Irish Dressage team makes history by qualifying for first-ever Olympic Games

(l-r) The Irish Dressage team of Kate Dwyer, Heike Holstein, Milan Djordjevic (Irish Dressage Chef d’Équipe), Judy Reynolds and Anna Merveldt, Credit: Horse Sport Ireland.

The Irish Dressage team of Anna Merveldt, Judy Reynolds, Heike Holstein and Kate Dwyer made Irish sporting history at the Longines FEI European Championships in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, today, by becoming the first Irish Dressage team to qualify for the Olympic Games.

The ‘Girls In Green’ finished on a final score of 213.540, meaning they finished second of the eight teams who had been chasing one of the three qualifying spots for Tokyo 2020 that were on offer in Rotterdam.

The competition which began on Monday saw Kate Dwyer with Snowdon Faberge and Heike Holstein with the Irish-bred Sambuca achieve scores of 66.180% and 69.472% respectively, leaving Team Ireland in 10th place heading into today’s action.

Anna Merveldt with the 10-year-old gelding Esporim scored 67.717% early on Tuesday, which meant Ireland was lying in fourth position, just outside the qualification spots, before the team’s final combination, Judy Reynolds and Vancouver K, entered the arena.

Anna Merveldt and Esporim scored 67.717% today.

Kildare-born Reynolds, who previously competed at the Olympics as an individual, and Vancouver K, produced a brilliant performance, breaking their own Irish Grand Prix record, and scoring 76.351%. The result put the Irish team on a final score of 213.40, good enough to qualify an Irish Dressage team for the Olympic Games for the very first time, as Ireland secured the second of the three Olympic places available, the other spots for Tokyo going to Denmark and Portugal respectively.

Speaking after she and Vancouver K had set another Irish Grand Prix record which helped secure Olympic qualification, record-breaker Judy Reynolds said:

“I can’t believe we have actually done it. We talked about it two years ago and it was like ‘hey let’s try and get a team to Tokyo’ and I was thinking in the back of my head that, this is not going to be all that feasible, because at the time we didn’t really have the back up horses to do it. But it all came together, this year especially.”

Reynolds, who finished in the top 10 individually and qualified for Thursday’s Grand Prix Special in Rotterdam, continued:

“Heike’s mare improved so much and Anna got the horse and improved it so much, from doing no Grand Prix to this. I was surprised myself that we have got to this level but wow, I can’t believe it. I had an absolutely amazing ride. JP [Vancouver K] was just fantastic today, he was really with me, he let me ride him and just did everything I could have asked of him, he was just super.”

Horse Sport Ireland Chairman, Joe Reynolds, Judy’s father, said of today’s achievement:

“I am so proud of all our riders for what they have achieved on this historic day for Irish Dressage and for Horse Sport Ireland. This was a real team effort from everyone involved in the team and backroom staff. This didn’t happen by accident, there was huge planning and effort to make this happen down to the finest details.”

Ronan Murphy, CEO of Horse Sport Ireland, congratulated the Irish Dressage team, stating:

“This performance from our Irish ‘Girls In Green’ was simply outstanding. This is a historic day for Irish equestrian sport and I congratulate Kate, Anna, Heike and Judy.”

The European Championship Dressage team gold medal went to Germany, ahead of The Netherlands in second, with Sweden winning the bronze medal.

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