Unforgettable Week at McKee Barracks for Two Irish Pony Club Members

Congratulations to Irish Pony Club members, Elisa O'Connor from Sligo Hunt Branch and Jack Ryan from Kilkenny Hunt Branch who had an unforgettable week at the Army Equitation School in McKee Barracks last week (February 18th to 22nd). 

Elisa and Jack won the Irish Pony Club (IPC) Show Jumping Classic Bursary to McKee Barracks at the IPC Show Jumping Classic Finals in September 2018.  The Irish Pony Club has an excellent relationship with the Army Equitation School and we were delighted to be able to continue this partnership with Elisa and Jack.  The tuition received during this week is invaluable and offers a fantastic opportunity to our members to develop and improve their skills.

Elisa O'Connor has written a wonderful report detailing their experience at McKee Barracks and providing us with a flavour of the activities that both herself and Jack partook in during the week....

"Myself from Sligo Hunt Branch and Jack Ryan from the Kilkenny Hunt Branch had the honour of receiving a bursary to go to the Army Equitation School for a week and I would first like to thank the Irish Pony Club, the Equitation School officers and staff and everybody else involved for this amazing opportunity.

On Sunday as we arrived in the Barracks, we were kindly greeted by our officer 2nd Lt. Benson Byrne, who more than accommodated us for the week and made us feel right at home and part of the whole operation in McKee.  Benson gave us a tour of the grounds – we familiarised ourselves with the place for the following morning.  After the horses had settled, we headed on back to the fabulous Ashling Hotel just a short walking distance from the Barracks which the Irish Pony Club had kindly sponsored for the week.

Monday morning began with a PowerPoint presentation and briefing about the history of the school with Comdt. Crean.  We were then introduced to Cpl Burke who was our mentor for the week.  Our first flat lesson with Crean brought us back to the key basics that we sometimes lose track of when we focus too much on jumping clear rounds.  Later that evening we had a jumping lesson incorporating gridwork to help both the horse use himself better as well as help the rider’s position.  This set us up nicely for the week ahead.

Tuesday started with a course design session with Benson where we got into the nitty gritty of all thing’s feet, yards, and inches.  Our flat lesson on this occasion incorporated some of the more challenging but vital aspects of flatwork like lateral work which really put our horses and our minds to the test.  This was followed by a lunging demo with 2nd Lt. Whyte, who is of course a successful former member of the Irish Pony club, which is always a delight to see.  Our jumping lesson that afternoon was very much focused on what we had learnt from Benson that morning so we were able to put what we had learned into practice.

Day three began with a flat Demo with Captain Geoff Curran aboard an 8-year-old gelding that wouldn’t have been the easiest in his string – allowing us to clearly see the horse’s improvement throughout the session.  We were also fortunate enough to get a lesson with the legend himself.  We worked on key elements on the flat that are essential for us to ride a good round of show jumping.  That afternoon we visited Lisadell Veterinary Hospital where we met the vet and the interns who gave us a detailed tour of the premises and discussed the veterinary practices that take place there.

On Thursday we met with and observed the farriers work in the equitation’s own forge, focusing particularly on the hot shoeing process. We then had a canter pole demo with Lt. Kehoe who made the exercise look seamless.  We later attempted to follow in her footsteps but it proved more difficult than expected, nonetheless improving greatly throughout the session.  After Lunch Lt. Whyte put our legs to the test as we got a lunge lesson and got the opportunity to ride one of the equitation schools very own. In our jumping lesson we worked up to jumping a short course of fences in preparation for D day.  

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On Friday we prepared everything down to a T for Inspection with Benson.  Once every inch of our yard, tack and horses themselves had been inspected we were given the all clear to ride!  We built a course under Comdt. Creans instructions, discussed the lines, walked the course and later rode it.  She tested us to say the least, including tricky lines normally only seen at grand prix level but because of the training we received throughout the week we breezed through it with ease.  At last it was our time to shine and show off everything we had absorbed throughout our stay in the Barracks.

Throughout the week we also had numerous informative stable management lessons with Cpl Burke on feeding, veterinary practices, care of the horse’s foot and shoeing, and stable management standards and yard routine in the equitation school.  Throughout our stay we got a real insight into how meticulous the daily running of the equitation school is - A behind the scenes look at all the hard work and dedication that every member of staff offers to the school.  Everything from the way the horses are treated like royalty to the respect that exists between all members of staff - immensely hard-working grooms included.  It was amazing to see the highest level of professionalism that exists both at shows as well as at home, which is one the major things that separates this yard to any other show jumping yard I’ve been to.  The standards are higher than one could possibly imagine and you can’t fully understand it until you see it first hand for yourself.  It was an honour to engage in the training system the equitation school designed and developed with the top riders and coaches in the country, and I would do it again in a heartbeat if I could.  It was truly a week I’ll never forgot and I would highly urge younger members of the Irish Pony Club especially Sligo Hunt Pony Club as we have very limited top coaches and facilities nearby to aim towards the 1.20m Show Jumping Classic competition as the prize is phenomenal – All the money in the world couldn’t buy it!"

Thank you Elisa for this excellent report.  Well done to both Elisa and Jack who represented the IPC with distinction in McKee Barracks last week.  Thank you to all of the staff at McKee Barracks for the tuition and support that they provided.  A special word of thanks to Lt. Col. Tom Freyne and Comdt. Sharon Crean for all of their assistance in organising this bursary.  We look forward to continuing this partnership into the future.  

Qualifier dates and details for the 2019 Show Jumping Classic will be finalised and announced shortly.  This competition is open to all members of the IPC and we would encourage members to consider participating and competing for 2019.  There is a class for everyone from 90cm to 1m, 1.10m and 1.20m.  Next year, it could be you representing the IPC and availing of this fantastic opportunity at the Army Equitation School!

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