The pressure is really on the Donegan Ryan Eventing Team now and we are counting down the weeks to when Team Ireland Manager Ginny Elliot names her final Olympic team.
Ginny Elliot has named a shortlist of ten riders and 11 horses for Olympic selection and I am delighted to be on that list.
As things stand Ireland is assured of a team of at least three riders at the games, but this could increase to four or five this Sunday, June 17th, depending on whether other countries who secured places have sufficient eligible combinations to take up those places.
I feel that both Patricia and I have put in some strong performances this year and at this point I am delighted to have made the shortlist however the real hard work starts now and I will need to pull it out of the bag to secure my place to London.
Luckily I have my wife Patricia in my corner, and her experience of competing at two Olympic Games will be a valuable asset for me as I put in the final preparations.
Here’s what has happened so far!
This year began with the best weather I can remember for years. A great start in getting the horses fit and back on form. With the prospect of Ireland not qualifying a team for the Olympics the season was going to start hard and fast.
Patricia and I set about getting the horses into competitive mode with a series of dressage training, cross country practice and show jumping courses. I took part in a round of high performance training with the Horse Sport Ireland at the Army Equitation School and with the help of Ian Ferron, he was very confident that all the horses were performing well. We both travelled to the Wexford Equestrian for some cross country schooling – the facilities there are great for us and the horses.
Getting our horses fit was only part of the challenge – Patricia and I also had to embrace our own personal fitness which I did with the help of a personal trainer Liam O’Reilly, and training increased from 6 hours a week to 14. Liam is a former Iron Man and has been pushing us to our limits. We have enjoyed the challenge and really feel the benefits now that the Eventing season is in full swing.
The first Major Event and our last chance to send a Team to London 2012, was at Ballindenisk International in February. Mike was competing with Mac (Ballylynch Adventure) and his stable master Old Road. Trish was on Wizard and HiHo.
The tension was palpable, with the show jumping squad un-successful in their bid to secure an Irish Olympic team ticket; it was left to the eventers to put their best foot forward. Mike certainly lightened the mood when he revealed his Pink hair during the trot up. He had dyed his hair to raise money for The Irish Cancer Society as part of the Today FM ‘shave or dye’ campaign. It brought some much needed relief to a very high pressured event.
At the end of the following week, we were all relieved when it was confirmed that my runner-up spot on Old Road was enough to give Team Ireland that all important third spot in Olympic qualification and pave the way for an Eventing team to take part in the games.
Although we could take a few minutes to congratulate ourselves, the reality was that the hard work was just beginning. With 26 horses in the yard at various levels of development we have been travelling for event to event, country to country and field to field, making sure all the horses get fit, trained and ready for their level of competition.
The Team have clocked up a string of good wins on home soil, with both myself and Trish being consistently placed in all grades. In March I competed in Ballindenisk and won the three star class on Old Road while Patricia travelled to Tweseldown Horse Trials in England, where she won the two star class on Ballylynch Wizard.
Along with a string of home events, we headed to Italy and took part in the Vairano International Horse Trials, a star studded event of world class competitors. With nothing between the leaders on the final day, an unfortunate four faults in the showjumping phase denied me third spot, but I was very happy to be placed 10th and 11th overall, both horses putting in great rounds on the cross country and in the dressage phase.
Sadly in May, our reliable horse, Old Road was forced into retirement due to injury, and this was a major blow to the team but we are delighted that he will spend the rest of his days with us in complete luxury!
In June, Tattersalls was a major event for the Team, and the horses all performed well, Dromgurrihy Blue stepped up a level and we were pleased at how he handled the challenge.
I formed part of the Irish eventing quartet of Mark Kyle, Liz Power, and Camilla Speirs that snatched the Dubarry Boyne Trophy from the British team. Patricia also put in good performances, which saw her finish at the top end of the placings.
We continue to put in our best efforts and hope it will be enough. Time will tell.