Sam Watson - World Equestrian Games

Sam Watson on 10 September 2014

Sam Watson at WEG with SparklesThe Irish Eventing Team achieved its objective at the World Equestrian Games by attaining one of the six coveted qualification slots for the Rio Olympics in 2016. On reflection I’m very proud to be a part of that team, but at the time there was a very odd mixture of emotions in Normandy.

The six riders will all look back at the championship with some regret amid the satisfaction of achieving our goal. As a team we remain off the pace in the dressage, but there was some hope thanks to Sarah Ennis and her young star Stellor Rebound. Aoife (Clark) had no chance when Fenyas Elegance had a very rare off day between the dressage boards, but they remain a partnership with so much promise and talent.

Joseph Murphy produced some smart canter work on Electric Cruise to end up on a respectable team score, but my own boy, Horseware Bushman, just didn’t have what the judges were looking for at that level – nerves and tension in those big arenas make a big difference to him and he tightens up throughout his body.

As he gets older he gets away with it less and less. His marks at big occasions have always suffered as a result and those tests at Camphire and Hopetoun where he has scored in the 30’s are unfortunately becoming distant memories. We’ll experiment with a few things over the winter as his work outside the arena is still a good ten marks higher, so we haven’t lost hope yet!!

But WEG this year was all about cross country day. We arrived in torrential rain and endured the same for our first few days there. Everyone was well aware from the outset that the dressage scores would ultimately play a very small part in the overall result because the ground was quickly showing signs of churning up in the wet conditions. Pierre Michelet’s course was fiendishly technical as expected. His signature long striding combinations with seemingly impossibly acute angles were scattered throughout the course, with a particularly meaty middle section giving us all plenty to digest.

I was first out for the team and with only one rider getting home before my start time we knew that survival was the order of the day. Horses were getting very tired and faulting at the final water, so I really had no license to be a hero, I just had to get the horse around clear and through the finish flags. To be honest I relished the challenge, particularly being sat on such an experienced and tough cross country horse. If I could have another go at it I would go a touch faster but I simply didn’t have the right to try any heroics being in that position.

George (Horseware Bushman) answered every question with ease and he gave me one of my best ever spins. The ground was properly heavy and it was tough going for them, but it was fair. There were nice let-up fences and the profiles of most fences were kind. If the ground had been perfect it would have been infinitely easier, but nature is good at giving different horses a different day to shine. The Saturday at this year’s WEG was about the genuine event horse with lots of thoroughbred and lots of heart.

Mileage counted for a lot too, and it was a massive ask for Sarah on her young horse to tackle one of Eventing’s toughest ever championship courses in the modern era. I have huge respect for her getting the horse home and the couple of green moments are really nothing to worry about. Frustrating, yes, but completing that track showed a toughness from both the rider and the horse that we will be very lucky to have on future Irish teams. Joseph had a frustrating day at the office but again he did his team duty by getting the horse home.

Many teams didn’t, including medal favourites such as the USA and New Zealand, so the achievement of getting around that World Championship course shouldn’t be underestimated. Aoife was our final team rider and her mare certainly made amends for any dressage mishaps by storming around the course with an impressive clear round. By the close of play we were in our qualification spot and the job looked done and dusted.

If I could single out one performance from the day it would be my close friend and fellow Team RED MILLS rider, Camilla Speirs. Her history with Portersize Just A Jiff has had incredible highs, but they have also had their share of tough setbacks. Watching her journey back to the pinnacle of the sport and her partnership with Jiff over the past two years has been far removed from the ordinary – she has shown exceptional strength, not to mention an abundance of talent and horsemanship.

Her rounds at Boekelo last year and Saumur this year were exemplary, but even with that foundation, the WEG cross country course still presented one final substantial hurdle to overcome. To say she absolutely nailed it would be an understatement. The girl has grit and whatever that inexplicable ‘X-Factor’ is, she has it. Jiff has become a global equine superstar over his career and I’d imagine that his WEG exploits will only further that legendary status!

We managed to wrap up the 6th spot on Sunday in the show jumping. It wasn’t without drama but as with the previous day we held on and got the job done. We’re on the road to Rio and most of us will be focusing on the work that needs to be done rather than taking satisfaction from that achievement. It’s the most driven and determined bunch of riders that I have had the pleasure to compete with and our strength in the wings is growing considerably. Ciaran Glynn and Esib Power are producing strong contenders for Rio, and team stalwarts like Mike & Trish Ryan, Mark Kyle and Austin O’Connor will be amongst the others chomping at the bit to win Ireland a medal in the coming years.

For me that journey starts next week when I bring Horseware Lukeswell to Ballindenisk International for his first CCI***. He looks the likely Rio candidate after his smashing performance at Camphire last month and I hope to see many of you there supporting. If you see me out and about and you want to ask me anything about feeding RED MILLS or other areas of our management and training then please don’t be shy. Both Bushman and Lukeswell (like many of the other WEG horses) are members of the HorseCare 10 club, but we do use a wide range of the feeds on others at home and we’re more than happy to discuss the many benefits. Thanks for reading and I’ll catch up with you again soon!    

Tags: Camilla Speirs, Horseware Bushman, Horseware Lukeswell, Sam Watson, WEG, World Equestrian Games