LONDON International Horse Show was the focus of many equestrian minds over the weekend, with four days of top-class competition being held at the ExCel arena. Irish riders were there in abundance and they certainly made their presence felt!

The finale of the show on Monday night was the five-star London Grand Prix, which saw a well-deserved win going to Derry’s Daniel Coyle and the 13-year-old mare Legacy, a fitting conclusion to an amazing show for this incredible pair.

They had put in a brilliant performance in the World Cup class on Sunday to finish third, but there was no beating them in the Grand Prix and they took home the first prize of just over €31,000.

Just eight of the 29 starters managed to jump clear in the first round, with only five of those jumping clear again over the jump-off track. Coyle went clear in 34.82 seconds, finishing a mere 0.08 of a second ahead of Britain’s Ben Maher on Ginger-Blue.

Afterwards, Coyle said: “It is amazing to have won The London Grand Prix tonight and I did it for everyone in my team. I could not have done it without them behind me. It is totally unbelievable, although I wish I had also won yesterday as well. I was hungry for the win coming into this competition, so it is brilliant to have achieved it, Legacy was amazing – she deserved it.”

Speaking of his competitors, he continued: “These guys are pushing the limits. Ben had a great win yesterday and it was well-deserved. Ben gave me a bit of a fright again tonight, as he is such a fast rider – he is an Olympic gold medallist after all. I am just delighted to be amongst these great riders and honoured to be riding with them. We always watched the London International Horse Show whilst growing up at home; my brother is also a rider, so it is amazing to be competing here, let alone winning. This show contains a huge amount of history and it is great to be a part of it.”

Tipperary’s Shane Breen was one of the eight first-round clears to make it into the jump-off and finished in eighth place with Cato Boy.

Speed Stakes

International show jumping got underway last Friday, with the 1.45m Christmas Pudding Speed Stakes, where Co Down’s Conor Swail and the 10-year-old gelding Casturano were runners up to British winner Matthew Sampson and Irish Sport Horse MGH Candy Girl (Sligo Candy Boy x Cruising), bred in Co Cork by Timothy Kelleher and owned by Isabel Fox. Third place went to another Irish Sport Horse, Fernhill Balou Beau (Sligo Candy Boy x Cavalier Royale), bred by Donald Clarke in Co Sligo, owned by Carol Gee and ridden Portugal’s Duarte Seabra.

Later in the day, Swail rode Calciet EB Z into sixth place in the 1.50m Champagne-Taittinger Ivy Stakes. The class was won by Britain’s Ben Maher on Ginger-Blue, with 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding EIC Cooley Jump the Q (Pacino x O.B.O.S. Quality 004), bred in Co Wicklow by Pam Walshe, in runner-up position ridden by Austria’s Max Kühner.

Matthew Sampson riding MGH Candy Girl (ISH), winners of The Christmas Pudding Speed Stakes at London International Horse Show. Sampson won Leading Rider at the show \ London International Horse Show/ Peter Nixon

The LeMieux Puissance was the focus of Friday evening’s performance and Waterford’s Commandant Geoff Curran rode the Minister for Defence’s Bishops Quarter (ISH) over the big red wall four times as the height increased to take third place. The 16-year-old stallion was bred by Kilkenny’s Gerard Murphy and, together with Curran, has had form in Puissance competitions, winning at the Dublin Horse Show in August and at the Horse Of The Year Show in Birmingham in October.

Out of 14 starters, just three combinations jumped clear over the wall in the first four rounds, with British rider Guy Williams (Mr Blue Sky UK) being the only pair to jump clear in the final round to take first place. Britain’s Mark Edwards (Montreuxs Tale) finished second, with Curran and Bishops Quarter in third. Ireland’s Shane Breen on Fanfan de Beaufour finished joint seventh, while Brendan Murphy on Erne Riverrun came joint ninth.

Saturday afternoon saw great excitement in the London arena as the Pony Club Mini-Major took centre-stage. Serena Brown and Maxmilo representing Area 17 (Northern Ireland) partnered with Norway’s Geir Gulliksen on Nand van’t Bergske to finish in a lightening quick time of 21.99 seconds and claim the coveted first place.

The Irish were back in the winning line up in Saturday evening’s 1.55m Longines Christmas Cracker class, which was won by EIC Cooley Jump the Q ridden by Austria’s Max Kühner. This pair were the only combination of the 12 in the jump-off to complete their round in less than 30 seconds. Swail and Casturano continued their impressive form by taking third place overall.

Max Kühner riding EIC Cooley Jump the Q (ISH), winners of The Longines Christmas Cracker at London International Horse Show \ London International Horse Show/ Ashley Neuhof

World Cup

Sunday afternoon saw perhaps the most exciting class of the show, in the form of the 1.60m Longines FEI Jumping World Cup – in fact, it may have been the most nail-biting World Cup class ever, as the jump-off turns kept getting tighter and the times getting quicker, right to the last competitor!

A total of 11 of the 36 starters jumped clear over the first-round course to get through to the jump-off, including Ireland’s Conor Swail (Casturano) and Daniel Coyle (Legacy). First in for the jump-off, the ‘Flying Frenchman’ Julien Epaillard and Donatello d’Auge set the time to beat of 39.29 seconds. Some of the contenders jumped clear but couldn’t better Epaillard’s time; a few rolled a pole in their efforts to cut the corners, but a few others bettered the Frenchman’s time, leaving him in fifth place at the end.

When Coyle and Legacy entered the arena, things stepped up a gear. They rode a fantastic round, taking out strides and cutting corners; they kept all the poles standing and set a new time of 37.99 seconds. It looked like they might clinch the win, but the final two combinations into the arena had other ideas. Britain’s Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson came in and pushed the boundaries further, stopping the clock in 37.80 seconds. Then it was the turn of his fellow British rider, Ben Maher riding Enjeu de Grisien and, despite it appearing that a faster time just wasn’t possible, they flew round in an unbelievable time of 37.18 to take the top spot and push Brash into second and Coyle into third. Sweden’s Peder Fredricson and Hansson WL finished fourth.

There was another Irish connection in the class: Austria’s Max Kühner and the 12-year-old gelding Up Too Jacco Blue (ISH), bred by Mark Sherry in Co Wicklow, finished seventh with a double clear round. Co Down’s Conor Swail and the 10-year-old gelding Caturano also made it into the jump-off and finished in ninth place with one fence down against the clock.

Sunday evening’s 1.50m Santa Stakes was won by Britain’s John Whitaker on Sharid, with Sampson and MGH Candy Girl (ISH) finishing fourth.

Monday’s Six Bar competition didn’t feature any Irish riders, but Fernhill Balou Beau (ISH) ridden by Duarte Seabra (POR) was runner up, while later in the day, the Mistletoe Speed Stakes saw MGH Candy Girl (ISH) ridden by Matthew Sampson (GBR) in third and another Irish Sport Horse, DPS Revere ridden by Germany’s Marcus Ehning, in sixth. The class was won by Jodie Hall McAteer (GBR) riding Kimosa van het Kritrahof.

Matthew Sampson had such a good show that he was named Leading Show Jumping Rider of the Show.