Irish showjumping team boss Robert Splaine has said that he would be prepared to sacrifice Ireland’s place in the Meydan Nations Cup Series if he feels taking part would compromise their chances in the European Championships.
The statement shows the importance of the championships for Splaine and Horse Sport Ireland, as it is the last chance for Ireland to qualify for next year’s London Olympics.
“To qualify for the Olympics, we have to be in the top three of those who aren’t already qualified. This includes Germany, Belgium, France and Britain, as the host country. Not qualified are Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, all strong countries. It is doable, though, but we need to deliver on the day.
“On paper, we should be able to do it, but that was also the case in last year’s World Equestrian Games. We had a good year, achieving success at the highest level when winning the nations cup in Aachen, but, unfortunately, this did not transfer to Kentucky. The expectations were realistic, but ultimately they proved higher than the outcome.”
Could the singular focus of achieving Olympic qualification hinder Meydan performance, particularly as the last round of the nations cup series comes just two weeks before the championships, which take place in Madrid in September?
“It could well affect our performance in the Meydan. The series is important and we are committed to staying in it, but not to the detriment of our preparations for the championships. Anything that would look like compromising that would have to be seriously looked at. If it looked like it wasn’t wise, then we would have to make sacrifices if we were put in a situation,” says Splaine.
Splaine was keen to stress that any such strategy would involve a major input from the team in terms of the needs as riders and of their horses.
“We will have a riders’ meeting soon. A plan is being formulated and will be firmed up in the near future. Each horse has to be treated differently, so, following discussion with the riders, we will plan with regard to their needs to ensure they are given the best possible preparation for the championships.
“Discussions will take place with all riders. I have spoken to some and all of those are of the same opinion: Qualification for the Olympics is our goal. All we can do, though, is try our best and I have no intention of speculating as to the consequences if we do not qualify.”
With Denis Lynch having decided not to put his name forward for selection this year, Splaine confirmed that a few newcomers are under scrutiny:
“My job is to keep an eye on new combinations as they mature. There are a couple of combinations that are of interest and we will be giving them more opportunities to show what they can do early in the season.
“I am confident we have enough strength in depth to achieve our goals. Avoiding injury and keeping the horses fit is the main priority. For instance last year, we lost Southwind, Libertina and [Cian O’Connor’s] Rancorrado through injury. If Libertina and Southwind can come back to form, then I am up two this year and the reports are also good about Cian’s horse K Club Lady, so my team from Kentucky is still intact. I am looking at the positives, but we have to wait and see.”
Splaine also highlighted the achievements of Irish riders this season, particularly with Ireland boasting three at the top of the Rolex World Rankings: Jessica Kürten (11th), Denis Lynch (9th) and Billy Twomey (7th).
“To have riders competing at the top of their game, with confidence, is hugely important for us and to have three riders in the top 11 is also a huge achievement and should be noted. No other country can boast that,” said Splaine.