Someday we will look back at this year and it will forever remind us to never take the little things for granted,” is one of those quotations doing the social media rounds.

Truth or trite, depending on your take, it will sum up for many what a summer without shows has been like in this bizarre year, between the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and Brexit.

We’ll look back, as is customary over the new year, and think wasn’t it so easy to do ‘little’ things, like shaking hands when you met someone at a Sunday show and stopping off for a meal or drink afterwards. Or taking a ferry to a cross-channel HOYS qualifier or depending on UK customers. And that maybe we did take it all a little for granted?

With agricultural shows wisely cancelled, one show remaining in the diary was the new Ireland West foal show at Claremorris. This well-marshalled event in September was a forerunner of what to expect at any shows next year, until humans and horses match with up-to-date vaccinations and the coronavirus risk abates.

Mohill Two-Step: Colm Costello and 'George' stepping out at Mohill Show in 2015. \ Susan Finnerty

The Ringside Stories series, inspired by a conversation with 90-something John McGoldrick at Kildysart Show in 2017, I think has helped fill a void for readers. With its cast of characters from showing, eventing, showjumping, bloodstock and media circles, these are people you could meet at the ringside in normal years, strike up a conversation with and learn their stories.

The most recent storyteller was Noreen Doran-O’Reilly and her touching tribute to her late husband Quentin – the man who brought The Irish Horse with its news, information, plus reports and pictures of champions from around the country, to readers.

Something different

For many proud owners of a show champion, there was nothing like “getting the picture in the Journal” or “a mention” in Michael Slavin’s report. Long before the advent of websites, texts and social media, readers counted down to the following Thursday for Balmoral and Dublin champions news.

A delight to work for, he loved new ideas, be they features or technology – Quentin was one of the first with one of those new-fangled digital cameras to capture top-priced lots at Cavan or Goresbridge and The Irish Farmers Journal amateur showjumping qualifier winner.

Which is how a request was received for “something different” for the holiday issues. This led to the Show Oscars review, complete with a picture and annual show of the year choice, varying from the smallest local show to Balmoral.

Looking back through those photos, the old adage of a picture tells a thousand words rings true, particularly in 2020.

That first year (2007) included a photo of young Freya Higgins, one of many exam year students affected this year by the pandemic, pictured with her father, Kieran, at their local show. Sadly, Kieran’s father Miceál passed away in February and, in hindsight, how fortunate we were to be able to bid this wonderful Athenry gentleman farewell in a church, instead of via a computer screen.

The photo of a beaming Seamus Lehane on a lap of honour with his Dublin young horse champion Ballard Eagle became a talking point when he and wife Ann were guests at a wedding that week – no 25-guest maximum limits then.

Still on a wedding theme, the 2013 Oscars featured a picture at their local show of Scariff couple Laurence and Mary Slattery, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary that year. How lucky these couples were to celebrate big days and milestones among family and friends.

Irish Draught stalwart Jimmy Heery featured too in 2013 with one of his prize foals, a reminder that Draught breeders have endured tough times before and bounced back.

Heavenwards was the long-range reaction shot that, at first glance, nearly got deleted scrolling through thumbnail images of a rain-sodden Friday at Dublin Horse Show. It was only after zooming in to see John Roche’s expression at finally winning The Irish Field-sponsored Breeders Championship with Assagart My Only Hope, first spotted by his late father Michael, that the picture told its story about perseverance.

Staycation summer

2015’s Footsteps In The Sand featured another favourite image of Jane Gibbons and Sianlee Picasso walking along the idyllic Carrowmore beach after their day at Louisburgh Show.

Another photo in that issue was The Mohill Two-Step, of Colm Costello and his Killaneen Boy stepping it out at their local Leitrim show. A happy-turned-poignant shot after Colm passed away in 2018 from an auto-immune condition, with parents Paul and Mary, family and friends keeping a near-700-day bedside vigil in St Vincents Hospital. Another reminder of the resilience of both our frontline heroes in hospitals and close-knit families.

Then there was the scene captured in what has now become known as The Helping Hand photo of Jarlath Grogan and his granddaughter Darcy holding their Hillside Rose at the Athenry ringside in 2016. Family bonds and love of the Connemara pony in one picture.

Looking at John Goldrick’s The Hands That Built Ireland photo always reminds me of what his generation has witnessed: a new country, the Emergency, emigration, recessions, space travel, joining the EU, the internet, a pandemic and in John’s case, building up the sport of show jumping in the Banner County. They have seen it all and came through hard times, just as we will.

Thumbs Up sums up the delight of winning as Tara Oliver was captured on her lap of honour after her daughter Lilly and Woodroyd Flower Girl won the lead rein class at Charleville Show in 2018. There will be other shows and more family days like this.

Last year’s choice, What Is Seldom Is Wonderful, summed up the sight of vet Philip McManus taking a rare day off to parade the Connemara performance stallion Silver Shadow at Dublin. Vets and farmers, more frontline heroes who kept Ireland ticking over this year, deserve those days off.

So while at first there appeared to be very little to ‘review’ in 2020, it turned out there were lots of not-so-little things after all.