By Horse Sport Ireland

The FEI/WBFSH held their 25th annual five-, six-, and seven-year-old young-horse showjumping championships from September 18-22 in Lanaken, Belgium, where there were over 712 entries in the three age-group classes, representing 36 studbooks. Returning a mere 12 months from their gold, silver, and bronze success in the five-year-old championship, they returned to win two gold, one silver and one bronze this year. In addition, Ireland’s Michael Pender won a silver medal riding a non-Irish-bred horse.

This event is the perfect platform to present the best in Irish breeding, production, and rider talent. Irish riders bagged four of the nine medals awarded.
In Ireland there is particular emphasis on the development production of young horses through various tailored studbook showjumping leagues (eight events) and national championships at the Dublin Horse Show.
In the early part of the season these competitions do not require horse to jump against the clock, the objective being to develop the rideability, co-ordination, and balance of these young five- and six-year-old horses. This provides green horses with a positive introduction to their showjumping careers with the emphasis on jumping clear rounds.
Later in the season, when these skills have been established and the horses have had the opportunity to strengthen and develop, jumping within a tighter time allowed is introduced for the five-year-olds, while jumping against the clock on the second day is introduced for the six-year-olds. The seven-year-old horses compete in normal two phase classes.

Gold for 5yo Rockwell RC

In Lanaken, the five-year-old final saw 11 horses qualify for the jump-off, including Mikey Pender with Chacco Bay (Oldbg) and Jason Foley riding Rockwell RC (ISH). Foley rode a flawless 37.72-second clear in the jump-off to win gold, closely followed by Pender clocking 38.15 seconds to claim the silver medal.
Ronan Byrne quietly recalled that when first attending Lanaken 25 years ago that it would be great to have a horse competing there. These wishes finally came true when Rockwell RC delivered with a gold medal – the first horse Byrne had bred to qualify and compete in this championship. He explained that “breeding is thankless at times, so these successes re-affirm the breeder’s efforts, also acknowledging that without the team around the horse, they couldn’t have pulled it off”.
Byrne commended the young Irish talents of both horses and riders that were clearly evident on the ground in Lanaken. “I’m a small breeder, I now only have one or two mares. You just have to realise that everything you breed isn’t going to be a world champion. I reduced my mare numbers from eight to two and went back to this line with my foundation mare Miss Libero. We love horses, it’s what we do, but to breed a world champion – I mean it doesn’t get any better. You know Jason, Sean, Ger - everyone involved, they have all been fantastic. It was great to just be on the ground in Lanaken to see her, the atmosphere, and calibre of the show. We are over the moon, she was unbelievable.  Breeding takes years of work and it is nice to get a reward. Without breeders there are no horses and no sport, and it’s great to see so much Irish young horse and rider talent, the successes achieved at Lanaken are just fantastic.”
Performance is right through Rockwell RC’s pedigree, her half-brother Sir Douglas 10 (ISH) won gold at the Millstreet FEI European children-on-horses individual championships. Meanwhile her UK based half sister, Burnlea Sea Dancer (ISH), recently qualified for the Le Lion d’Angers eventing world championship for young horses.

Continuing Irish success in 6yo final

The six-year-old final saw a further three Irish horses advance to the jump-off phase where Mikey Pender’s run for medals was not yet over. Finishing his round with 40.74 seconds, he collected another silver riding MHS Cardenta (ISH), finishing just one-tenth-of-a-second behind the coveted gold medal position. Kilkenny’s Vincent Byrne also claimed an excellent seventh place finish with Be Aware (ISH).
Thomas Brennan highlights the importance of breeding from a good performance line, noting that the 1986 mare Grange Susy (ISH) is prominent in the back lines of many Irish Lanaken medallists. Both MHS Cardenta and the seven-year-old gold medallist Cuffesgrange Cavadora (ISH), have Grange Susy (ISH) in their pedigree through the diamond Serpent (ISH) and Cavalier Royale (Holst) bloodlines. The Grange Susy line has previously seen success at this young horse world championships: MHS Washington (ISH) won silver in 2015, while Ballypatrick Mystique (ISH) won bronze in 2010. According to Brennan; “The Young Horse Championship is the biggest global platform for breeders like us, with horses that age at this standard. Coming second out of over 230 odd horses is, of course, fantastic for our breeding programme, as it’s not every day you can breed a horse of that nature, but it certainly makes you want to breed the next one! But also huge well done to the six-year-old gold medallist Chao Lee – a lovely horse, I wouldn’t mind owning it myself.”
The true success for Brennan lines in the wealth and consistency of the performance lines across his breeding programme at MHS stud with his wife Sinead. “In all honesty I am truly delighted with the consistency and success of our bloodline, it really shows that results happen when you breed through proper lines. The back pedigree of MHS Cardenta and the seven-year-old gold medallist, Cuffesgrange Cavadora, contains a list of hugely successful horses: Special Envoy, Diamond Exchange, Radar, Harley – Mary Hughes was the leading European breeder with just two mares. It just shows what good bloodlines and breeding decisions can do.”

Flawless 7yo final for Cuffesgrange Cavadora

The last class of the week saw the seven-year-olds go head-to-head for the final three medals. Seamus Hughes-Kennedy was last to go in the jump-off riding Cuffesgrange Cavadora (ISH) by Z Wellie 72 (KWPN) out of Cuffesgrange Cavalidam (ISH) by Luidam (KWPN) bred by Eamon Sheehan and owned by Clare Hughes. Only 17-years-old himself, Hughes-Kennedy rode a flawless 38.58-second clear round to take the final gold medal on offer, and concluding  another fantastic Lanaken for Ireland.

Sheehan: A breeder’s perspective

Speaking to Eamon Sheehan, breeder of Cuffesgrange Cavadora (ISH) it’s clear that the enormity of his success hasn’t quite sunk in yet. This was his first time going to Belgium for the young horse championships, which he attended with his brother Ronan. “It’s just surreal, she really was incredible, she’s about 16.2hh (1m67) and maybe considered a little bit small, but she makes up for every bit of it and is so powerful off the ground. She jumped last year in the six-year-old class with Ger O’Neill and to come back again this year and win the seven-year-olds – it hasn’t quite hit me yet.
“We bred her dam, Cuffesgrange Cavalidam (ISH) who’s had great success with Max Washman taking both individual under-16 European silver in 2017 followed by the under-16 champion in 2018. We sold both of these mares to Clare Hughes and we are hugely fortunate where they ended up. Clare produces them so well, and Seamus, at just 17 world champion, he is an incredible rider. So much effort goes into the breeding and production of young horses and often the breeder gets overlooked so it is nice to get the recognition, but I am lucky that my good horses have good owners because without them we couldn’t have these successes.”
Watching the pair approach the final fence is something that won’t be off his mind for some time. “At the last corner Seamus took a hold and it all went into slow motion, he had less than three seconds and we were watching the clock and the final fence – it was so close we didn’t know if they’d won or not. But nothing phases Seamus, he really is fantastic.”
Sheehan explains that his foundation mare for the line, Cuffesgrange Millennium (ISH), is one of his best assets and he’s still has many of Cuffesgrange Cavadora’s half siblings.
Horse Sport Ireland’s director of breeding and programmes, Alison Corbally, was on the ground at Lanaken had this to say of team Ireland’s success: “It was a proud day to be Irish for all involved in the tremendous success at the FEI-WBFSH world showjumping young horse championships. We had 28 young Irish Sport Horses competing, of which 14 qualified for the final out of a total entry of 712 of the best young horses in the world. The Irish horses and riders won two gold and two silver medals today which is an unprecedented achievement. Congratulations to all the breeders, owners, and riders on their wonderful success. A special thanks to the grooms, coaches, all the background support team who help make days like this possible. Personally, I would like to thank our chef d’equipe, Comdt. John Ledingham, for his dedication, attention to detail,, and commitment, our generous sponsors Horseware and all the Irish who attended and helped to again create such positive team spirit and a fantastic result.”
Ledingham, who headed the team, described the value of Irish-wide talent: “It is a pleasure to work with young talented, dedicated, professional riders, and their support team to achieve such success on the world stage. This championship is also a fantastic opportunity to showcase the qualities of the Irish Sport horse to a discerning international audience. It also provides tremendous recognition for the successful Irish breeders. The championships attract the top-ranking riders in the world with their best selected representatives of all the studbooks. The medal success is a true reflection of the Irish Sport Horse breeders and producers in Ireland and none of this can happen without the support and commitment of the breeding department in Horse Sport Ireland.”

Breeding of Irish Sport Horse medallists:

• Cuffesgrange Cavadora (ISH) by Z Wellie 72 (KWPN) out of Cuffesgrange Cavalidam (ISH) by Luidam (KWPN), bred by Eamonn Sheehan, owned by Claire Hughes, ridden by Seamus Hughes Kennedy
• MHS Cardenta (ISH) by Cardento (HOLST) out of Willow Point (ISH) by Diamond Serpent (ISH), bred by Thomas Brennan, owned by Bravo Hughes Ltd, ridden by Michael Pender
• Rockwell RC (ISH) by Kannan (KWPN) out of Urban Sea (ISH) by Guidam (SF), bred by Ronan Byrne, owned by Sean Cubitt, ridden by Jason Foley.