s World Equestrian Games, the latter being an Olympic qualifying event.
Today saw only one first round jumping clear from Ireland at Hickstead – Richie Moloney with the ten year-old stallion Ypaja Yando – and this was achieved at the expense of a time fault.
Opener Daniel Coyle with Cita looked impressive, but had one mistake on the course to finish on four faults, while Richard Howley and Chinook came home with eight faults. US-based Shane Sweetnam and the relatively inexperienced Main Road were the discard score in the first round, putting nine faults on the board.
Weather conditions at Hickstead were so bad after round one that officials took the radical decision to move most of the jumps to avoid the uncertain footing that had developed, and Irish hopes were lifted when both Coyle and Howley produced copybook clears in the second round.
Moloney, however, failed to repeat his first round performance when clipping the penultimate fence for four faults, and although Sweetnam and his nine year-old gelding had an improved round they still left a pole on the grass.
Ireland’s total penalties at the end had climbed from 13 to 17, and they were therefore unable to improve on their first round fifth place on the leaderboard. However, the shock disqualification after the class of Marcus Ehning, who was riding Comme Il Faut, meant that his scores were removed from the German team and their total was adjusted to 32 penalties, dropping them from equal third down to seventh place.
Ireland therefore moved up to fourth, with victory going to an in-form Brazilian team, who completed the day on just four faults, while the Netherlands had a total of 14 to claim second position, with Switzerland in third on 16 penalties.
The reason for Ehning’s disqualification was not known at the time of publication.
Afterwards, Irish team manager Rodrigo Pessoa said: “It is always tough when you don’t get off to a good start. The last double was very costly for us. That fence accounted for 16 of our 17 faults alone. Everyone made a really big effort and we fought back in the second round and the points gained today moves us a step closer to the finals. We tried out some new combinations which is good.
“Conditions were tough but it was the same for everyone and they moved the fences to give us fresh ground in the second round. I am of course delighted for Brazil to win if it wasn’t going to be Ireland, they put in some really good rounds.
“Our two biggest events of the season now come over the next few weeks. The Aga Khan in Dublin and the European Championships. We will try to do well on home soil in Dublin and hope we can clinch a win there.”