BY any standards, 2024 has kicked off well for Irish international eventing and, having racked up several wins and high-profile placings in the recent British events, a contingent of 13 Irish riders travelled to Kronenburg in the Netherlands last weekend. Headed by a CCI4*-L, the broad range of classes on offer enabled them to campaign horses of all rankings and, in what would have been a fact-finding mission for some, they returned with a string of good results.

It was an especially rewarding weekend for championship riders, Susie Berry and Aoife Clark, who having missed a good proportion of last season on the sidelines due to injury, bounced back to form to lead the honours for the home side.

First up, Berry partnered the Sue Wilkinson and Anne Marling-owned Wellfields Lincoln to land a smart third placing in the feature CCI4*-L. In the best of company, Berry and the son of Luidam rode into second spot behind Olympian Tim Price and Falco after dressage and, on a score of 28.7, also had the edge over third placed French duo, Astier Nicolas and Babylon de Gamma. Fellow Irish riders clustered well at this stage, with Joseph Murphy (Barberstown Castle Rehy) leading the remaining quintet in sixth on 32.7, and Jenny Kuehnle (Polly Blue Eyes) in eighth (34.1).

It was never going to be a dressage competition, however, and, with none of the 19 runners achieving the time allowed, speed became the deciding factor.

Zipping round the twisty but flowing track, Frenchman Nicolas moved up to hold pole position overnight from Price, who settled for second and Berry, who slipped to third.

Unfortunately, Murphy and his new ride Barberstown Castle Rehy were among the three combinations to walk home after incurring penalties in the country, but a storming round from Padraig McCarthy and the exciting long format debutante Pomp N’Circumstance saw them ricochet five placings to fill seventh. A little slower, Kuehnle was also clear with Polly Blue Eyes, as was Tara Dixon who, completing in ninth, enjoyed a great spin with her home-produced Master Smart.

A technical show jumping round on the final day juggled the placings further. Despite lowering the very last fence, Nicolas retained his lead to win, from the clean jumping Price in second and equally foot-perfect Berry third. Padraig McCarthy and the Pompadour-sired Pomp N’Circumstance also left the coloured poles intact, to move into fourth. Completing the top 10, Kuehnle dropped a placing to eighth, while Tara Dixon, who produced a good clear round in only her second run at the level, was promoted to ninth.

Reflecting on her performance, Berry said: “It’s so good to be back. Wellfields Lincoln was great everywhere and I’m really excited about him. He rather missed his turn when I was injured in the autumn, so we have looked after him with this year in mind.”

Berry had also been in the mix with her second ride Kilcandra Capitol, and spoke highly of the venue. “They haven’t got much space, so it’s a bit twisty through the woods, but the ground was perfect, and I’d certainly come back again.”

Susie Berrry with Wellfields Lincoln finished third in the CCI4*L at Kronenberg, Netherlands \ Equus Pix

Back to business

Having similarly returned to competition after injury, Aoife Clark’s emphatic win in the CCI3*L will have been just the tonic she needed. Teaming with up with the Ace of Spades Investment’s Calahari, on whom Laura Collett headed a CCI3*S at Cornbury last autumn, Clark dominated from the front and, having earned a first phase score of 27.1, she was never headed. As Ireland’s sole representative in the class, the British-based Olympian was thrilled with the 11-year-old son of Casdorff, saying afterwards: “Laura did a great job with him. He’s a sensitive individual, but he felt really confident and almost a bit fresh across country. He’s a fast horse, but at this stage I needed to keep him where I wanted to be. It’s a great event with great ground, and I’ve certainly come away feeling more prepared for the season ahead.” French riders filled the next two placings, with second spot falling to Cyrielle Lefevre and Armanjo Serosah.

Like Berry, Clark was both relieved and delighted to back in action, and to win was a bonus. “It was a very bad break (of the humerus) and has taken a long time to heal,” she revealed. “I only got back on board about a month ago, so to have this good run was definitely a relief and I know the arm will get stronger from here on.”

Sarah Ennis and Action Lady M were the highest placed Irish combination in the CCI4*S, finishing in 10th place, at Kronenberg \ Equus Pix


With 66 runners going to post, the most competitive class of the weekend was the undoubtedly the CCI4*-S. Once again, the start list was formidable, and it came as no surprise to see British Olympian Tom McEwen at the top of affairs with the former Nicola Wilson ride, JL Dublin. Having impressed on the flat to earn a super score of 20.9, the Kentucky-bound pair maintained their advantage throughout, finally leading the speedier Bubby Upton (Cola) who pulled up to second. In what proved to be a British domination, Kirsty Chabert filled third with Classic VI from David Doel, who as the only rider to come home within the time, took fourth aboard Galileo Nieuwmoed.

Spearheaded by Sarah Ennis, the nine Irish riders returned with mixed results, but with much to look forward to and much to work on. Having won the advanced intermediate class at Lincoln the previous weekend, Ennis and Action Lady M continued their good form to land a creditable 10th spot, behind a host of more experienced campaigners. Andrew Cox and Suzanne Macken’s home-bred daughter of Plot Blue improves on every run and, despite being hampered by inconsistent dressage scoring, delivered two super jumping performances. “She’s a savage mare,” enthused Ennis afterwards. “We have been to the UK training twice, which has made a big difference and the improvement was noticeable to my owners - which is good, as it costs a lot of money.”

In overall 14th place, Susie Berry and the traditionally bred Clever Trick (formerly Kilkcandra Bonnie Reward) was also impressive and, having pleased Berry in all three phases, is now well on track for her trip to Kentucky next month. Completing the top 20 in 18th place, a busy Patrick Whelan will have been encouraged by the performance of the nine-year-old Altitu, who added only time penalties to his opening score of 35.00.

The remaining eight Irish riders in contention all completed clear across the country, with Felicity Ward slotting into 26th spot with Regal Bounty, Cathal Daniels and Cairnview Romulu (30th), Robbie Kearns aboard Very Dignified (32nd) and Ennis riding her Badminton entrant Grantstown Jackson in 33rd.

Further good rounds were recorded by Jennifer Kuehnle (Sammy Davis Junior), by Aoife Clark with the mare Sportsfield Freelance and by Robbie Kearns, who with three rides, was also clear with Ballyvillane OBOS and Chance Encounter. Patrick Whelan was again in the mix with Ikoon Lan, as was Joseph Murphy (Calmaro) and finally, Daragh Byrne with Kilcannon Ramiro, who learned this week that his Badminton entry had been accepted.

Completing the Irish contingent in what was a busy weekend, Danielle McCormack enjoyed good spins in the short format CCI3*and CCI2* classes. She was the best placed Irish rider in both sectors, riding Hildare Billy Orinoco (23rd) in the former and aboard MGH Hildare Harlequin (17th) in the latter.