Ireland’s eventers achieved a series of firsts at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon USA today.

Not only did they secure Ireland’s first-ever team world championship medal, but also racked up an individual silver to go with the silver team medal. They also fulfilled the all-important Olympic team qualifying criteria, by finishing in the top six teams today.

It was also a first for the Watson family, with 32 year-old Sam Watson picking up a team silver medal 40 years after his father John won individual silver at the 1978 World Eventing Championships in Lexington, USA.

John Watson, who won the individual silver medal at the 1978 World Eventing Championships in Lexington, USA.

The individual silver medal today went to Padraig McCarthy who first took up international eventing just five years ago, and he piloted the 13 year-old bay Mr. Chunky to second place after a superb dressage test, a clear round on the cross country section, and a zero penalty show jumping round.

McCarthy’s performance helped the Irish team to maintain an excellent combined score through all three phases. 

 Sam Watson and Horseware Ardagh Highlight also went clear on cross country and show jumping, while Sarah Ennis and Horseware Stellor Rebound, who had the best dressage score of all the Irish riders, faulted just once in show jumping to make fifth place individually.

Cathal Daniels, at 22 the second-youngest rider in the championships, made his debut at world level with Rioghan Rua and though ending up as the team discard score made a strong impression with just 3.60 faults on cross country and one fence down in show jumping.

At the close of play, the Irish team was just 4.2 points adrift of the winning British team, but 6.8 ahead of third-placed France.

Sally Corscadden, Ireland’s Eventing Senior High Performance Director, said afterwards: “This is absolutely huge. We’re making history today when you really think about it. We haven’t had a world medal since 1978 in individual, or team since ’95 so to be here as a team is absolutely fantastic. Our goal the whole time was to be competitive and we stuck to that goal. We pushed those Brits – we made them a little nervous.”

Ireland must now look forward with anticipation to the show jumping championships at Tryon, when Shane Breen, Cian O’Connor, Paul O’Shea and Shane Sweetnam will attempt to break the 16 year jinx that has prevented Ireland qualifying an Olympic jumping team.

The show jumpers, however, lost their first reserve horse – EFS Top Contender ridden by Michael Duffy – because the owners were fearful of weather conditions in North Carolina caused by Hurricane Florence – and Shane Sweetnam’s Main Road was drafted in as reserve.

However, all four team horses have now passed the first trot-up at Tryon, so the issue of a reserve is no longer critical.

The situation was further complicated for Chef d’Equipe Rodrigo Pessoa when his first choice as one of the Tryon team – Darragh Kenny and Babalou – had to be withdrawn when the horse developed colic. Kenny and Babalou were replaced by Shane Breen and Ipswich Van De Wolfsakker earlier this month.

The competition begins on Wednesday of this week.

-Jack Burns