Clonmel native Rosemary Gaffney and Mooncoin-born James Dwyer were the talk of last week’s Hartpury International Dressage Show in England as preparations for London 2012 gather momentum.
Not only did the pair finish in the top three of all their individual Para Dressage competitions, but they were also members of the second-placed Irish team behind the host country after three tough days of action. This left the team fifth in the world and in a very strong position to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games.
Riding her own Aldham Mill Dubloon, Rosemary rose to the top on the first day of competition and scored an unbeatable 68.375% in the Grade IV class to see off James, riding Orlando, on 68.215%. This was unprecedented in the sport and unique as both are connected to Kildalton College. Rosemary is head of equine studies at the Piltown venue, while James’ father Willie is well known as a former employee.
The following day Rosemary came close to a second win, but had to give way to top British rider Sophie Wells, who beat her by a mere two points. Close behind in third though was James, who reversed the placings on the final day. Though beaten again by Sophie Wells, James was thrilled with his second placing ahead of 2010 winner Rosemary, who then joined him on the podium along with Eilish Byrne and Helen Kearney as they collected their prizes for second place in the team event.
Commenting on her win and the successes of all nine riders who competed at the show, Rosemary said: “It was a fantastic week for everyone and a most memorable win for me. It is always tough to compete on the international stage, but the Irish showed what we are capable of doing. Now we will have to keep up the momentum as we hope to qualify for the Olympic Games.”
An experienced dressage rider, Rosemary suffered a serious leg injury in an accident several years ago. As a result she was no longer able to compete fairly against able-bodied riders, so she decided to undergo an assessment for classification within Para Equestrian Ireland and was awarded Grade IV.
This movement is dedicated to riders with disabilities wishing to compete against each other, but on a level platform. Therefore riders are graded according to their disability from Grade 1a to Grade IV. Grade 1a would be classified as the most disabled.
Also competing in Grade IV is James, 41, who lost his right leg through illness many years ago. Now based in America, James represented Ireland at last year’s World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, where he finished a creditable fifth. He travelled to England especially for this latest competition, aware of the importance of Ireland taking in many shows in order to gain experience and notoriety.
The Irish team will now prepare for the European Championships in Moorsele, Belgium in September. Another series of top results would set them up for London, where Ireland could be represented by a Para Dressage team for the very first time.
Also competing at Hartpury was Helen Kearney, Angela Lyons, Breda Bernie, Kathryn Wheelock, Gerry Savage, Eilish Byrne, and Kate Kerr-Horan.