While he would have much preferred to have been dressed to compete, the sequence of events that began during Friday’s Round 2 Team Final changed the outcome not only of O’Connor’s week, but also the potential future of Horse Sport Ireland’s show jumping team.
“We are looking into all available legal avenues to pursue this further,” O’Connor said on Sunday as he stood in the Aachen main arena during the coursewalk. “It’s definitely going further.”
“It” is the incident that O’Connor says was a clear matter of interference as he was on course with his horse Good Luck in Friday’s competition. A member of the jump crew ran across O’Connor’s path as he approached fence 11. The unidentified man narrowly missed being run over by Good Luck. The horse then faulted at fence 11, putting a devastating four faults on the board for Ireland.
O’Connor was livid as he rode out of the arena after an otherwise clear round. A person crossing the path of a galloping horse undoubtedly caused a distraction for the animal, and O’Connor states that the incident, which was amplified with a loud reaction of shock and surprise from the crowd, changed his horse’s rhythm.
O’Connor came to Aachen as a member of the Irish Equestrian team with his mount Good Luck, a 9-year-old Belgian Warmblood stallion with a trademark style of clearing every fence by a foot or more. As the final chance for European countries to gain qualification to the Rio 2016 Olympics, it was crucial for the four Irish riders to perform well. Ireland and Spain were competing for the final space with less than a fault between them when O’Connor entered the ring with the goal of completing a crucial clear round.
“As a rider you expect to compete on a level playing field, and it’s clear that the circumstances I had to compete under were not the same as everyone else,” O’Connor explained.
O’Connor and Irish chef d’equipe Robert Splaine immediately lodged a protest and two appeals that were dismissed by the FEI Ground Jury at the European Championships.
The Ground Jury noted that O’Connor had the opportunity to stop voluntarily due to unforeseen circumstances outside his control, but because he did not do so, they saw no reason to ring the bell to pause the round. The FEI Appeal Committee upheld the Ground Jury’s decision and ruled that the four fault score would stand.
“The judges rejected the first appeal without reviewing any video,” O’Connor said. “They wanted us to accept their decision with no further investigation and that’s why we made the second appeal.”
Horse Sport Ireland is currently working to have the case heard by the FEI tribunal, and if unsuccessful they plan to take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
O’Connor and Good Luck were placed Individual 21st going into Sunday’s final, and he had the option to compete. But “I’ve decided not to jump him in the final as with the four faults still standing following Friday’s incident in the second round of Nation’s Cup I feel in 21st place it’s a long way to climb back,” O’Connor explained.
That O’Connor was present at Sunday’s Individual Final at all was a demonstration of his professionalism and dedication to the Irish team. O’Connor walked the course with Irish riders Denis Lynch and Bertram Allen and stayed with the team throughout the day.
“I came to the individual final to support Bertram and Denis, I’m here for the team and what I’m doing now is for the team,” he said. “It’s been a dramatic week but the Olympic dream ain’t over yet by any means!!”