THE annual Irish Horse World awards took place today (Tuesday) at the K Club in Straffan, Co Kildare where the stars of the sport in 2023 were honoured.

The Irish Field gave out awards in five categories – Dressage rider of the year, the Senior Event rider of the year, the Junior event rider of the year, the Senior show jumper of the year and the Junior event rider of the year.

Some 12 awards were also presented to the monthly winners of The Irish Field/Gain Equine Nutrition Star of the Month awards.

Michael Murphy and his mother Sue with the Dressage Rider of the Year Award \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Dressage rider of the year: Michael Murphy

The Irish Field Dressage rider of the year for 2023 is Ireland’s Grade I para dressage rider Michael Murphy. The double world bronze medallist from 2022 won the individual silver at the FEI Para Dressage European Championships in Riesenbeck, Germany in September riding Cleverboy. Michael started his 2023 international campaign with a hat-trick at the three-star show in Addington, Britain in March last year, scoring 75.375% to win the Grand Prix A class, 78.333% for Grand Prix B honours and 81.087% for first place in the Freestyle. At Kronenberg, The Netherlands in June 2023, Murphy placed second behind the leading rider in the world, Rihard Snikus, in the Grand Prix B class in on a 73.542% total. The following month he scored 80.020% to win the Freestyle at Hartpury in Great Britain. With the Paralympic Games in Paris on the horizon for Michael this year, he will be looking to join Joan Salmon and Helen Kearney on the Irish individual equestrian paralympic medal roll of honour.

Senior event rider of the year: Austin O'Connor

When Austin O’Connor landed Ireland’s first five-star eventing win in almost six decades, he famously remarked “people like me, we’re not supposed to win five-stars.” For those who have followed Austin’s career however, this deserved victory was the result of his “life’s work” and was not only an immense personal triumph but it was a boost to the Irish international eventing community as a whole. Riding the cross-country machine Colorado Blue, Austin’s year got off to a flying start at the CCI4* in Burnham Market when he finished on his dressage score in ninth place and from there it was straight to Badminton where, after a dramatic day on cross-country, the pair rocked from 34th to second place when they produced the fastest clear round of the day. Two fences down on the final day saw him slip to third and become the first Irish rider on the podium for 40 years at the famous event.

A mishap at Burghley saw the pair re-route to Maryland where, lying in fourth place going into the final day, they produced the only clear show jumping round inside the time to rise to take the title, the first for an Irish rider since Major Eddie Boylan and Durlas Eile won Badminton in 1965.

William Minchin CEO of the Agricultural Trust presents Alannah Kelly with the Junior Event Rider of the Year Award \ Lorraine O'Sullivan

Junior event rider of the year: Alannah Kelly

The 2023 junior event rider is Alannah Kelly. In three appearances at young rider European championships, the 21-year-old has never come home without a team medal and went one better in 2023 when claiming the individual bronze medal at Montelibretti in Italy aboard the Irish Sport Horse Cooley Bounce. In the perfect send off from the young rider ranks, a clear cross-country round and just one show jumping fence down over a touch track, she rose to collect bronze and helped the team to win silver behind the home team of Italy.

Earlier in the season, Alannah finished second on Cooley Bounce and 10th with Stroke of Genius in the three-star short at Millstreet, as well as picking up a runner-up spot in the EI115 at Ballindenisk in July.

Senior show jumper of the year: Daniel Coyle

Derryman Daniel Coyle is known as a true winner and 2023 was a year to remember with an incredible 26 first and second places at 1.50m and 1.60m four and five-star level, culminating with a five-star Grand Prix win at the London International Horse Show in December aboard the wonderful mare Legacy. In one week at Ottawa, Canada in June, he won three five-star classes in-a-row, and also picked up five-star wins at Aachen and Rotterdam earlier in the month, as well as finishing runner-up in the Nations Cup and Grand Prix at the Dutch venue. Earlier in the year, he landed the four-star World Cup in Forth Worth, among too many wins to mention at the level.

A linchpin of Michael Blake’s senior team, he was part of the winning squad at Spruce Meadows where, again with Legacy, where he was clear over the fences in both rounds. And he also contributed to Ireland five-star team win in Langley, Canada, riding Gisbourne VDL.

Junior show jumper of the year: Seamus Hughes Kennedy

20-year-old Seamus Hughes Kennedy had the dream year in 2023 culminating with being crowned the Young Rider European champion at Gorla Minore in Italy in July. The year started in Vejer de Frontera where he won classes at one and two-star level, before he went on to win an Under 25 class at the five-star Saut Hermes show in Paris with ESI Ali. In April, that pair won a 1.45m Young Rider Grand in Sentower Park, before going on to land the two-star Grand Prix in Balmoral the following month. Multiple wins followed at two and three-star shows before finishing second and third in the two-star Grand Prix at Mullingar with Castlefield Hera and ESI Rocky.

Relatively still green, the Ennisnag Stud-bred ESI Rocky was not Seamus’ first choice for the European championships but was the horse he ended up taking a what a story it turned out to be; the pair jumped clear all week to help the Irish team win gold and then, on the final day, had a fence in hand for the gold which they used up early on course. When he crossed the finish line and heard his father Melvyn “let out a roar”, he knew he had secured the gold.

There was more success to come when Seamus went on to win the two-star Grand Prix at Millstreeet International with Cuffesgrange Cavadora and the pair crowned a truly magnificent year when winning the Under 25 at the Rolex Geneva show in December.

The 12 Gain Equine Nutrition Star of the Month awards were presented to Ben Walsh, Mikey Pender, Anna Merveldt, Jessica Burke, Seamus Hughes Kennedy, Rhys Williams, Bertram Allen, Paddy Reape, Alannah Kelly, Austin O’Connor, Aimee Barry, Jack Cash.