Good weather is half the battle. Good company and good fun are the other ingredients vital to a day’s pleasure. All three were present as the North West League got its fourth season off to a bang-up start at Templemore on Sunday. What a pleasure it was to set up practice jumps with dry sand underfoot and to finish the day with scarcely a smear of mud plastered on trusty riding boots.
By 10.30 am there were already a very respectable number of vehicles parked at Templemore and many members had turned up well ahead of their scheduled jumping time to help out with running the show. As soon as Packie rolled in, the pace of action was ratcheted up. His familiar growl hailed half-warmed-up novices from the practice arena and shepherded them to the bright lights of the indoor competition ring.
Letterkenny had several new recruits competing for their first time with aplomb. Louise Edwards, half dead after a bout of blood poisoning during the week, put in a great effort on Daisy and seems to have been bitten by the bug. Hazel was thrilled with Sapphire as she romped around the crosspoles and the Welcome Stakes.
Some of the novice recruits have four legs, not just two, and Rachel’s youngster Lotto covered herself with glory in the Welcome Stakes and 70cm training classes. The 70cm competitive class, Primary, was won in great style by our own Liz Cuffe. She delivered a foot perfect first round on Judy and the pair set off confidently on their second round. Somewhere along the way, concentration went out the window and Liz took the wrong line as she should have been approaching the double. Utterly non-plussed, she calmly steered Judy back on track in a manoeuvre worthy of a Grand Prix dressage arena and nonchalantly cleared both elements of the double from a rakish angle.
Letterkenny’s fine start to the season continued in the Advanced Primary division when Keary rode the talented Molly to a foot perfect double clear. Clear rounds were thin on the ground after a long winter with little competitive activity. Things will be very different come the final on 25 March!
Christopher Pyper made an eye catching effort on Mick’s Angel. Although there were some disagreements in the practice arena as Angel flexed her angelic muscle, by the end of their jumping efforts the new partnership was harmonious and effective and will go from strength to strength. Mick, you’d have been very proud of Angel. She looked fantastic and Christopher, although of a slightly different physical stature, falls perfectly into the Mick-mould in terms of effort and determination.
Libby’s Fenway put in a rare appearance, jumping for the first time since July 2010 in the 80cm training class. Whether or not he makes it to another leg of the league remains to be seen but the pair thoroughly enjoyed their day of action and have their fingers and hooves crossed for the future.
The Intermediate class at 90cm produced just two clear rounds but they generated a memorable jump off between Letterkenny’s newcomer, Joanne Cuffe, and Tirconaill’s accomplished star, Shane McCole. They both gave it their all but Joanne’s time on Judy was faster and she left all the poles in their cups. What a debut! Well done Joanne.
It was left to Stephen Green of the Gaeltachts to prevent a Letterkenny clean sweep. With just four riders in the Advanced Intermediate class, the odds were stacked 3:1 in Letterkenny’s favour. That became a 50/50 bet when Marina and Stephen pulled off clear rounds to bring things to a jump off. And it was Stephen who bested Marina with his 4 faults beating her 8. Great efforts from both pairs and they’re sure to battle the division out. In third place came Cormac, miraculously back on board Charlotte after an intimate experience with the coronary care unit at Letterkenny General Hospital earlier in the week.
The 1m training class concluded the day. It was great to finish up in daylight and spring seems just around the corner. It was a marvellous start to the competitive year and an absolute pleasure to get out with friends from our own club and neighbouring Donegal Gaeltacht and Tirconaill.
Thanks to everybody who helped out on the day and congratulations to all the competitors and, particularly, the winners. See you in a week’s time.
Pictured below: Liz and Joanne Cuffe with the day’s real hero, Judy. There’s a handful of photos in the Gallery.