Cian O’Connor discusses show jumping’s modern evolution and the loss in Team competition…

The winning Irish team for the Nations Cup in Lau Baule 2011
The winning Irish team for the Nations Cup in Lau Baule 2011

Despite our best efforts, as a team we performed well below par last week in Rotterdam. Everyone was trying their best but we just weren’t good enough on the day. It’s always tough when competing against the world’s best who, in many cases, are riding a superior class of animal. When I came on to the international scene and won my first cap for Ireland 15 years ago the sport was quite different. You competed nationally to show yourself and then the Chef d’Equipe would select you for a team and you might do a small international show on your way to prepare for the Nations Cup. Team jumping was the pinnacle and I came up in an era where it became my ethos.

O'Connor won Olympic Individual Bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games in London
O’Connor won Olympic Individual Bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

The sport has developed and no doubt for the better, but its progress also throws up a few anomalies that should be looked at as ways to salvage team jumping, such as: the amount of shows one horse can do a year, the prize money at Nations Cup shows in the other classes (not the Nations Cup and Grand Prix) is way too low, and the ranking points should be higher at Nations Cup shows. As the sport has evolved the results have only been positive – more prize money, more venues, globalisation of the industry, increased TV exposure internationally, but somehow the Nations Cup, despite best efforts to give it a face lift last year, is below par in many people’s eyes compared to say the Global tour.

While the final is a great concept, the league is impossible to follow – its complexity creates disinterest.

However my point in discussing all this is that in times gone by there was less choice for the riders of what shows they could do than there are today, and therefore everyone arrived at the Nations Cup show in the fullness of health and ready to fire on all cylinders. Nowadays there can be a 5 star show in the week before a Nations Cup, and another the week after, which can dilute the efforts to be in top form and produce on the day required.

It all depends what goals one really has. This year we say that we want to qualify for the Rio Olympics at the World Championships in Normandy in the first week in September. Obviously the horses need to be competed between now and then but taking in a host of mini goals on the road to WEG because of lucrative prize funds is perhaps not the best preparation in many cases, as unless you are riding a world class horse, each effort has the potential to lessen the chances of having a fresh horse come WEG. We can’t leave the horses in the field either, but the balance should be found.

Quidam’s Cherie jumped superbly at both La Baule and Rotterdam and this week we were named by Robert Splaine as a possible combination for WEG. I have decided to drop back a little in terms of the shows that she will do next month in July so that I can build her to Dublin in August and have her peaking in WEG. It’s no different than a top race horse trainer preparing a horse for a grade 1. The horse will be in full fitness and given a few light runs before the big day, as to try to have too many aims simply won’t work.

Nothing is easy, but delivering on the day is a term that some use lightly – unfortunately it take sacrifices to actually make it happen!

Cian O’Connor

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