AFTER 24 months of virtual award ceremonies, the Irish Horse World awards returned to The K Club in Co Kildare on Monday where the leading figures of the Irish Sport Horse industry gathered to celebrate the year of sport in 2021.

Editor of The Irish Field, Leo Powell welcomed industry stakeholders and award winners to the lunch, taking a moment to remember those who are affected by the current war in Ukraine. “At a time we are here celebrating and enjoying ourselves, our thoughts go to the people of Ukraine and further afield in the world.”

Among those who joined The Irish Field team to honour the stars of the sport was the new CEO of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), Geraldine Ruane, RDS chairman Professor Owen Lewis and Dublin Horse Show director Pat Hanly. Horse Sport Ireland was represented by chairman Joe Reynolds, head of sport, legal and governance, Avalon Everett, interim breeding director Sonja Egan and board member Lucinda Creighton.

Also in attendance was Showjumping Ireland chairman Christy Murphy, Dressage Ireland chairperson Marguerite Kavanagh, while President of Eventing Ireland and racehorse trainer Jessica Harrington took time out of her busy schedule the week before the Cheltenham Festival.

Taylor Vard represented senior show jumping manager Michael Blake who is in Florida where Ireland won the four-star Nations Cup on Saturday night, while Commdt Geoff Curran was in attendance for the Army Equitation School. CEO of the Agricultural Trust and Editor of the Irish Farmers Journal, Justin McCarthy, was joined by Sammi Bourke and Mary Delaney.

The awards also celebrated the 12 monthly Gain Equine Nutrition Star of the Month winners. Irish Country Manager Joanne Hurley said: “It is wonderful to be back here today to join together in person to honour and acknowledge all our equestrian stars who are competing nationally and internationally and celebrate the success our riders had during 2021.”

Special contribution

There was widespread delight when Louise and Tony Parkes were announced as the recipients of the ‘Special Contribution’ award for their many years of service to the equestrian industry. Louise is the equestrian correspondent for The Irish Independent and writer for the FEI, the world governing body for equestrian sport. Tokyo last summer was her seventh Olympic Games and she filed her first report for The Irish Field in 1984.

Louise’s freelance work extends to the London Times, Horse & Hound, L’Annee Hippique and Horse International and she is co-author of Ambassadors on Horseback, a book detailing the history of the Army Equitation School.

On accepting the award, she said: “I am completely overwhelmed. This is a wonderful award to get. I have been very lucky that horses have given me a living all of my life one way or another. The first article I ever got published was in The Irish Field and that was in 1984; an eventing report about Clare Ryan winning at Borris Horse Trials. Over the years I’ve been in contact with the paper one way or another. I edited Irish Horse World on several occasions, and had a pony magazine as well at one stage.”

Originally from the Isle of Wight, Tony Parkes is one of Ireland’s leading professional photographers. He has covered national and international equestrian events across the world since May 1980 and his extensive equestrian photographic archive includes over 800,000 35mm film negatives, in addition to all the images shot on digital since 2005.

While he doesn’t cover as many events nowadays, Tony said: “It was because of Ruth Rogers that I got started. I worked in a lab in Dublin that used to deal with Ruth and she used to drag me out at the weekend to take photos and that is what got me into horses!”

Tony and Louise Parkes (Special Recognition Award) with Irish Horse World Editor Isabel Hurley, Judith Faherty and Leo Powell, Editor of The Irish Field \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Five-time winner

Four-time dressage Olympian Heike Holstein won The Irish Field Dressage rider award for the fifth time and the first since 2007. The Kildare-based rider had the honour of riding her home-bred mare Sambuca at last Summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games where she was Ireland’s sole dressage representative. In May 2021 the pair scored an international personal best in the Grand Prix Special in Wellington, England. Their main aim for 2022 is the FEI World Dressage Championships in Herning, Denmark.

Leo Powell presents Heike Holstein with The Irish Field Dressage Rider of the Year Award \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Speaking at the event, Heike said: “Sambuca is in work and ready to go. We have the World Championships in Denmark at the end of August.” On going to Tokyo, she added: “It is every person’s dream when you breed a horse; it takes so long to get to that level and keep everything right and then to get to go to an Olympics was great.”

Making his way to Kildare from his base in Chilton Oxen, Oxfordshire was the Senior event rider of the year, Austin O’Connor, who picked up the trophy after his performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games with the Salty Syndicate’s Colorade Blue, bred in Cork by Kate Jarvey. The brilliant grey gelding produced one of just seven clear rounds inside the time on cross-country day and finished strong in the show jumping phase to place 13th.

Austin O'Connor, winner of The Irish Field Senior Event Rider of the Year Award for 2021 \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Accompanied by his wife Amy, Austin said it was a “complicated” path to Tokyo, his third Olympic Games, but his full focus is now on getting to Paris in 2024. “The Olympics is what it is all about. To do three Olympics it great, I would dearly love to make it a fourth and really make it count.” On his immediate plans of the year, he said: “The immediate plan is Badminton, which is only seven or eight weeks away. We won’t go down the selection route for now, we will just do our own thing and go to Badminton and go from there.”

The Junior event rider of the year was Kildare’s Ben Connors who won team bronze and individual silver at the FEI Eventing European Championships for Ponies in Strzegom, Poland after a brilliant performance with his Connemara Pony Cornafest Fred. Sadly, Ben tested positive for Covid-19 and could not be at The K Club to collect the award, but his sister Zara Nelson, a past winner of the award, was on hand to pick it up.

Young star

Dashing to the airport to catch a flight back to Germany was Harry Allen, but not before he collected the Junior Show Jumper award for the second time. A team silver medal with Guinness at the Young Rider European championships earned him a call up to the Irish senior show jumping team competing at Drammen where, on his debut, he jumped a brilliant double clear. An incredible run of form followed, including a runner-up finish in the five-star Grand Prix of Oslo, his first time jumping at the level.

Asked for the highlight, Harry said: “The senior team for sure, it was my first senior Nations Cup and for the horse it was great to get the win. I have a few very exciting eight-year-olds that will hopefully step up to the plate now.”

Judith Faherty presents Harry Allen with The Irish Field Junior Show jumping Rider of the Year Award \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Darragh Kenny was named the Senior Show Jumper of the year after another excellent season on the international circuit, which included a first appearance at an Olympic Games in July with VDL Cartello. Highlights include winning the five-star Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Monaco in July with Idalville d’Esprit, jumping a brilliant double clear at the FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona with VDL Cartello helping the Irish team to a close second place, and fourth place finishes in both the GCT Super Grand Prix in Prague and the five-star Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva.

Darragh is currently competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida so his aunt, Tena Murray, collected the award on his behalf, however he took the time to join the awards ceremony virtually from Wellington. “I had a great year, I put a lot of pressure on myself to try and go to the Olympics and achieve that goal. We qualified as a team for the first time in a long time and I wanted it to be successful and put a good bit of pressure on that. Towards the end of the year, I slowed down a lot, did less shows and just picked a few more important shows and ended up being quite successful doing it that way and a little less stressful!

“My main goal this year is to try and go to the World Championships with Cartello. Hopefully we have a successful team and individual result there.”

Overall Star of the Year

Another star to join the awards virtually by Zoom was 20-year-old Jack Ryan who was crowned the overall The Irish Field/Gain Equine Nutrition Star of the year once again. Winner of a team silver medal at the FEI Young Rider European Championships, where he finished seventh individually with ‘BBS McGregor’, the Kilkenny show jumper made his senior Nations Cup debut for the winning Irish team at Vilamoura in November where he was clear in the second round before going on to finish runner-up in the Under 25 Grand Prix in Geneva.

Isabel Hurley Editor of the Irish Horse World, and Joanne Hurley, Gain Irish Country manager, present John and Marguerite Ryan with the Overall Star of the Month award on behalf of their son Jack Ryan \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Ryan is currently based with six-time Dutch Olympian Jos Lansink in Belgium, where he is training with the Young Rider Academy, after spending two years in England with Tipperary international show jumping rider Shane Breen. Speaking from Belgium, he said: “The highlight of the year was the Nations Cup in Vilamoura; it was a first senior Nations Cup and it was fantastic. I go to the five-star in s’Hertogenbosch this week for the five-star and hopefully this week goes well and I can ring Michael Blake then!”

The Irish Field Award Winners

Dressage rider of the year: Heike Holstein

Junior Event rider of the year: Ben Connors

Senior Event rider of the year: Austin O’Connor

Junior show jumper of the year: Harry Allen

Senior show jumper of the year: Darragh Kenny

Gain Equine Nutrition Star Of The Month Winners

January: John Mulvey

February: Nicky Galligan

March: Michael G. Duffy

April: Stephen Moore

May: Heike Holstein

June: Michael McNally

July: Heike Holstein

August: Irish pony eventing team

September: Young rider eventing team

October: Sean Jones

November: Aidan and Raymond Carroll

December: Jack Ryan

Star of the Year: Jack Ryan