AFTER two years waiting on the sidelines, Athenry made its comeback as the first agricultural show in Connaught’s calendar.

Heavy showers landed during the young horse classes in the morning, when the first championship was decided. While early shows take a hit in broodmare and foal class numbers, entries are often balanced out by young stock owners testing the waters for the summer ahead.

However, as with Newmarket-on-Fergus, young horse numbers were again low with a double handful of entries for judges Liam Cotter and Conor Higgins to choose from. Their champion was P.J. and Lorcan Glynn’s Crannaghmore Going For One, from the three-year-old filly class, the best-supported in this section.

By Loughehoe Guy out of the Cavalier Royale-Clover Hill mare Naz, she placed third at Balmoral recently for the father-and-son team. Bought from her breeder and local publican Padraig Connaughton, she was the reserve All Ireland two-year-old filly champion last year to her stable companion Crannaghmore Emir’s Cailin, second in last Sunday’s class.

“We were excited about showing her up along but unfortunately she didn’t get out as a yearling or much as a two-year-old. Future plans are to produce her as a potential event horse this summer and sell on to reinvest again,” P.J.’s daughter Melissa said.

Another three-year-old that had to bide his time at home was James Meere’s Knockout, the reserve young horse champion.

Bred by Patrick Wafer, the Tyson chesnut was the winning foal in The Irish Field Breeders’ Championship in 2019 with his Ghareeb dam, Parkmore Evita. “My brother [P.J.] saw him in the Breeders’ Championship and said ‘I’ve a foal for you, he’ll be in Clarecastle’. I bought him from Patrick over the phone the day after he won the All Ireland colt foal final in Clarecastle. He also won the Horse Sport Ireland eventing foal championship in Cavan that year.

“That was his aim for the three years, get a bit of showing and enjoyment out of him. We were bursting for a day out but it was a disaster the first year! I said ‘Newmarket-on-Fergus is gone, sure we’ll manage that.’ I thought we’d be back for Ennistymon a month later!

“Then last year was gone, there was no two-year-old final in Charleville. I won’t go mad with him, my aim is the medium/heavyweight class in Dublin and then one of the three-year-old sales.”

William McMahon on board the Athenry champion hunter Gleann Rua Da Vinci with judges Liam Cotter and Conor Higgins \ Susan Finnerty

The same judges had better-supported ridden horse classes. Champion here was the middleweight class winner Gleann Rua Da Vinci, a dual champion that day, as he also won the working hunter championship, ahead of Lackyle Skylancer (Lancelot), ridden by Amanda Fahy.

“Bred by ourselves, he’s by Camilo VDL, (VDL Douglas) and out of my mare Gleann Rua Times (The Messiah x French Buffet). She has been a great mare for us; seven colts, Da Vinci being the second and one filly, by Kings Master. This year’s foal is a big, black colt by Crosstown Dancer so we’re very excited to get one from him,” said Grace Maxwell Murphy whose husband William was on board this winner of the Balmoral middleweight hunter class last September.”

A Horse of the Year Show qualifier, Dublin and Ardrahan are on the cards for their champion. The reserve champion - Philippa Scott’s heavyweight hunter winner Ashtree Ard Diamond (Dunsandle Diamond x Ard Grandpa) - also qualified for the All Ireland ridden hunter championship at Ardrahan in July.

At the other end of the hunter height scale, Tara Hudson’s Golden Grove Maydream, with Tara’s daughter Charlotte Kelly on board, was Sharon Walsh’s show hunter pony champion. Incidentally, in reserve, was Creevelea Midnight Rambler and Isobel Rymer, whose mother Sarah Rymer and aunt Claire Scott breed the Golden Grove-prefix ponies.

First of the Athenry champions was P.J. and Lorcan (pictured) Glynn’s Crannaghmore Going For One \ Susan Finnerty

National Hunt heroes

A packed dancecard is planned for Grace Maxwell Murphy’s Glencarrig Princess Ella. Bred by Gearoid Curran, she won the four to six-year-old class and Connemara in-hand reserve championship. The reserve junior champion at Clifden when it too was last held in 2019, the five-year-old will return there and then Dublin the following week.

“She’s fresh from winning her ridden Connemara class last week at Balmoral so she is dual-purpose although we did miss our ridden class at Athenry with juggling all our classes!”

The clash with Clifden sales had some impact on Connemara numbers and spectators at Athenry where it was a Glencarrig 1-2 in the in-hand championship.

The champion was Patrick Curran’s four-year-old stallion Glencarrig Douvan. Named after Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham hero, the Glencarrig Knight son is another whose showing campaign was put on hold until shows returned. The wait was worth it after the home-bred won his class and then was Clare Oakes and Pascal Wandon’s overall champion choice.

“Yes, I’m big into my National Hunt racing and I call all of Douvan’s dam’s foals after them!”

“I actually bought his dam Wyncroft Dawn myself in Clifden sales for €475 as a foal. She was my first-ever purchase and I produced and showed her at about 40 shows over the years and was always in the top-three.

“I’ve Douvan’s full-sister - Glencarrig Laurina - to show too. Wyndcroft Dawn is 11 now, she has a filly foal again and is back in foal for 2023.”

“To have bred him myself is making it all very special and exciting. Douvan was broken during the winter so the plan is to show him in-hand this year, hopefully end up at Clifden and to be produced under saddle next year.”

Patrick and Glencarrig Douvan’s names will now be added to the Miceál & Evelyn Higgins perpetual cup, another piece of silverware that will have two blank years amongst the prizewinners inscriptions.

The late Miceál’s traditional greeting of ‘Cead míle fáilte to the fields of Athenry’, pragmatism and presence was much missed at his local show where the ring layout and parking need fine-tuning.

Traditionally, the Connemara and Irish Draught classes were held in separate rings away from the other horse and pony classes at the previous site at Athenry Mart grounds.

The first year is always a learning curve in a new location and while this year’s native breed rings were in a quieter location, traffic and parking-wise, compared to 2019’s trial year at its new base in the Teagasc grounds, it just did not work last Sunday.

Glencarrig Douvan, owned by Patrick Curran, Moycullen, won the Connemara pony stallion class at Athenry Show last Sunday. Also pictured is sponsor Robbie Fallon, Cashel Bay Connemara Ponies, presenting the Joe Fallon perpetual cup \ Susan Finnerty

Scooters and 133 years

E-scooters, golf buggies and even a ski lift were some of the humorous suggestions put forward as to how spectators could go back and forth to the other showing, show jumping and livestock rings on the opposite side of the campus complex.

However, for several exhibitors with multiple entries who missed classes, the situation wasn’t so amusing. For safety reasons, horses and ponies couldn’t use the pedestrian roadway through the grounds and the other option was to transfer them, via horsebox, along the public road to the second carpark area down at those rings.

Having all the horse and pony rings in one clear sight line with adjacent parking would be much more beneficial for exhibitors and spectators. Easier said than done but it can be done.

In the adjoining Irish Draught ring, there was a good range of championship contenders for judge Pat Hoare to choose from. He opted for Clew Bay Countess, whose delighted breeder, Tom Burke from Louisburgh, was watching ringside. Bought as a foal by Seamus Sloyan, Clew Bay Countess won the young mare class at Dublin in 2016 as a three-year-old for him and was reserve Irish Draught mare champion there too as a bonus.

Sold then to Graham and Bridget Devaney, the Clew Bay Bouncer mare was shown for her at Athenry by Des O’Donnell from Crossmolina with Tess Reed in charge of her Moylough Legacy foal at foot.

“Please God, we’re hoping to do a few more shows with her and go to Dublin, that’s the plan if that works out for us,” said Des.

Reserve was another eye-catching grey in Crusheens Gentle Breeze, a five-year-old mare owned by Louise Shaughnessy. By Inishfree The Holy Grail, her Coolcronan Wood dam Crusheen Breeze was the winning mare in last year’s Leitrim Breeders’championship.

Athenry made the brave decision to charge an extra €20 for late entries received after the closing date. In ‘every little helps’ times, getting entries in on time not only saves money for exhibitors but also means a decent catalogue. Bonus funds were evidently added to the show kitty judging by the number of non-catalogued prizewinners and entries.

Downpours turned results sheets to mush but one result that was salvaged was the purebred Connemara Tra Bhain Suimiul’s win in the working hunter championship. Awarded a bronze performance merit, the Cashel Bay Stud-owned mare, by Shadows Dun, was partnered by Michael Harty who had a busy day in the ridden Connemara ring.

Pony show jumping was in full swing all day at Athenry and was a poignant reminder of the late Riona Finn Naughton, who had passed away the previous day.

A well-known competitor at her local show and further afield, Riona also did sterling work in her role of coordinating Galway Community College’s equine courses.

In normal times, it would have been the show’s 135th anniversary but for 2022, many exhibitors were just glad to have Athenry back again. And for two-and-a-half year-old Harry Coen, born before the pandemic, a first outing to an agricultural show.

Shutting up shop

“CAN’T justify it, simple as that! €100 for diesel, another hundred gone on entry fees, plaiting, bit of grub. You wouldn’t feel €200 gone just on the day alone, never mind extra feed and shoeing. That’s fine if horses are your living or if you win a bit of prize money but with a family, that’s a big chunk out of my take home pay.”

Entries, particularly in young horse classes, were dropping at agricultural shows even before the pandemic and now, the increase in fuel and grain prices factor. Hearing the views of this one-time exhibitor summed up why some have called it a day.

“I think we’re lucky in the sense that a lot of the feeding and preparation was already done for this year. But if the price of feed and diesel continues to go up, next year will tell a different tale,” predicted Crossmolina exhibitor Des O’Donnell.

For the Glynn family in Athlone, costs are a factor but outweighed by the relief at being back on the show circuit.

“We’re hoping to support as many agricultural shows as possible the best we can. There’s many factors affecting showing horses at agricultural shows this year, the main one being cost. Some feeds are up nearly 50% and it’s getting extremely costly to prepare horses to the standard required for the showring,” said P.J.

“The price of diesel is putting a huge strain and question mark over the distance we’re willing to travel to shows. But as we love them, we’re going to try our best to keep going and not let it get in the way. We’re just so happy to finally get back to a sense of normality and to get out and about to agricultural shows again.”

“The rise in fuel and feed costs is of course going to have a knock-on affect on shows and entries. It’s understandable that competitors will likely be more mindful of journeys to shows and the increased cost of same,” agreed Grace Maxwell Murphy.

Producing a good one and improved roads were points mentioned by James Meere, from Lissycasey. “I’d rather be feeding him [Knockout] than a middling yoke! Athenry used to be miles out of our way but now with the motorway, any show that’s only an hour from your house is absolutely ideal.”

From the feedback gathered from regular exhibitors about 2022 plans, few intend to do a full show season. “Just one or two shows before Dublin,” “Couple of handy local shows, that’s it,” and “You’ll do the early shows or you’ll do the later shows but you won’t do them all. Not this year,” were typical comments.

However, it was full steam ahead for one owner at Athenry, Tara Hudson. “We’ll be doing a lot this year!”

Presenting the Miceál and Evelyn Higgins perpetual cup to Patrick Curran, owner of Glencarrig Douvan, the champion Connemara pony at Athenry Show, is their daughter Ethna from Coshla. Also pictured are judges Pascal Wandon and Clare Oakes \ Susan Finnerty

What they said

“This is our family hobby and it’s all we do. They’re [daughters Charlotte and Penny] totally devoted to horses and look forward to every weekend.” Tara Hudson.

“We’d never have show horses only for our father Patrick. He was 90 on the 23rd of March just gone and hasn’t missed a show all his life, bar one year at Kildysart.” James Meere.

“It was only when I tied the pony up for washing that I realised I hadn’t any shampoo!” - Lack of match practise kicked in on Saturday evening for one exhibitor.

Martin Shaughnessy and his grandson Jack meet the Athenry Irish Draught champion Clew Bay Countess, owned by Bridget Devaney and shown by Des O’Donnell. The champion is by the late Clew Bay Bouncer who last stood at Martin’s Ballinamore Bridge Stud \ Susan Finnerty