THE 30th Association of Irish Riding Clubs Festival, the first since 2019 because of the pandemic, took place last weekend at the Mullingar Equestrian Centre where, once again, The Irish Field was title sponsor of the dressage section over the two days.

The highlight for those in this sphere who share both a competitive and club spirit is the team challenge on the Sunday and this year’s renewal was as hard-fought as ever with Tara Hill (217.86), the winners in 2018, scoring narrowly from Border Counties (217.29) with the local Mullingar club back in third (210.79).

Edel King, who was also on the successful 2018 Tara Hill squad with the same horse, Don Quixote, told us a bit about her new teammates.

“Maura Walsh, who competes at RCP3 level, was our pathfinder, scoring a massive 83% in her team test. Maura is mum to three boys who are very successful at GAA and rugby with Alex playing for club and county while Lee and Ryan both have caps for Ireland. Maura is finding more time for herself now to compete and has enjoyed a very successful season with DTS First Flight (a 2016 mare with no recorded breeding) who she purchased as a four-year-old.

“Elaine Kilbane (RCN) works full-time as the IVD operations manager at the Health Products Regulatory Authority. She too is a mother of three boys and when she’s not on the sideline of a hurling or football pitch, she competes her six-year-old Connemara gelding ‘Oscar’ aka Roisin Star (by Coosheen Stormboy) who she purchased as a just-broken three-year-old. Elaine was thrilled to be part of the team and, as it was her first time competing at the Festival, it was an amazing achievement to win.

“Carol Donnelly (RCP2), who is a teacher at St Ciaran’s Community School in Kells, was delighted with the win as she only started competing in dressage competitions last summer with her Irish Sport Horse mare Nazar Diamond (a 14-year-old daughter of Nazar). This was also her first time to compete at the Festival.”

King, who works at her local primary school in Longwood, has enjoyed tremendous success with Don Quixote, her 22-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Del Piero. “I was delighted to be part of a winning team again,” said King. “Like the others, I’m now looking forward to this coming weekend’s Midlands Region national dressage qualifier at Abbotstown (tomorrow) and then, hopefully, all roads lead to Barnadown for the national championships in August.”

The Border Counties team comprised Jennifer Coles with the amazing 26-year-old chesnut gelding Cloncaw Smartie, Colleen Moffett riding Mortlestowncastle Rio, Roisin Ni Rioc on board Colin Clover and Rosemary Bellew with Belle Saru. Rosemary is joint owner of that unraced thoroughbred with her sister Caroline who competes the bay in eventing.