Para Equestrian Ireland has gone from strength to strength over the years and this could really be seen at the London 2012 Paralympics, when a team of four riders – Gerry Savage, Eilish Byrne, Helen Kearney and James Dwyer – won a Bronze medal as well as Helen Kearney who claimed two individual medals, Silver and Bronze.
The first medal came from Helen Kearney and her ever faithful partner Mister Cool (ISH). Helen achieved an incredible score of 76.70% which earned her a SILVER medal. With one medal in the bag all at PEI were in celebratory mode, a top five placing on any international stage is an incredible achievement, but a Silver medal at a Paralympic Games is truly the stuff of dreams. Little did we know that Helen’s medal was only a kick-start for the success that was to follow throughout the Games.
After her success Helen said: “I am absolutely thrilled. I felt confident and knew that I had done what I could to prepare….It is an amazing feeling, a dream come true. I saw my family and it inspired me to perform in the competition.”
Helen was not the only rider to shine and to prove that hard work really does pay off, Geraldine (Gerry) Savage and Blues Tip Top Too achieved a personal best of 68.00% in the Grade 1a Championship, resulting in a seventh place finish. James Dwyer and Orlando also impressed achieving a very creditable score of 68.516% in the Grade IV individual dressage championship. Eilish Byrne finished fifth in the individual Grade II competition with the very impressive score of 73.429%.
With such high individual scores, there was great excitement that the team may attain a team medal. After a few nail-biting moments, many dreams were realised when it was announced that the team had earned TEAM BRONZE.
With a TEAM BRONZE and INDIVIDUAL SILVER set to return to Ireland, the riders were very happy with their achievements, however they were not going to settle for this already impressive medal haul.
Helen further boosted her medal tally with INDIVIDUAL BRONZE in her Freestyle test with the aptly named Mister Cool (ISH), with Geraldine narrowly behind in fifth place. James Dwyer and Orlando finished in sixth place in their Freestyle final.
The medal haul was nearly added to once more with Eilish Byrne narrowly missing out on a medal in the individual Freestyle test Grade II event. Eilish was in Bronze medal position with one rider to go, however she was just beaten into fourth position when the final rider Germany’s Angelika Trabert posted a score of 76.15%, less than one per cent higher than Eilish and Youri’s score. After the event Eilish stated; “I am absolutely delighted. To be fourth in the world is a magnificent feeling”. She also praised Youri as she “couldn’t have asked for anything more” from her impressive gelding.
Team Manager Dara Kearney was delighted with the performance of the team: “The riding was beautiful. I am so proud of them all.”
Horse Sport Ireland’s Chairman Joe Walsh said: “To win a team bronze and two individual medals is simply outstanding. I want to send the congratulations and gratitude of the entire Irish equestrian community to Helen and her teammates Eilish, James and Geraldine. Their performances have capped what has been a phenomenal six weeks for Irish equestrian sport.”
The success of the riders was a truly remarkable achievement, given that this was the first time the Irish Para Equestrian Team had qualified for the Games. With such a fantastic feat under their belt, their is surely no stopping PEI now.