After a number of tense weeks when the future of Irish senior show jumping seemed in doubt, the governing body on Tuesday released an unembellished statement confirming that international coach and former Irish Army rider Gerry Mullins would resume his post as chairman of the show jumping High Performance committee.

What steps led to Mullins deciding to rejoin the Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) committee after having claimed that “interference” had made his job untenable have not been revealed.

In early December, four months after seeing the Irish team become European champions after a gap of 16 years, he said: “I was forced into making a decision to resign because I felt the possibility of us being able to continue the good work was going to be lessened by unnecessary interference.”

He was soon joined by Irish team manager, the celebrated Brazilian rider Rodrigo Pessoa, who declared: “We had a very good team in place that worked very well and we saw the result this team achieved this year. This instability is not good. We should be now enjoying the rewards and thinking about next year, and (instead) we’re fiddling with these internal problems.”

Pessoa went on to say that he would have to consider his future with the team, following the departure of Gerry Mullins from the High Performance Committee.

Longines FEI European Championships™ Gothenburg
August 2017: Ireland’s victorious European Championship team (from left) Chef d’Equipe Rodrigo Pessoa, Shane Sweetnam, Denis Lynch, Bertram Allen, Cian O’Connor, with Developmental Manager Michael Blake at rear of picture.

That the two main architects of Ireland’s remarkable resurgence as an international show jumping nation at senior team level might be lost to the country during the vital upcoming Olympic qualification year seemed unthinkable. But nevertheless, no hopeful or conciliatory statements emanated from the governing body for over a month. Yesterday’s press release was the first indication that behind-the-scenes negotiations had persuaded Mullins – and therefore Pessoa – to continue in their former roles.

However, Pessoa’s earlier remark that management should be “thinking about next year” may have helped focus the collective mind of the HSI Board on the tasks that will be rushing in at great speed throughout the weeks ahead – selecting potential team members for Nations Cups, the preparation of training and competition schedules so that the right horses are at the peak of their fitness for the crucial World Equestrian Games in the USA in September, and the co-ordination of team riders that proved so effective at the European Championships in August of last year.

Registering a strong awareness of the problems caused by the dispute, Pessoa told the Irish Examiner on Wednesday that it was back to business “without a minute to spare”.

He added: “I’m happy that it’s finally resolved. Now we’ll get back to work. We have a big appointment in September in Tryon and that’s what we have to focus on now.”

Paying tribute to the other members of the High Performance committee, all of whom will now stay in place for 2018, Gerry Mullins told The Examiner: “I’m very lucky that I have what I believe is a very strong committee. It’s not all about me. The priority is to have a strong team at the world games this year to qualify for the Olympics because it really is time for us to do that.”

As Ireland has not qualified a team for the Olympics since 2004, the pressure to do so in Tryon will be immense.

It is such a pity that so much time has been wasted with what Pessoa so aptly describes as “fiddling”. Time is one luxury that Ireland simply does not have. We can only hope that in the nine months ahead Mullins, Pessoa and their team are left to get on with the job that they know best – high performance.

-Colin McClelland