The World Equestrian Games in Normandy covered a vast range of emotions for all riders involved and it sure was one hell of a week! While most riders' journey to WEG started immediately after the Olympic Games in London, for myself and my horse 'Portersize Just A Jiff', that seemed that was where it had ended. A very heavy fall nearing the end of the cross country course in Greenwich Park meant that it was a struggle to see beyond each day, let alone think about where our future together lay.
I will never forget the moment one of the vets in Newmarket, where Jiff was being treated for his injuries, told me that it was possible that Jiff may never be ridden again. One year later, to the day, Jiff jumped his first fence in our arena. The knowledge and help of the vets at Troytown, my farrier Tom Fahy and most importantly, the positivity, strength and attention of my Mum gave Jiff the best chance possible of making a full recovery.
And he did. That little guy is so tough and loves his job so much, nothing was going to stop us. Having finished the end of last year with a win at Ballindenisk and a 7th place at Boekelo (ahead of Michael Jung and his WEG silver medallist!) it felt like we were back on track and ready to take on the world again.
I’d be naive to think we didn’t have our doubters. The people that know him aren’t surprised by his return to the top. It was really disappointing to learn early last year that we were not in contention for a WEG place. It was a huge blow having travelled so far with him to have to go and prove ourselves all over again. For the first time in eight years, I approached this season not thinking of the team but just of our own performance and development. I never stopped believing he would get back there and am so pleased he got another chance to show the world how amazing he really is.
As is always the case in these situations, it is often another rider’s disappointment that brings the opportunity and I know how tough it must have been for Austin to see his journey to WEG end so close to the start. He was incredibly supportive of me at a time that must have been very difficult for him and I will always greatly appreciate that. Jiff had been aimed at Blair and was fit and ready when we got the call. With no organised team-training in the weeks leading up to WEG, it was great to have another Team Ireland rider, Ciaran Glynn arrange a day in Killossery where Ian Fearon made some last minute touch ups!
We stopped off for a day’s training with Team Ireland at the fantastic Attington Stud in Oxfordshire. It was great to have the team together away from the distractions of home and we really bonded as a group and got ready for the task ahead.After all horses sailed through the trot-up, the team and individual riders were announced. Myself and Clare Abbot were named as individual riders and our highly competitive team of Sam Watson, Sarah Ennis, Joseph Murphy and Aoife Clarke were there to achieve our main aim; Olympic Qualification.
Our placing’s after dressage left us a bit further down the leader board than hoped. It was Sarah Ennis with the talented ten-year-old Stellor Rebound who most impressed the judges from the Irish camp. Rocket is a great mover and an exciting prospect for the future.
For Jiff and I, I was extremely happy with our test and thought that it was certainly one of our best-to-date, unfortunately our mark did not reflect this but when you get to this level, the standards are extremely high and the horses in the top ten after dressage would not have looked out of place at a grand prix dressage show! We walked and re-walked the cross country course and despite the rain, and the late changes to the course, we had no idea what Saturday would bring. It certainly shook about the leader board!
Sam and Horseware Bushman (George) would be the first of the Irish to take on the grueling course. With only one rider out of eight making it home before him, Sam knew that coming home without any jumping penalties would be the order of the day. We are very lucky to have a rider like Sam on our team. Not only does he have a vast amount of experience, but also a clear outline of what was needed to be done.
Sam is the ultimate team player, once he got George home, his attention immediately turned to the rest of us. He spent time with each rider, helping in any small way he can with the track or just keeping nerves in check. He even raced to meet me when I was held on course to keep me focused. It was extremely inspiring to watch himself and George make very little of what was one of the toughest 4 stars I’ve seen. He is an important part of our team and will make a great coach one day.
Having spoken to Sam and Ian Fearon at length about tactics, it was time for me to get on and warm up. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous and I knew that there would be some debate as to whether this extremely tough track would suit my horse. I decided not to wear a watch and instead rode from my feel and instinct. I had the most phenomenal spin and I felt extremely lucky to have such a good partnership with my horse because you sure did need it!
I felt overwhelmed with emotion when Jiff flew over the finish line. It’s a feeling I still can’t explain. For all the people that knew it could be done, it was a moment we will never forget. My mum, my boyfriend Diarm, my best friends Sam and Hannah Watson and coach Ian Fearon – they really were the ones who kept everything afloat during the toughest of times and to see them all there waiting as we came home brought floods of tears and a whirlwind of emotions. Most importantly, for Jiff, I was so pleased for him. He had proved them all wrong again and made it back to the top. What a horse!
As all the days would prove, it was another of mixed emotions. Clare and Euro Prince were amongst the many that ran into problems on the course. I was disappointed for her as it is a lonely place when that happens but she will learn a lot from the experience and will be back. Sarah and Joseph were disappointed to pick up cross country penalties but their focus and grit to make sure they got home was team riding at its best.
Many of the medal favourites hadn’t achieved that and having three riders home allowed Aoife the chance to go out and really go for it with her mare Fenya’s Elegance. Their superb round put Ireland into contention of the Olympic Qualification place. Just one final hurdle… We packed up early on Sunday morning and headed for Caen, where the showjumping would take place. It is hard on the horses to travel mid competition but the venue was certainly amazing and a full stadium at Caen was a great experience.
Sarah and Joseph saved their best for last and played their part on the last day. Their super rounds, along with Aoife and Sam meant that we got that Olympic place and can get focused and planning for Rio. From a personal point of view, it was disappointing that Jiff and I dropped down the placing’s. Unusually, he felt tired and we stopped when the canter fell completely flat setting up for the combination. In hindsight, I should have just kicked! You never stop learning in this game and I will take a huge amount from the experience.
The long journey home was filled with plans for Rio and who will have what. I am hoping that Lowhill Village at Lyons and BT Border Bandit can show they have what it takes over the next 18 months. We are lucky to have so many talented riders capable of filling those Rio places. Mike & Trish, Austin, Mark, Esiband Ciaran will all be aiming to return and it will be an exciting time for Team Ireland on the journey.
Thank you to all the people who have shown myself and Jiff such great support over the last two years. It was a fight to get him back to this level and his feeding was a major factor in the process. RED MILLS were fantastic in guiding me on which products to use. With the laminitis it was important to cut out high levels of sugar in his feed, and as he progressed back to full fitness, we had him on the HorseCare 10 and HorseCare 14 as the protein offered lots of energy.
If you would like to ask me any questions on my horses’ feeding programmes I would be happy to lend any advice. Or, as I found, RED MILLS were 100% committed in helping me find the perfect balance for all my horses! Thank you for reading and most importantly, thank you for your fantastic support!!
- Camilla Speirs
- Sam Watson
- World Equestrian Games