IRELAND’s Michael Murphy made history on Wednesday evening when becoming the first Irish para dressage rider to win a medal at a World Championships. He claimed the bronze medal aboard Cleverboy in the FEI World Para Dressage Grade I Individual Championship in Herning, Denmark.
“It feels pretty surreal, I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet,” Murphy told The Irish Field. The medal is the first won by an Irish athlete in any discipline at the 2022 FEI World Championships in Herning, which began last Saturday.
Murphy was third to go of the 16 starters in the Grade I competition with the 15-year-old Vivaldi gelding Cleverboy who is owned by Michael and his parents, John and Sue, and Bronte Watson. The pair went straight into the lead on a score of 74.13% but were relegated to the silver medal position just four combinations later when Italy’s Sara Morganti score a massive 78.39%.
It was a massively nerve-wrecking wait to see if he would stay on the podium with so many high class combinations to go and, with just three left to go, Latvia’s Rihards Snikus scooped his country’s first ever gold with King Of The Dance on 78.53%, with Murphy finishing with the bronze.
“To come out with a medal on the first day is amazing,” commented Murphy who had big disappointment in Tokyo last year when he dropped his rein during his test and scored way below his expectations. “It definitely makes it a lot sweeter after what happened last year. We were going to Tokyo with similar form as we have now and it went so drastically wrong, sometimes you just can’t predict what will happen.
“Thankfully we bounced back; even when it doesn’t go to plan, nothing much changes, the foundations are still there but we were all a bit more motivated and I am just glad I didn’t mess up!” he said with a smile.
Describing his test, Murphy said: “He was amazing right from the moment I got on. There was a serious atmosphere in the big arena, he has competed with Bronte Watson at Grand Prix so he has been in the big atmosphere before, usually doing a lot more; to go in and do a walk test in that atmospheric takes a special horse and that is what he is.
“I had a very nervy wait for about two hours after I rode, watching everyone go, and there is so much talent in the grade, anything can happen. I don’t think my heart has recovered yet.”
Murphy, who works full-time as an environmental advisor to a construction company, was born with a rare condition called Dejerine-Sottas and, competing in Grade I, rides in walk only. Asked how difficult it was to retrain Cleverboy to stay calm in a walk test, Murphy heaped all the praise onto him team.
“That all comes down to my trainer, Elder Klatzko, that is all her! The horse stays with her and she does a great job. When he first arrived it was about getting him familiar with a walk test. He is super switched on, it didn’t take him long to figure out what is going on and while it might not be physically as challenging as doing the Grand Prix, it is still mentally challenging.”
Speaking ahead of the first of the team competitions on Friday afternoon, Murphy said the celebrations included a nice team dinner with full focus switched to the next two tests.
Meanwhile, the Irish show jumping team of Bertram Allen (Pacino Amiro), Daniel Coyle (Legacy), Denis Lynch (Brooklyn Heights) and Cian O’Connor (C Vier 2) made it through to the team final, which took place last night (Friday).
The team went into the final in ninth place of the 10 teams after the first two rounds of jumping, with the top five (excluding host nation France) after the final qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Olympic champions Sweden went into the final in pole position, while Frenchman Julien Epaillard was in the lead individually with Caracole de la Roque. Cian O’Connor was best of the Irish in 17th with Susan Magnier’s C Vier 2. Darragh Kenny’s VDL Cartello was ruled out with a veterinary issue before the competition started. Individual medals will be decided on Sunday and a full report will appear in next week’s paper.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Lottie Fry wrapped up the dressage Championships with two individual gold medals with the breathtaking stallion Glamourdale and Denmark scooped the team gold on home soil (see reports on pages 74-75).