The Irish Young Rider team travelled to Vielsalm in Belgium on Monday 2nd of September, with the horses arriving on Wednesday morning, 4th of September, to represent Ireland at the European Young Rider Championships. With a young team of four riders: Lisa Moore (riding Jo Dazzler, from Donegal), Annie O’Neill (riding Templebready Poppy, from Cork), Katie Smyth (riding Whitethorn Jack, from Kildare) and Rohan Madhavan (riding Annies Prince, from Kildare), Chef d’Equipe Gwen Bastian and Training Co-ordinator Karen Murphy, the first few days were spent getting to know the surrounding area, as Belgian maps are not only a different scale to the Irish maps, but have a completely different legend. Riders spent the week riding on their own with the aim to see as many different types of tracks as possible, as opposed to Ireland, everywhere was accessible to horses and riders!
The event kicked off on Thursday 5th of September with the Presentation, where each team presented their riders and performed a little piece – the Irish introduced themselves as Gaeilge and then sang the Rattlin’ Bog, to much clapping and cheers from the Irish supporters! On Friday all horses were vetted through. After the equipment check it was time to get ready for the opening ceremony, where every nation paraded in to the huge outdoor arena, with flags, supporters etc, the Irish riding in to Queen’s We will rock you. After the speeches, the event was officially declared open by the President of FITE, and riders went to prepare for Saturday’s Orienteering.
Saturday dawned with fog and light rain, perfect Irish weather! Contrary to the Senior Championships, there were a lot of people at the start, and every rider got a rousing round of applause as they left – which was repeated when riders and horses returned that afternoon. The Irish supporters were out in force, with t-shirts, flags, bunting etc. All four Irish riders came home safe and sound, having found their way around the challenging route. All horses then passed the vet, so it was early to bed again before Sunday.
The weather on Sunday was wet and miserable, and the umbrellas carried by the stewards in the Control of Paces spooked a number of horses, unfortunately some Irish too, but on to the Obstacle phase, where the Irish combinations showed off their jumping skills. Impressively, the Irish team also had a score of 37 out of 40 for the Slalom, the highest of any team!
Whilst placing wise the team could not compete with some of the most experienced teams, the team performed extremely well, it being the first time competing outside of Ireland for all four riders, and the team was complimented on by other Chef d’Equipes, as well as judges, who were impressed with the riding displayed during the obstacle phase.
Sunday closed with the Closing Ceremony (which ended with all 50 horses galloping around the arena, except the Irish, who stood quietly and then took their own lap of honour – seriously impressing onlookers) and the farewell party, where riders, team supporters etc partied the evening away. All in all it was a fantastic week, with a lot learned and TREC Ireland and Ireland very well represented with a young and inexperienced team – now with a European Championship under their belt. The future of TREC looks very bright indeed, and hopefully more young riders will be encouraged to take up the sport in 2014 based on the example set by this team.