The golden dreams expressed early in 2021 were just not realised. A burst blood vessel and a cast shoe dashed our show jumping medal hopes at the Tokyo Olympics.

Eighth was the best we could do in eventing, and our dressage team was sadly and controversially withdrawn.

The ambitious plan for a centre of excellence at Greenogue was turned into a political party balloon. But in the words of Paul Brady’s song, The Island: “Hey! Don’t listen to me! This wasn’t meant to be no sad song.” As 2021 slowly evolved, many more positive things happened within the Irish sport horse world.

Stallions – at the 11th edition of the Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) stallion inspections, both the numbers and quality of the young sires presented improved over what had come forward in previous years. A very heartening 68% met the requirements among the sport horse entries and progressed to the next stage.

One is reminded that Padraic Howley’s Sligo Candy Boy by Balou du Rouet, out of a mare that traced back to Cornetto, had passed through this system back in 2013. He is now producing sale-toppers at auctions in Cavan, Mullingar and Goresbridge. Out of a Terimon dam, his daughter recently made €62,000 at the Goresbridge Go For Gold sale. This has to be the kind of success story that can solidify our Irish sport horse industry going forward.

Mares – HSI’s mare inspections also gathered pace as the number of sport horse dams having come forward since the series began in 2010 reached the 3,000-mark this year.

Irish breeds – it also has to be noted that more and more of our riders competing abroad are doing so on Irish-bred horses. In recent weeks, the likes of Mikey Pender, Francis Derwin and Paul O’Shea were winning or placing in grand prix events with Irish-bred horses. So perhaps the day is not too far away when we will again see four of ours making up the Aga Khan team for Dublin.

Shows – despite once again having to cancel its international classes, the RDS made €135,000 available for the National Show Jumping Championships in August. But for lack of entries, they cancelled the showing section; however, the Irish Shows Association went ahead with All-Ireland Showing Championships at Charleville and Roscommon.

Politics – although a slow process, our questionnaire to the major political parties regarding their support for the sport horse industry still proved somewhat positive. We got replies from Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. They all backed support, but it was also evident that HSI and its new CEO Denis Duggan has a significant PR job on their hands in spelling out just what the sport horse industry is, what it does and how it is to be distinguished from the thoroughbred/racing world.

Finally, I again recall the loss of industry stalwarts Frank McGarry, Leslie Fitzpatrick and John Hughes during the past year. May their energetic spirits help the revival of 2022.