Wrapping up the year

Whilst Necarne Castle in Irvinestown is a fair old drive for most members of the North West Riding Clubs, I don’t think anyone who attended the final of the autumn league felt hard done by in having burned the diesel to get there. The setting was as stunning as ever and made for a very impressive venue for the finale of the year’s riding club outings. Stracomer and Donegal Gaeltacht clubs combined forces to run the league final and between them they did an excellent job. The last minute no-show of the catering van was a blow for the organising clubs but was a huge boon for the rest of the attendees as they got treated to a truly wonderful spread of home baking. The lemon drizzle cake was to die for and the rest of the spread kept up the high standard set by it. The increasing interest in dressage prompted the organising clubs to run a range of dressage classes as well as the end-of-league show jumping classes, and the healthy entries proved the decision to be a canny one.

The dressage was held in the ‘Rose Garden’ arena, with the warm-up close by in a small arena built under the shadows of the great walls of the famous walled garden. With the availability of a young horse/green horse intro-dressage test both Rachel and Anne took the chance to get their greenhorns out in public for the first time. Letterkenny couldn’t have produced two more different entrants in the class, with Rachel aboard her husband Ed’s Ballyporeen Holly, a 10 year old driving cob with no more notion of riding off the leg than she has of astro-physics, and Anne aboard her young home-bred Cicatriz, freshly hauled in off the field and definitely feeling the excitement of his first school outing. With Kyle Hayes Richards judging the entrants could be assured of encouraging feedback and when the results were announced Rachel was neck and neck with Brenda Burke of Tirconail on her young Connemara. The cumulative marks decided it in Rachel’s favour, leaving Brenda in second and Anne bringing up a very respectable third. Also riding the same intro-dressage test, but in the category for primary riders only, was Ciara Boyle, who is not only an associate Letterkenny member but rides an ex-Letterkenny horse. Ciara came an excellent second on Francis McNicholl’s old mount Ballylennon Duke.

Letterkenny had no representatives in the primary or advanced primary classes, where Stracomer and Inishowen jostled for position. Stracomer had the stronger hand in the primary class, with Alex Coyle securing the red ribbon for the hosts, while in the advanced intermediate class Samantha O’Neill showed the strength of the up and coming riders in Inishowen by winning in fine style. The coming year should prove interesting as some of these riders gain confidence and stretch their competitive wings into the higher grades.

The Intermediate class was not as strongly supported as usual but I think Lynne Thompson would have accounted for all comers on her great partner Shuttlehill Impish Lass. Once again it was Srtracomer that gave Inishowen a run for their money, with Lorraine Gillespie coming second aboard Carrickfact Rocco. Letterkenny’s Francis McNicholl settled for a comfortable 5th place rosette on the rookie Kerrykeel Darcey. This pair will definitely be a combination to watch for the coming season as Francis gradually guides Darcey to greater challenges.

In the advanced intermediate class Aughavannon Merlin took a short break from screaming for his trailer mate to put in a somewhat hurried test under Rachel. His antics were enough to deprive him of his preferred red rosette…there was no way that Emily Schneider on the the pro club horse My Boy Boysie were going to allow such immature behaviour to go unpunished…but second place still bagged a great haul of prizes on the day.

While the dressage was wrapping up in the Rose Garden the jumping was well under way in the walled garden. The course looked deceptively easy as there were no fillers and plenty of space, but course builder Karl Dolan provided plenty of challenges in the route and clear rounds were few and far between on the day. The primary class fell to Donegal Gaeltacht as their competent Sinead Gibson steered Torann na dTonn to an easy win ahead of Tirconails Alida Byrne. Sinead pulled out her second gun, Kilcooley Seanachai, to deprive Stracomer’s Ann Keaney of third spot, but with regard to overall league placings Alida had the last laugh as she took the Leading Show-jumper award back to the Tirconail camp.

In the advanced primary class Letterkenny were crippled by the loss of Chloe McClafferty on the day. Having come third at the first leg of the league, and following up with a win in the second leg, Chloe was coming into the final in a very strong position, but family commitments intervened, depriving her of the chance to maintain a grasp of the crown. Caroline Shiel took the red rosette home on the day but Inishowen’s Lynne Thompson bagged the overall league prize, with her club mate Samantha O’Neill backing her strongly in second place.

The intermediate class saw Suzanne Deeney Wylie finish out her riding club competition year with a very competent round on Dubai Flyer. Having had a few hairy moments at earlier league outings this duo finished in a very creditable 6th place in the last leg and 5th in the overall league. Marina Hamilton was also unable to make the final leg at Necarne and had to settle for 6th place in the league, having started the autumn with a fantastic win in Lenamore aboard Fyfin EKO. Francis used the league as an opportunity to introduce Kerrykeel Darcey to the joys of show-jumping and ended outside the ribbons but very much on the radar for the spring.

In the advanced intermediate Rachel renewed her rivalry with Tirconail’s Mark Ward and his aptly named Wild Child. Mark had had it all his own way at the first leg of the league, where a lack of opposition guaranteed him top marks on the day. Unable to consolidate his position at the Killybegs based second leg he entered the arena in Necarne one point ahead of Rachel, who had conceded defeat to Seamus Campbell in Killybegs. With a nice clear under his belt from the first round Mark went out with all guns blazing for his jump-off round. A very unfortunate sat-nav error approaching the final fence resulted in four faults and, crucially, some additional seconds on the clock. Rachel headed in for her jump-off needing only to go clear within the time allowed, but a somewhat enthusiastic Merlin over estimated the space available in the double and caught the second element to acquire four faults, before skid-marking around to the final jump and finishing fractionally faster than Mark. The winning rosette was in the bag and was complemented by the overall league win, ensuring Letterkenny went home with heads held high.

The quantity and quality of prizes handed out on the day was a real tribute to club prize buyer Brenda Burke and especially to Stracomer’s Erin Fergus’s ability to sweet-talk sponsorship out of various sources. From bottles of Prosecco, through TRI vouchers to worm doses, coolers and licks, there were plenty of well laden clubbers heading home with smiles on their faces. Lynne Thompson had done trojan work over the season to keep track of scores from all the events held in the region, producing leading rider results in prompt fashion on Sunday. With the ever-present threat of Covid having prevented the organisation of our inter-club dinner dance for a second year we can only hope that the coming year will bring as much and more pleasure than the one we’ve just enjoyed.

Roll on the spring league.