TEAM Ireland was unbeatable on Saturday night, at the second leg of the Longines League of Nations, held under the lights at the World Equestrian Centre in Ocala, Florida, with a prize fund of $770,000 on offer. This new series sees the top 10 teams in the world compete in each of four legs – at Abu Dhabi (UAE), Ocala (USA), St Gallen (SUI) and Rotterdam (NED) – each trying to secure one of eight places in the final in Barcelona (ESP) in October. The competition in Ocala was certainly world-class, with 16 of the top 20 riders in the world rankings taking part.

Ireland were runners-up in the opening leg in Abu Dhabi and set out to go one better in Ocala. That is exactly what Michael Blake’s team of Offaly’s Darragh Kenny with Amsterdam 27; Cork’s Shane Sweetnam with Otis Blue; Derry’s Daniel Coyle with Legacy; and Meath’s Cian O’Connor with Maurice, did – taking on some of the best horses and riders in the world in the process!

The first round saw clears from nine of the 10 first riders out over Alan Wade’s 12-fence course, including the first Irish rider Kenny on Amsterdam 27, owned by Vlock Show Stables and Darragh Kenny. Second Irishman to go, Sweetnam on Otis Blue, owned by Voquest LLC and Shane Sweetnam, also kept all the fences standing. Coyle was next in for Ireland riding Legacy, owned by Ariel Grange and Daniel Coyle; they too jumped clear to put Ireland on a zero score at the end of the first round. As a result, O’Connor opted not to jump Maurice, owned by Pat Crean, in the first round and to keep him fresh for the second.

The home USA team and the Netherlands were both also on zero faults at the halfway point, with the Swedish and Great British teams falling outside the top eight and not proceeding to the second round.

Decision time

With the new Longines League of Nations format, Michael Blake had to decide which three combinations would jump in round two. Despite Shane Sweetnam and the 10-year-old Otis Blue producing one of Ireland’s three clears in the first round, team manager Blake decided to send Kenny and Coyle back out and bring in Cian O’Connor, whose horse had not yet jumped.

“We always knew if things went according to plan, we would go with the three (riders) we went with in the second round. And, with Shane, Darragh and Daniel giving us the clear rounds (in the first round), we had a short discussion whether we would jump Cian or not, and the horse having jumped so well under lights in Wellington, we decided to go with the fresh horse,” explained Blake.

“You need to be really sure of the three people that you’re putting in,” he continued. “You need to know that they can get it done. You have to get a good score from everybody. We knew we could take a time fault, but we had to leave the jumps up, and no better man than Cian to leave them up.”

Blake appreciated Sweetnam stepping into the team at the last minute and said: “Shane was really good to step in when Bertram (Allen) took a fall last week. Shane was riding a horse that had never done a Nations Cup before, so we are really thankful to him and his owners for making the horse available to us.”

When asked about Otis Blue, Sweetnam described him as “a very talented horse, but he’s only really started doing anything near this level in the last couple of months and I said to Michael he has the ability to do it, but I don’t know does he have the experience yet. But he showed he had today and we got the job done and got us into a good position for the second round.”

The lack of a discard score means that the pressure is on in round two. Kenny and Amsterdam 27 had an unlucky pole down to incur four faults, while a clear round from Laura Kraut put the USA into the lead and 12 faults from Willem Greve dropped the Netherlands down the leaderboard.

Afterwards, Kenny said: “This is a fantastic new idea with the Longines League of Nations, and everyone was trying to win. My horse (Amsterdam 27) has been jumping great in Wellington, and the first round felt super. He’s an older horse and he’s done a lot in his career, but I’m still getting to know him myself and it feels like every round is getting better and better.”

Daniel Coyle and Legacy completed a spectacular double clear round (one of only six in the competition), which put Ireland in the lead following eight faults being incurred by Kent Farrington (USA).

“This was always Legacy’s plan after the World Cups earlier in the year, I talked to Michael and he said he’d select her for here if everything goes well. It has taken years to get to the bottom of Legacy and maybe to the bottom of me and how we work best together. I’m happy with how it worked out today, delighted with the way she jumped,” said 29-year-old Coyle, who has had an amazing run of form recently.


Last to go for Ireland, O’Connor knew before he entered the arena that, if he and Maurice jumped clear, Ireland would be the winners, while a fence down might lead to a jump-off with the USA, if their last rider McLain Ward jumped clear.

As Maurice had not jumped in the first round, he hadn’t seen the arena, which was by then under lights, but he and O’Connor kept all the poles intact, just incurring a time fault to put Ireland on a final score of five faults.

Following their round, O’Connor said of his mount: “He is a great horse (Maurice). He jumped really well in Wellington (FL) under the lights in the last Grand Prix, where we were second to Darragh (Kenny), so I was confident. I suppose my job was easy, as the guys had the hard work done and I could just bring it home. I asked the advice going in the gate and Daniel said just to get the job done, so I am very proud to be part of it and to be able to finish it for the lads.”

O’Connor went on: “You can only deliver when last to go if the team have done their job, and my job was easy riding with these three guys, they had amazing clear rounds and they set the whole thing up for me!”

Team Ireland, winners of the Longines League of Nations in Ocala, pictured on the podium, from left are Shane Sweetnam, Daniel Coyle, chef d'equipe Michael Blake, Cian O’Connor and Darragh Kenny \ FEI/Richard Juilliart


There were plenty of surprises in the fates of the other teams, with Brazil, lying eighth after round one and first to go in the jump-off, finishing on 26 faults, to take sixth place.

Switzerland lay in seventh after the first round on eight faults, but team members Steve Guerdat and Martin Fuchs both jumped double clear rounds and Pius Schwizer was also clear in round two, to maintain their score of eight and move them into second place at the finish.

Germany won the opening round in Abu Dhabi, but things didn’t go quite so smoothly this time and they finished on 20 faults for fifth place. Meanwhile, France’s Kevin Staut had a fall when Beau de Laubry Z stopped at the third fence, which meant elimination for the French team.

The Belgians were in fourth place after round one on just four faults, but 21 faults from Niels Bruynseels dropped them down to seventh.

Team USA took third place on the podium, with a final score of 12, with their slightly faster time than the Dutch, who also finished on 12 faults, to take fourth.

Following his team’s win, Blake, said: “I’m really, really happy. We have been second eight times recently, but we have broken our hoodoo today and we have managed to get the win. I’m so proud of these guys, they knew what to do and they did it - they are just amazing guys and I am so honoured to work with them.”

Ireland now sits at the top of the League table with 190 points, ahead of Germany (160) and Switzerland (150), prior to the third qualifying round at St Gallen, Switzerland, on May 31st.

Winning Round

On Friday, March 22nd, O’Connor had secured the win in the $62,500 CSIO5* Winning Round competition, riding 10-year-old Oldenburg stallion Fermoy.

The start list of 34 saw the best 10 combinations making it through to the jump-off, where they all started on a zero score. O’Connor was second in and rode a courageous round, stopping the clock in 44.76 seconds, which proved to be unbeatable. Canadian Tiffany Foster was second with the only other clear.

“We knew that 10 go back for the second round, so I took my time with Fermoy in the opening round,” said O’Connor of the class format. “He jumped very nice. I picked up a time fault the first round, but as everyone’s going back on zero, the only disadvantage was being early in the draw. That worked out okay, because I think a lot of the guys tried to go too quick in the second round. The fences were big enough that they ended up having a rail.”


Week 12 of show jumping at Ocala, commenced last Wednesday, March 20th. Thursday saw Shane Sweetnam and RR Combella take fourth in the 1.60m Grand Prix, where from 49 starters, only five jumped clear in the first round. The class was won by Martin Fuchs (SUI) on Leone Jei in a jump-off time of 36.68 seconds.

Sunday saw a runner-up position for Daniel Coyle on Jasper in the $50,000 1.50m National Grand Prix, where their jump-off time of 41.015 seconds was just pipped by winner McLain Ward on Quimi Del Maset, who stopped the clock in 40.948 seconds – a mere 0.067 seconds faster than Coyle!