AS Al Shaqab arena in Doha plays host to one of the most prestigious events on the international equestrian calendar - the 2019 CHI Al Shaqab, one of only five CHI events in the world - Ireland is being represented in Para-Equestrian dressage by a team of four.
Rosemary Gaffney with Bink – owned by Susan Smallman and Crea English
Kate Kerr-Horan with Serafina T – owned by Broomfield Farm
Michael Murphy with Rohan – owned by Sue Murphy
Tamsin Addison with Fahrenheit – owned by Tamsin Addison
CHI Al Shaqab is the Irish Para-Equestrian Dressage team’s first international event of 2019 and their first qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany are the only teams qualified for Tokyo as they were the top three-ranked teams at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games respectively.
There are seven qualification places remaining and these places will be awarded to the seven highest-ranked teams on the FEI Paralympic Team Ranking List (not otherwise qualified and not including the host country) as of 31st January 2020. A team’s ranking is based on each team’s best team results from two qualifying events added together.
Over the course of the three-day competition at Al Shaqab, Team Ireland will complete an individual and team test and the scores of the three highest placed Irish athletes, determined by their percentage scores in the individual test and the team test combined, will be totalled to determine the team’s final placing.
Irish chef d’equipe Dara Kearney admits that this will be a big test for the Irish riders and their horses but explains why it was important that Ireland fielded a team for the CHI Al Shaqab in Doha: “It has been a daunting task preparing to compete at this event. None of our horses have flown before, this is huge for us, but this event is an important part of our preparation for Tokyo, should we qualify - the horses, the riders and their support teams will all have had the experience and it will be a less daunting task when Tokyo comes around.
“Each of the four combinations are in good shape, they have all been out competing early in the season. The riders have been very focused in their preparations for this event and have been working hard to keep themselves fit, as well as their horses. This is a very exciting opportunity for them all and I’d like to sincerely thank Horse Sport Ireland for their support in the lead up to the event. This journey would not have been possible without their support. My hope now is that we can come back with a decent result.”
Two of Ireland’s team horses, Michael Murphy’s Rohan and Tamsin Addison’s Fahrenheit, are based in the UK, while Rosemary Gaffney’s Bink and Kate Kerr-Horan’s Serafina T are based in Ireland. On Wednesday last, the Irish-based horses travelled to Tamsin Addison’s yard in the UK and on Friday all four of the Irish team horses boarded a lorry to Liège Airport in Belgium where they then flew direct to Doha and all arrived safely in Doha.
Speaking ahead of the event, Rosemary Gaffney was always confident that her horse Bink would travel well and was just looking forward to being reunited with him in Doha: “It’s just super to have the opportunity to ride in Doha, there’s great pride in competing on one of the biggest stages in the world. I know there is going to be a big atmosphere there, but Bink and I have done everything we can to prepare. This will be Bink’s first time to fly but he is a very quiet traveller so I’m not worried, I’m just looking forward to riding down that centre line. I have been the reserve rider at two Olympics so I’m going to Doha all guns blazing.”
Irish team trainer, Donie McNamara confirms that the riders and their horses are up for the challenge and are looking forward to the competition: “They are all very positive, this is the start of a new year and our first international competition of the year, we plan to do several others and ultimately the goal is to qualify a team for Tokyo. When we arrive in Doha, we will familiarise the horses with the arena and it’s all systems go after that. We are up for the challenge.”
Horse Sport Ireland CEO, Ronan Murphy acknowledged the team’s hard work and dedication leading up to this event: “We wish our High-Performance Para-Equestrian Dressage Team every success in Doha this week. Strategically, this event provides an opportunity for Team Ireland to compete at a world class event while also experiencing the logistics involved in flying the horses and acclimatising to the warm conditions. The team have worked very hard, sourced new horses and their commitment to the High-Performance Programme and ultimately qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is truly inspirational.”
The Irish Para-Equestrian Dressage Team will have their trot-up today (Wednesday) and will get their campaign officially underway on Thursday.
Judith Faherty of The Irish Field is in Doha and will be reporting the latest updates from this event in this Saturday's paper and more extensively in next week's issue of The Irish Field