When Cian O’Connor sold Blue Lloyd, his ride for individual bronze at the 2012 London Olympic Games, he thought he’d bid goodbye to looking between his bay ears.
In December 2012, he sold the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding Blue Lloyd to amateur rider Nicole Walker. The 19-year-old rides for Canada and spends her winters competing in Wellington, Fla. She trains with the Irish O’Connor and has kept Blue Lloyd in O’Connor’s stable since the sale. While O’Connor flats the horse regularly, he hadn’t jumped him again until very recently.
But this summer, O’Connor got to take the reins of Blue Lloyd back when Walker allowed him to reunite with the horse for the Dublin Horse Show, Aug. 7-11. O’Connor and Blue Lloyd not only helped the Irish team tie with the U.S. team for third in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup, but they also scored a triumphant victory in the Longines Grand Prix of Ireland on his home turf.
“We haven’t gotten to the greatest strength and depths of horse at this level,” O’Connor explained when asked why he reunited with Blue Lloyd for Dublin. “[Chef d’Equipe] Robert Splaine discussed it with me, asking if it was all possible for us to get the horse [for this show] and kindly we were able to. It was a really good help to the team; then to go win the grand prix is fairytale stuff.”
The grand prix consisted of two full rounds of jumping; the top 10 from Round 1 came back for a 10-obstacle course in Round 2. In size and scope it was a challenge worthy of one of the top grand prix classes in the world, and while there weren’t any outwardly tricky questions, several riders met the grass in dramatic fashion. Germany’s Janne Friedrike Meyer in particular had a scary moment; her Cellagon Lambrasco landed badly from Fence 11 and she pulled up immediately and jumped off. The 15-year-old Holsteiner gelding had clearly injured his right front leg, and left the field in the horse ambulance.
However, in Round 2 it was just a rail here and there that dropped riders out of the top three. Reed Kessler and Cylana were too ambitious in leaving out a stride to Fence 3, and swam through that oxer for 4 faults. Beezie Madden and Cortes ‘C’ jumped clean in Round 1, but also pulled an unfortunate second-round rail to finish in fourth place.
For O’Connor, his day was indeed the stuff of fairytales; he returned first for the jump-off and knew he had to go fast to set the pace—but not go too fast.
“It wasn’t a typical jump-off course,” he said. “It was a second round of big jumps as opposed to a flying-around speed class. The jumps had to be jumped first before you could think about going quick.”
Blue Lloyd, a small, typey horse, is deceivingly fast. O’Connor made a plan to get close to a tough double combination that was later the downfall of Maher and Cella, and finished on a brilliant clear. His time held up, and in fact was nearly 4 seconds faster than second-placed Ulrich Kirchoff and Carlina of the Ukraine.
Brits Can’t Be Beat
Two days before, eight nations lined up to compete in the pressure-filled Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup, the final qualifier for Europe Division One teams before the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Final next month in Barcelona, Spain.
Both Ireland and Great Britain had to finish fourth or higher in order to qualify. The Germans, however, were also teetering on the edge of qualification but were done earning points at Hickstead the week before. The Germans needed the Brits and Irish to finish well down the pack, but that was not to be.
A capacity crowd filled the massive stands of the Dublin arena to cheer on their Irish riders, who were looking for a repeat victory after winning the Nations Cup in 2012.
After Round 1, it was looking possible; Ireland was tied for the lead with the Netherlands on a team score of 8 faults. But in the second round, the brilliantly designed Alan Wade course began to take its toll. A double combination of liverpools and the triple combination with an enormous triple bar at the A element created trouble spots on course for many riders.
Just four pairs completed double clear rounds, among them the United States’ Beezie Madden with Cortes ‘C’. Madden’s important double-clear was instrumental in helping the U.S. team finish tied for third when the dust settled. Katie Dinan turned in an instrumental clear second round for the U.S. effort after having had 12 faults in the first round on Nougat du Vallet. McLain Ward rode Rothchild to scores of 0 and 4 faults; he looked to be on the way to a clear second round, but Rothchild slipped on the turn to the difficult double combination and had the B element down. Kent Farrington and Blue Angel were the drop scores in both rounds, with 20 and 8 faults.
As the Irish team of Cian O’Connor, Dermott Lennon, Shane Breen and Conor Swail tried in vain to rack up more clear rounds, the British riders began to take over. Only Lennon was able to jump clear in Round 2 for Ireland, while Nick Skelton, Ben Maher, and Robert Smith all came through for Great Britain.
And in second place, the Dutch team of Albert Voorn, Hendrik-Jan Schuttert, Michel Hendrix, and Jan Gert Bruggink saw the top of the podium slide just out of reach with a pair of unfortunate four-fault rounds.
The six nations that qualified from Europe Division 1 were confirmed as Switzerland, France, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Ireland and Ukraine.
“We knew if we did our job we’d be difficult to beat,” British chef d’equipe Rob Hoekstra commented. “Today everything came together. There was the pressure of being in the top four. But we didn’t come to be top four, we came to win it.”
Scott Brash led the British charge with two clear rounds that earned him the Furusiyya Rider of the Day title. His partnership with Hello Sanctos has matured since their successful bid at an Olympic team gold medal last year, and they made the difficult course appear smooth and doable.
“I must say, he feels better than ever,” Brash said. “He’s been fantastic, really unbelievable for the last six or seven shows.”
With their win, Great Britain is qualified for the Nations Cup Final, as is Ireland. However, Germany finished in fifth place and did not qualify. See full results of the Nations Cup.
An Irish Victory
Interesting notes from Dublin…
• The 5-year-old Championship is titled the “Flexible” 5-year-old Championship after the Irish-bred U.S. horse who won the 2012 Rolex FEI World Cup Final with Rich Fellers.
• Reed Kessler and Ligist placed third in the Speed Championship.
• Daniel Bluman won the puissance aboard Clyde and put on an exuberant performance that won the Irish crowd’s hearts.
• Kent Farrington and Blue Angel won the JLT Dublin Stakes.
• McLain Ward won the Accumulator (Gambler’s Choice) class on Super Trooper de Ness. Ward also won the Anglesea Stakes on Cadence.