Fans champing at bit as 100,000 to visit horse show

Ciara Bennigan from Longford showers Sweetie the horse down during the Stena Line Dublin Horse Show at the RDS Showgrounds in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Photo Gareth Chaney Collins
Ciara Bennigan from Longford showers Sweetie the horse down during the Stena Line Dublin Horse Show at the RDS Showgrounds in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Photo Gareth Chaney Collins

Amid the steady thud of hoof on green grass, large-brimmed hats and clinking glass, the Dublin Horse Show kicks off today in style.

More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the event over the three days, and with the home team in with a great shot at the Aga Khan on Friday, the tension is already mounting.

Always very much a family affair, that tradition at the RDS continues, as parents guide children into the show ring for the first time to display their budding pony skills, while fondly remembering their own days competing at junior level.

For Aaron Costello (13) from Kilcullen, Co Kildare, competing for the first time at the show, there have been many sleepless nights before the big day. Asked whether he was nervous, Aaron admitted he was a bit but was looking forward to showing off his skills on pony Jolly.

His mother, Pauline, told how she took part as a child herself. “It’s all about Dublin. Every child wants to ride in Dublin and to be part of it, walking around with their wristband,” she explained.

Up for the preview before opening day, the family were finding their stable and getting a feel for the place, as well as some last-minute grooming for Jolly.

For chief safety steward Flor Madden, who has worked with the show for more than 30 years, this year is particularly special as his daughter Kate (18) follows in his footsteps as a steward at the show.

“There are six of us in the family and we are all involved,” said Kate.

Waiting with bated breath for her Leaving Cert results next week, Kate hopes to study food marketing – which will tie in nicely with the horse feed supplements company she set up with her younger sister Annie (16), arising from their entry to yet another RDS event, the BT Young Scientist.

Their idea evolved to become a supplement that prevents ulcers in horses and is now a business employing nine people, exporting to 15 countries.

“It was hard to keep up while doing the Leaving Cert but the business is doing very well and we’ve both grown up with it,” said Kate.

Despite the serious summer drought, there are no concerns about conditions at the show, said president of the RDS Bernie Brennan, explaining that they have their own wells for irrigation and have kept the ground well watered throughout the season.

“The arenas are looking very well and the grounds are perfect,” she said.

Competing in the Heavy Weight Hunters category, Laura Haslett from Limavady, Co Derry, was bringing her horse Glenveigh around the grounds for the first time to familiarise him.

Coming to the Horse Show for 30 years, she said this was the highlight of the horsing calendar.

Ahead of the show, a talk on the implications of Brexit on the sport horse industry heard grave concerns about the movement of horses in the event of no deal.

Ronan Murphy, CEO of Horse Sport Ireland, warned that the UK is one of our most important trading partners for the sport horse industry and it cannot easily be replaced.

Many sport horse breeders and producers are small operators, he said, while higher tariffs and a plunge in sterling could see small profit margins wiped out.

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