THE jury is still out whether splitting the in-hand classes and ridden classes on separate days is the right thing for the spectacle of the Connemara Pony Festival, but one person who didn’t mind was Zoe Price who was called forward as the Supreme Ridden Champion on Thursday afternoon on her first visit to Clifden with Lough Derg Star.

Price made the trip to Connemara after winning the four and five-year-old ridden class at the Dublin Horse Show just seven days earlier and she won the equivalent here with the five-year-old bay gelding Lough Derg Star, in front of judges Pam Prickett and James McWeeney.

By Glencarrig Joe, the winner was bred by Marie Collins in Scariff, Co Clare, and is owned by the Antrim-based rider. She was overjoyed and surprised to win, commenting: “I genuinely didn’t think I was going to get the championship. I was doing my go around and I glanced to see what else what there and I really admired the side saddle pony,” Price commented, adding: “It was a nightmare to a dream come through. We left home at 10am on Wednesday morning and it took 11 hours to get to Clifden.

“We had a blowout and were on the side of the road for three and a half hours. We didn’t get down until after 9pm and had to be in the ring at 8.30am on Thursday so there were no expectations even for the class. We love him, he has lots of presence, he is gone to the field now for a holiday.”

Stiff competition

In the championship, she saw off stiff competition from nine other class winners including the previous week’s Dublin champion Glencarrig Douvan who was called out as reserve on this occasion.

Ridden by Grace Maxwell Murphy, Patrick Curran’s home-bred five-year-old grey stallion by Glencarrig Knight out of Wyncroft Dawn earlier won a large ridden stallion class.

Among those to contest the championship was the six to eight-year-old winner Michael Harty riding Robbie Fallon’s home-bred six-year-old gelding Cashelbay Prionsa Óg, by Cashelbay Prince, Fallon’s 2006 ridden champion who returned for the parade of past champions.

For the second year in-a-row, Aoife Flynn won the ridden class for riders aged between 10 and 16-years-old with the experienced 11-year-old gelding Fiery Diplomat (Gleann Rua Maxwell – Magic Minnie), owned by Rachel Flynn and bred by Michael Regan in Co Mayo.

Class 27, for riders over 16 and under 21, went to Hazel Harte riding the six-year-old bay mare Corabbey Wild Poppy (Kingstown Setanta – Corabbey Wild Orchid), owned and bred by Rose Mart Fitzgerald from Cork.

Lucy Glynn from Kiltiernan in Co Dublin claimed a happy Clifden win with her mother Gill’s nine-year-old Brock Lodge Buster mare Slievebloom Hilda in the over 21 ridden class, while in the 138cm and under ridden pony class, Ellie Rogan secured a back-to-back double with Jane Hancock’s sweet 14-year-old gelding Rineen Millers Melody.

Rogan went on to win the Under 14 class, this time riding Cathy Coope and Nicola Main’s 10-year-old Templebready Fear Bui gelding Tullaree Fear Buí, also winners in 2022. Rogan’s fine weekend continued when she scored a working hunter double with the two ponies the following day.

The lead rein title went to Co Cavan and Donnacha Morgan who, lead by his father Philip, won with Belview Heather, before the versatility of the Connemara Pony was shown off with a strong side saddle class which eventually went the way of Jenny Byrne riding Harriet Byrne’s home-bred Elusive Diplomat who, by Silver Shadow, is a half brother to earlier winner Fiery Diplomat (out of Magic Minnie).

The judges split up the ridden and conformation show, swapping for each of the classes, which worked well and meant the classes were wrapped up by 5pm before course building began for later classes.

The winner of the Irish Connemara Green Hunter Final, sponsored to the tine of €2,000 by Horse Sport Ireland, was Kevin O’Donnell’s Rathkeery Melvin ridden by Christine O’Donnell. The gelding went on to top the Connemara Pony Sales last weekend when sold for €14,000.