Irish High Performance Director Michael Blake Talks Showjumping

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Michael Blake, Irish Showjumping Manager, spoke recently about the unusual situation he finds himself in as when “you get your dream job, the world stops.”

The Co. Clare-native, who spent three years as Irish Team Development Manager and was named as High Performance Director in 2019, succeeded Brazilian Rodrigo Pessoa in the top job in Irish Showjumping for this season.

Over the past number of years, Blake has played a crucial role in the success of the Irish team. He has filled the role of chef d’équipe for the senior team at 18 International shows and acted as assistant team manager at a further 43 shows.

“I have been at home now for over 50 days which is very unusual for me”, says Michael Blake, “I would have been in Mexico, Le Touquet, La Baule, St Gallen and so on – we were just preparing to get into a very busy season (then the Covid-19 pandemic hit).”

Blake spoke of his long-held ambition to manage the Irish Showjumping team:

“It has always been my burning ambition to manage the Irish team. It’s a bit unusual in the first year you get your dream job that the world stops but the world will restart. It gives us a good opportunity for reflection. I know my subject reasonably well and I learned much from my predecessor Rodrigo Pessoa and I am now ready to press ahead.”

Irish showjumping’s top man believes the decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until 2021 was the correct thing to do as it at least gives clarity.

“At least we now know where we stand. It’s very difficult to prepare for something when you don’t know if it is going to be on or when it is going to take place. At least we know that it’s not on this year and all going well will take place in July 2021 and we can change our plan, perspective and goals for the coming year.”

He doesn’t believe, however, the Tokyo Olympics delay will have any sort of negative effect in the Irish team, stating:

“It certainly won’t be a disadvantage to us. We have some horses who are a little older but it’s not so much about the age it’s about the miles on the clock and those riders with the older horses are very professional and they will be thinking about the bigger picture and keeping those horses aimed at specific targets or maybe they will have other horses coming along. In addition to that, we have some other riders with some new mounts which are very interesting so we probably have more choices going forward than we had for July 2020.”

The Banner County man is of the opinion that fielding so many Irish teams in various Nations Cup competitions around the world has had huge benefits for Irish showjumping:

“When you give people opportunities at Nations Cup level their owners really appreciate it. For us we try to ensure that the riders and owners know our plan in advance and that I believe is very important. For us almost 90 percent of our horses are owned by patrons who don’t come from Ireland.”

Michael Blake continued:

“In the main they are successful business people and if they are to travel from Europe to America or vice versa to see their horses jumping, they need sufficient notice. They have busy schedules and appreciate prior knowledge and because we do so many Nations Cups we can give opportunities to a large number of riders and give them six to eight weeks or maybe more advance notice of the shows that they are going to. Possibly as a result owners are more inclined to keep their horses as they see a definite plan going forward.”

Michael Blake, who has been involved in Irish Show Jumping for many decades including pony and young riders, spending five years with the under-age squads, says Ireland now has almost 30 riders in the USA with an FEI licence and a similar number in Europe and in Britain.

The man, who in 2013 started a bursary system for young Irish riders to get opportunities in the USA and Europe is rightly proud of the success of the scheme:

“Several Irish Young Riders are now doing extremely well in America, Europe and the UK. Jenny Rankin, Cormac Hanley, Oliver McCarthy, Stephen Moore, Eoin McMahon, Michael Duffy, Michael G Duffy and many others – they are all very successful and we also have many other Irish people who might not be riding at the top level abroad but have set up excellent careers as trainers also sourcing horses for our riders.”

With so many impressive new young riders with International experience, coupled with the established Irish stars based both in Europe and North America, Irish showjumping is certainly in a great place right now, and the sport has a highly experienced and ambitious High Performance Director at the helm.

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