The Irish team has achieved already one of its main goals which was to remain in the superleague for the coming season. This was arguably one of the hardest years to stay up, as there were more teams than usual in the league, and unprecedentedly, four had to be relegated.
Many clever commentators said at the start of the year that we'd have our work cut out but through dedication, commitment from both the riders and the horse owners, and good team management by Robert Splaine, not only did we manage to finish fourth out of ten teams overall in the series, but we actually won Aachen, the biggest and most coveted of all the Nations' Cup competitions.
I've been involved with jumping on the team for the last 12 years, and at this stage I have to laugh at the beginning of each season with talks/dreams of superleague partnerships on the way up that never materialise. Each year when it comes to the thick of it, it's the same old soldiers who enter into battle time and time again. This is not to be critical of others, and indeed under Paraic Geraghty the developmental squad did a superb job to win the Nation's Cup in Ypaja, Finland and full marks to all involved.
What I'm trying to get at is that horses come and go, but it's something that's in the make-up of the man, that will to win and to be a part of a team that makes all the current team members world-class riders. A top rider is somebody who can re-invent himself every few years, secure owners, horses and have success on many different horses. It's not a one-trick pony or “when the horse is gone, the rider’s gone” but rather a rider that can have success at the highest level on many different horses over a long period of time. For me that is the definition of a class rider- it's the complete package that's required to survive modern sport and business.
The obvious question that many will throw up is: "that's OK for you guys to say, because you have owners/sponsors". But we are the people who went out and got the owners and sponsors in the first place, produced the goods, got through tough times and were able to keep the business going and also keep ourselves performing at a level where we are able to ride many different types of horses.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a tough game and I for one wake up every morning thinking how I can do it better. It’s not easy but I suppose these days there's nothing easy, but I would encourage any young riders to aim high and work hard.
When I was 19, I had jumped at both the junior and young rider championships and had been on a senior winning Nations’ Cup team at Athens. As I look back on it we were all very fortunate back then to have decent people with great communication and coaching skills to be able to call upon, such as Gerry Mullins, who basically put teams together and brought them to faraway places where he led us to victory, while many at home were laughing at the idea of us even taking part.
Every week I have people coming to see me looking for a job or a chance as a rider and sometimes it’s difficult to be honest with them with regard to their future. Having talent is definitely a part of being a top rider. Coaching then nurtures and develops this talent, but most importantly something that lacks with a lot of people that I see at the shows in Ireland is attitude of mind. It's not enough just to say you’re determined. You have to demonstrate it as well.
Take for instance the Irish team that won in Aachen - four great horses with four great riders who took on and beat the world greatest combinations. All the horses cost money at some point in time and all the riders got some form of help and training along the way. However the common denominator of these four individuals is sheer determination, a single-mindedness that we all have naturally, but don’t necessarily promote this as a skill in the pub.
The RDS was as always a great show. I was a bit disappointed with my first Aga Khan round when I had eight faults, but I knew what the mistakes were and how to rectify them and came back and jumped a clear in the second round with K Club Lady. I've only been riding her since April and we have achieved a lot - second in the Grand Prix at St. Gallen, double clear and a first in the Nations’ Cup in Aachen.
We have now been selected for the Irish team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, running from the 4th to 10th of October. This is an important championship as it is the first of only two qualifiers for the London Olympics. It's my belief that if we can arrive in Kentucky with four sound horses and four riders in the same frame of mind as we were when victorious in Aachen, I think we're in with a serious chance.
The goal for me would be a team medal and secure qualification for the team for London 2012. It won't be easy and we too will be looking up to our colleagues in Germany or the USA and studying them to see how we can do it better.
Therein lies the crucial difference - at the top level we look to others who we see as above us and try to learn from them. At lower levels the opposite is evident, where people will look to those above them, give all the excuses in the world why they can’t do the same and in turn try and knock them down. It’s an Irish trait and one of which I despair.
To all would-be Nations’ Cup riders I say this: your destiny is in your own hands, the ability to rise to the top rank depends upon your willingness to learn, your willingness to work, and your ability to focus on the goal ahead, oblivious to all distractions and oblivious to those who try to diminish your ambition.
I set off on Tuesday for the CSIO at Gijon in Spain, so check back next week for more news.