As is customary, five riders were chosen to represent Ireland in the all-important Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup at their hometown venue of the Royal Dublin Society in Dublin, Ireland on August 8th. After an overwhelming success for Ireland played out last Friday afternoon, the team of four riders were lauded for pulling off an almost-easy victory to earn the Aga Khan rider.
As Ireland’s Conor Swail watched the events of the day from the sidelines, it wasn’t without a nagging sense of “if only.” As the fifth –i.e. reserve– rider chosen to represent Ireland, he certainly would have preferred to have been riding on the final squad, but for Swail, the sum total of this year’s edition of the Dublin Horse Show was a satisfying consolation.
The FEI ranked World No. 47 rider spends most of his year based in the United States, competing through the winter seasons in Wellington, Florida and up and down the East Coast. But he’s a proud representative of Ireland, and hesitates to call the United States home. “I spend a lot of time in North America, but I have a house in Saintfield and a house in Malin Head, and a house in Wellington, Florida. So I sleep in whatever bed’s closest!” he said.
He brought three horses to Dublin, and with a show of consistency that saw him place in nearly every class he entered, he earned the Longines International Leading Rider of Dublin, and Leading Irish Rider honors.
“The main thing for me when I was coming here was to jump in the Nations Cup, and unfortunately Robert Splaine decided not to use me,” Swail said. “Obviously that was very disappointing, but I suppose the consolation prize was not a bad one when you can come and jump in the grand prix!”
And jump in the grand prix he did, going double clear and placing a close 3rd with a time that was only a fraction of a second off that of 2nd placed finisher Kevin Babington. The grand prix was a tough class, and it took nearly half of the order before Swail gave the Irish fans what they wanted and nailed the first clear round aboard Grand Cru. He circled the arena and blew a kiss into the stands as he pulled his horse down to a walk (pictured above). Grand Cru V. Vijf Eiken, Swail’s mount in the €200,000 Longines International Grand Prix of Ireland (and Nations Cup pick had he ridden on the team) was originally purchased for student Vanessa Mannix, who currently owns the 9-year-old stallion (Contact vd Heffinck x Heartbreaker.)
“Both my two top horses [Landsdowne and Martha Louise] were laid off for the moment and she has a lot of other horses on campaigning, so I talked her into giving him to me for a period of time,” Swail explained. “It’s been great, we started off kind of slowly in WEF in Wellington and he had some very nice results there. Then we went off to Calgary for the summer series and we sort of just turned it up a notch. He jumped over the water in his first grand prix and he was double clear in the next one, he won the 1.55m and had one down in the Queen’s Cup. And a couple of weeks ago there he was clear with a time fault in Mannheim, and that was extremely impressive and what got me to here. So that’s how the year has progressed with him. He keeps answering all the questions that I ask him.”
On Saturday, Swail won the €24,000 JLT Stakes with Simba de La Roque, a horse that he
sold to owner Sue Grange at the beginning of 2015, and has been able to keep campaigning. “He is an absolutely fantastic horse, every time he goes into the ring he wants to win and he gives me so many chances to win,” Swail said of Simba, a 9-year-old Selle Francis gelding (Kannan x Alegreto).
And Swail kept his third horse, the up and comer Viva Colombia in the prize givings with consistent international rounds. He’s only been riding the 10-year-old Oldenburg for a few months after owner Ilan Ferder matched him up with the mare.
“I had three horses here and I think I knocked two jumps down all week,” Swail said. “So I’ve been in the prizes a lot and I’m very lucky!”
And as far as the Nations Cup goes, you can bet that Swail will work to return at the top of the team list when Team Ireland returns to defend their claim on the Aga Khan trophy.