One of the international showjumpers attending a crucial meeting at Dublin Airport on Tuesday was Cashel rider, Shane Breen. Just back from the long road journey from Aachen, he was invited to attend this meeting, which was aiming to solve the many problems that have hounded show jumping in Ireland during the past year.
The hope of independent chairman, Mark Mortell, was that agreement could be found on sending the best team to Barcelona for the final Nations Cup of the year, which will decide what nations will ride in the European Superleague next year. At the moment Ireland are lying eight and last, and will need at least a third place finish to retain their status. The financial implications of dropping out of the superleague are very great indeed.
Shane Breen is approaching the meeting with a very pragmatic attitude. Ireland must have its best team in Barcelona. The best team is that of the horses that are in the best form at the moment. If they include Cian O'Connor, Shane has no problem. According to him O'Connor has served his time, has paid his penalty, lost his medal. Neither has Shane any problem with any other member of the panel.
He is quite happy that the selection committee decide on what horses are in form. It's a simple matter of picking the horses according to recent results. It is not a very difficult task, as form speaks for itself.
Shane is hoping to be one of those picked for this most important event at Barcelona. His horse, World Cruise, has been showing outstanding form of late and is gradually making a name as a world class show jumper. He was best of the Irish at Aachen, with a clear round and 12 faults. He continued the good form shown at Hickstead the previous week, when he finished joint third. Prior to that he was fifth in the Grand Prix at the international five-star show at Lummen in Belgium. He featured on the Nations Cup team at Copenhagan, jumping 4 faults and clear to help Ireland finish fourth. He was also third in the 150 metre jump-off class. He finished 5th in the 150 Grand Prix at Arrezo in Italy. He also won two Grand Prixs in Ireland during the year.
All of these achievements suggest that World Cruise is a world class horse. Owned by Sandra and Vinny Duffy of Ballina, he is based at Cashel. The Duffys bought him as a three-year old and gave him to Shane to ride when he was seven years old. That was three years ago and the partnership has been a good one for the owners and Shane. During that period he has matured in to a top class horse and is attracting the attention of many buyers. The hope is that World Cruise can be kept in Ireland.
Shane, who is now thirty years of age has been riding since the age of four years. He came up through the pony ranks, winning a silver medal in the European pony championships, as well as wining the pony Grand Prix at Dublin, and the Pony Champion of the Year Show.
He progressed to juniors, coming fifth in the European championships. At the age of 19 years he was chosen on the international senior team for Hickstead. The horse he was riding at that time, Macho Man, went lame in 1995. Until World Cruise came his way in 2002 he had no horse good enough to compete in Nations Cups.
This is one of the startling things about show jumping. A rider may be top class but unless he can afford a super horse, or has a sponsor who will provide him with one, he is going nowhere. During the years before the arrival of World Cruise, Shane continued to ride at international shows but had no horse to contend for a place on the Nations Cup team.
According to Shane the life of the international show jumper is tough but enjoyable. He is on the road every week, as he brings his horses across Europe to compete. He admits to seeing a good bit of the world. He has to keep fit, even though there is no weight limit to ride. The horses get used to travelling around, and adapt to rest as they travel. For instance he had to stop for eight hours at Dover on his way back from Aaachen.
The sport is extremely expensive, especially if one lives in Ireland, where two boat journeys have to be made. Costs are only partly subsidised. It comes as a surprise to learn that one is not paid for representing one's country, but given a subsidy towards one's travel expenses. In order to meet the expenses involved, a show jumper has to have a sponsor or make a good amount from winnings.
There are returns for sponsors. Shows in the European Superleague get good exposure especially on television. Show jumping is as great in Germany as horse racing is in Ireland. Riders and horses get saturation coverage. There are no regulations regarding wearing logos of sponsors, with riders allowed to wear them on their persons or their horses.
The life of the showjumper is a precarious one, and Shane Breen's future will be greatly dependent on the outcome of the Barcelona Nation's Cup. He has shown himself to be a rider of immense talent and he has a horse of world class in World Cruise.
In the meantime while waiting for Barcelona, he continues to pursue the sport he loves so well. This Thursday he will jump in the Iverk Show at Piltown. At the weekend it is Wexford. Next week he hopes it will be a four-day trek to Barcelona. All Cashel people, and his friends further afield, wish him well.