Sarah Ennis was once again the headline act for Ireland at the FEI European Eventing Championships in Poland, completing the show jumping phase on just four faults and finishing seventh individually.
The Meath rider, with her 13 year-old gelding Horseware Stellor Rebound, was the last of the Irish contingent to jump today, but her excellent performance through all three phases of the championship at Strzegom was unfortunately not enough to lift the Irish team score.
Ireland was in seventh place of 13 nations contesting the championships after dressage and cross country, but overnight withdrawals of horses by other nations – mainly due to welfare concerns – meant that Ireland shifted up to fifth place without losing any penalties.
Elimination of veteran performer Austin O’Connor and Kilpatrick Knight due to a fall on the cross country element did nothing to help Ireland’s chances, but quite a few nations suffered similar drawbacks, including winners Great Britain and second-placed Germany.
Remaining Irish team members failed to shine consistently through the three phases of the championships – Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello finished on a penalty score of 131.60 while Michael Ryan (Dunlough Striker) had 94.20, compared to Ennis’s final tally of 43.40.
The gap at the end between Ireland and the medal-winning teams was considerable; winners Great Britain finished on a total score of 113.90, Germany in second place had 123.00 and third-placed Sweden came home on 148.40. Ireland by comparison had 269.20 penalties on the board.
In the individual class, Irish rider Trish Ryan with Dunrath Eclipse finished in 22nd place on 79.20 penalties.
Eventing fans cannot help but speculate if the result at the European championships would have been better for Ireland had the team included Jonty Evans and his horse Cooley Rorkes Drift.
The combination had finished ninth individually at the Rio Olympics, had performed well at the prestigious Badminton Horse Trials earlier this year, and were instrumental in helping Ireland gain team selection to contest the European Championships.
The 45 year-old rider, however, announced in July that he would need £500,000 to stop Cooley Rorkes Drift being sold to America, and launched a crowdfunding campaign to keep the horse for Ireland, mainly to allow it to compete in this weekend’s European championships in Poland.
Evans himself declared: “We are about to be named for the Europeans squad and we are fairly sure that Cooley Rorkes Drift will be a medal contender.”
Amidst considerable publicity, Evans managed to raise all the money this month through crowdfunding, two separate six-figure donations and an auction. However, those who were expecting that their contributions would ensure the horse’s selection for Poland this weekend were disappointed when Evans announced through the Horse Sport Ireland website last week: “The physical issue of paying for him is complex and will not be completed in time.”
Irish team manager Sally Corscadden added: “It is inspiring to know that Jonty and Cooley Rorkes Drift are now secured for future teams and can aim for Tokyo. With this in mind we have agreed that the best course of action is for them not to travel to Poland, but to complete the deal to secure (the horse) and put in place a suitable plan to qualify for the World Equestrian Games in 2018.”
Confusingly for fans of Eventing, at the time of writing (Sunday) the website dedicated to the crowdfunding appeal still had its PayPal donation software active, even though the required amount was raised nine days ago.