POSITIVITY, goodwill and pride was bustling from the room at the 50th annual Irish Horse World awards at The K Club in Straffen, Co Kildare, on Tuesday afternoon, where the stars of the past 12 months were honoured for their achievements.

The importance of the awards to the industry and the multiple winners throughout the years was highlighted more than ever on their 50th anniversary by MC extraordinaire Brendan McArdle and a special presentation was made to the five previous editors of Irish Horse World, as well as current editor, Isabel Hurley.

Leo Powell, editor of The Irish Field,welcomed Minister Martin Heydon, industry stakeholders and the award winners to the lunch, commenting: “What an occasion 50 years and still growing and going strong.” The Irish Field was founded 153 years ago, in 1870, and Irish Horse World was later introduced by Valentine Lamb and edited first by Averil Douglas.

Among those who joined The Irish Field to honour the award winners was Matt Dempsey, chairman of the Agricultural Trust, owner of The Irish Field, and Sammi Bourke, Head of Operations at the Irish Farmers Journal, Horse Sport Ireland CEO Denis Duggan, breeding director Sonja Egan and marketing manager Sophie D’Alton.

The RDS was represented by CEO Geraldine Ruane and new President John Dardis, as well as Dublin Horse Show director Pat Hanley and equestrian manager Fiona Sheridan. Lt Col Tom Freyne represented the Army Equitation School, while the main affiliates were represented by Christy Murphy (SJI), Niki Potterton (Eventing Ireland), Marguerite Kavanagh (Dressage Ireland), Michael Essame (Irish Pony Club) and Tony Ennis (AIRC). Chairman of the Irish Horse Board, Tiernan Gill, was also in attendance.

The day also saw the 12 Gain Equine Nutrition ‘Star of the Month’ winners presented with their awards, and Gain were represented by Country Manager Philip Gilligan, Michael Phillips, Caroline Brindley, Hannah Fielding and Katriona Kinsella.

Minister’s welcome

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Martin Heydon, addressed the guests and congratulated the awards winners, commenting: “I am delighted to be here and to share in what is such an important milestone in the 50th annual Irish Horse World awards, a long tradition since 1973 that has honoured so many big stars of the sport.

“I am conscious that I am preaching to the converted when I talk about the statistics and the importance of this sector, not just to the economy, but to rural Ireland and society but it is really important we don’t ever take it for granted. The contribution to the economy generates an estimate value of €815 million, heading towards €1 billion per annum.

“I want to recognise the positive reaction from the sector to the inclusion of equine investments in TAMS. It is something I felt strongly we should do, and I know that view is shared strongly by everyone in this room. It is something I have long supported; it’s great to finally get it over the line,” the Minister added.

Incredible year

Co Down’s Susie Berry was named The Irish Field Senior event rider of the year for 2022, just six years after winning the junior award. Berry was part of the Irish team that finished fifth at the FEI World Championships in Pratoni to secure Paris 2024 Olympic qualification with Monbeg by Design.

Susie Berry was named The Irish Field Senior event rider of the year \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Among her other results was a four-star win at Little Downham International in September with Wellfields Lincoln and other top 10 places came at Burnham Market, Chatsworth, Bramham and Blair Castle, as well as completing her first Badminton to finish 17th with John The Bull.

Susie travelled from her yard in Northhamtonshire, England and said she was honoured to receive the award. Asked for her highlight of the year, she said: “The highlight was the Olympic qualification. Even just competing on a senior team for Ireland, that is a dream for all of us. I was competing beside riders I’ve looked up to for years, so it was a real honour to be on that team.

“The eventing season started last Saturday so we are just kicking off again. I would love to try and emulate some of the success of last year, but with horses it is trying to keep everything in one piece and trying to look ahead and not get too fixed on how well it went last year. The Europeans at the end of the year, and looking forward to the Olympics next year is the serious aim.”

Also travelling from the UK to collect her award was The Irish Field dressage rider of the year, Abigail Lyle. The Bangor, Co Down native burst onto the international dressage scene in 2022 when making her championship debut at the FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark with Giraldo and, among other top results throughout the year, finished 2022 on a high when making her five-star debut at the London International Horse Show where she landed two personal best scores.

Looking at the previous names on the trophy, Abi said it was “a massive honour. I left Ireland in 2009 to pursue this dream. It’s been a lot of hard work and this is my home so to be able to come back here and receive this is a massive honour and I am really grateful to The Irish Field and to everyone who has helped me.”

Trained by Carl Hester and accompanied at the awards by her partner, fellow dressage rider Mark McVicar, Abi picked out this year’s FEI European Championships as her big goal. “I am so excited, I feel there is still so much more to come with him [Giraldo]. I’ve had him since a four-year-old, couldn’t have thought of a better horse to have on this journey. The big aim is Europeans and I’d like to really get the scores up more.”

Irish Horse World editor Isabel Hurley presents The Irish Field Dressage rider of the year award to Abigail Lyle \ Lorraine O'Sullivan


Dialling in from Florida while his mother and father, Mary and Laurence, were in the room to accept his award after being named The Irish Field Senior show jumper of the year was Conor Swail. The world number five had an exceptional year in 2022 with a number of horses but the standout star was Mannon Farm’s Count Me In. They won the five-star World Cup Grand Prix in Washington, and were treble clear in the Aga Khan Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show to clinch a famous victory. He also scored multiple five-star victories around the world and has carried that form through to 2023.

Speaking via video call, Swail said: “Dublin was the highlight of my year and, to be honest, of my lifetime. It’s something that you dream of doing from being a kid, you would like to go in the jump-off to win the Aga Khan for Ireland, so it really was a dream come through and a special day for me and I think for the whole country too.”

With the 15-year-old gelding, Swail is now aiming for the FEI World Cup Finals in Omaha next month. “I wish I had Count Me In a few years earlier but I am lucky to have him at all so I am just enjoying the time with him. His plan is he jumps in a few weeks in a four-star and then we plan to do the World Cup Final.” On collecting the award, Conor’s mother Mary said: “We are very proud of Conor, he has worked very hard to get to where he is today, and never in our wildest dreams could we have anticipated his achievements.”

Double medal winners

Winning The Irish Field Junior show jumper of the year award was 14-year-old James Derwin who won individual and team gold at last summer’s FEI European Championships for Ponies with Rincoola Babog after a flawless five rounds of jumping. After a jump-off, he topped an all-Irish podium.

The Athlone rider’s success continued when he won the national 148cm title and the overall Premier Series title, as well as the CSIO Pony Grand at the Youth Finals in Peelbergen.

The Irish Field Junior show jumper of the year, James Derwin \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

“It was a great year to do what I did,” Derwin commented. “I got to go to some great shows and got some great results. Probably the jump-off at the Europeans was my best round of the year, when I jumped clear and knew I got the medal. It was great to get two gold medals.”

He is aiming to get back on the team again for the European Championships. “I just got the pony back in to get him fit again and hopefully we will go to another championships this year.”

The Irish Field Junior event rider of the year for the second year in-a-row was 15-year-old Ben Connors who backed up a great year in 2021 by going even better 2022, winning team gold and successfully defending his individual silver at the FEI Eventing European Championships with Cornafest Fred. Just a month later, the pair went on to win the EI110 pony national championship and Ben also made the transition to horses with wins coming aboard OLS Queen B.

“It was a great year and I couldn’t have done it without everyone supporting me and the pony was brilliant at the Europeans, he really showed how class he is. I just want to thank everyone and all the horse and ponies who helped me achieve what I did in 2022,” said the third year student at Newbridge College.

“I have a hard year with [Junior Certificate] exams coming up and trying to get selected again for the Europeans in ponies again, that’s the main aim.”

The Irish Field Junior Event Rider of the Year, Ben Connors \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Star of the year

Winner of two monthly Gain Equine Nutrition Star of the month awards, Niamh McEvoy was named the overall The Irish Field/Gain Equine Nutrition Star of the Year.

From Omagh in Co Tyrone, the 18-year-old was the breakout start from 2022, stepping up to senior level with ease, jumping her first senior Nations Cup and her first five-star Grand Prix, as well as winning the two-star Grands Prix in Balmoral and Mullingar, and the three-star Grand Prix in Vejer de la Frontera. She was also part of the bronze medal winning junior team at the European Championships.

Joining the awards via video call from The Netherlands’ where she was at trials for the Rolex Young Rider Academy, Niamh said she was “totally delighted” to win the top award. She highlighted finishing 10th in the five-star Longines Grand Prix of Dublin with Templepatrick Welcome Limmerick as the main highlight of a fabulous year.

Niamh’s mother Maeve McEvoy accepted the award, and added: “She is a real grafter. She analyses what she does, and her mistakes, and she’s always trying to improve. She really loves the horses, she has a lovely feeling and a lovely way with them, they really dig deep for her in the ring.”

The Irish Field/GAIN Equine Nutrition monthly 'Star of the Month' award winners \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Special recognition

The awards ceremony ended with a very special presentation to each of the previous editors of Irish Horse World, recognising their contribution to making the publication what it is today.

It was a joy for all attendees to hear about the history of the paper from each of the editors. After founding editor Averil Douglas left in 1980, Grania Willis took up the mantle and was editor for 23 years before departing when The Irish Field was bought by The Agricultural Trust in 2003. Grania went on to become Communications Director at the FEI.

Upon moving to its current home in the Irish Farm Centre, Siobhán English took up the role as editor from 2003 to 2010. Siobhán is one of the country’s leading photographers and still regularly contributes to the paper. Sascha Geraghty (now Freyne) was then appointed successor to Siobhán in 2010 and edited Irish Horse World for five years until leaving to have her first baby, during which time Caitriona Murphy (now Morrissey) joined as acting editor.

Former Irish Horse World editor's Grania Willis, Siobhan English, Sasha Geraghty, Catriona Morrissey and current editor Isabel Hurley \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Caitriona was appointed editor in 2015 before leaving a year later to take up the role as news editor with our sister paper, the Irish Farmers Journal, a role she still holds.

Finally, Isabel Hurley was called forward to accept a presentation for her monumental effort in the role since 2016. Summing up the paper, she thanked the industry for the role they play, saying “you are there for us, and likewise you know we (The Irish Field) are always there for you. Every horse person has a dream, whether they are a rider or a breeder, it starts with a dream. We have had a wonderful journey over the last 50 years.”

The Irish Field award winners

Dressage rider of the year: Abigail Lyle

Senior show jumper of the year: Conor Swail

Senior eventer of the year: Susie Berry

Junior show jumper of the year: James Derwin

Junior eventer of the year: Ben Connors

Gain Equine Nutrition Star of the Month winners:

January: Irish show jumping team

February & March: Bertram Allen

April: Tom Wachman

May & November: Niamh McEvoy

June: Heather Dean-Wright

July: Paul O’Shea

August: Ben Connors

September: Kate Stevens

October: Sean Jones

December: Abigail Lyle