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WoSJ Exclusive; Robert Splaine on the Top League, the Europeans and the importance of good owners

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Robert Splaine has had a successful season with Ireland so far. Photo by Hanne Christensen.Robert Splaine is Ireland’s chef d’equipe, and has had a very successful Top League season so far. WoSJ sat down with Splaine to find out more about the Irish team, and about the priorities for the rest of the outdoor season.

Has the Top League success for the Irish team been unexpected, considering the fact that the team has been left without Jessica Kürten’s former strong string of horses and also without Denis Lynch?

“When the Irish team hits form as they did in La Baule then anything is possible, so a result like we achieved wasn’t totally unexpected. Trying to predict showjumping results is not easy; in the FEI Top League every team is strong. Horses with the ability to compete successfully at Top League-level are rare and it’s always unfortunate to lose a horse of that quality no matter what the reason. The team is not without Denis, he will appear at Falsterbo and Aachen to begin with. We are short on top horses as many countries are, so I have to use our resources wisely. Our priority this season is our qualifying attempt for the Olympics in London – the Olympics are on our doorstep and of course it is of big importance to be   there – so the main focus this season is the Europeans in Madrid. For that reason I use the Top League to prepare championship combinations in the right way, but on the other hand I also have to keep in mind that riders have other shows to consider as well, particularly the riders with a high ranking. It’s a constant negotiation with the riders as to what they need, but also as to what I need for the team. We would like to stay in the Top League of course and with that in mind I have to do everything possible to develop new combinations to help us achieve our goals,” Splaine explains.

Robert Splaine with Ireland's winning team in La Baule. Photo by PSV/Jean Morel.As to the Irish rider’s brilliant results, Splaine also points out the importance of good owners;

“We have been very lucky with the owners behind the horses on the Irish team, and how they are supporting the riders in their careers. Without them nothing of this would happen. Some of our riders such as Shane Sweetnam and Jennifer Crooks are based in the US – as are their owners, and ahead of the FEI Top League in Europe I had a look at them in Florida and decided to bring them to Europe. When it comes to selecting the team, I look to all the Irish riders no matter where they are based,” Splaine says about his choices.

Which riders are currently on the list for the Europeans?

“Last week I had ten riders on my long list. This week I have nine, Cameron Hanley injured himself and is now out. The reality is that when it comes down to it, it is never easy for any country to put a strong quality team with all the desired ingredients in place for such a test and Ireland is no exception to that rule. Riders such as Billy and Denis look like strong candidates for the team,” Splaine says. As to whether or not Aachen will be the big test before the Europeans, Splaine replies that he won’t deliberately use the same team at the Europeans as in Aachen, but it may well be the European team.

Do you feel that the pressure is off in the Top League now that the team has had such a good start?

“In this sport the pressure is never off, but yes we have had a fantastic start, and I am very proud that we won in La Baule and were third in Rome – and that we are now number two on the ranking. Our achievements are very good for being such a small country. My overall plan would not change even though we have done well. The Europeans is my focus, and would be even if we should be last or indeed first in the Top League at this point,” Splaine lets us know.

A strong candidate for the Europeans; Billy Twomey - here on Tinka's Serenade. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.Which team do you think looks strong this season?

“The Dutch team looks good, they have won twice already this year, but at the end I have no doubt it will be a battle – and anyone could be relegated,” Robert says. “It will also be difficult to qualify for the Olympics as many strong countries are competing for qualification. Should qualification be about consistency Ireland would be well qualified. Unfortunately it is not all about consistency, and it all depends on a couple of days of top jumping in Madrid in September and whether our team can put it together on those couple of days or not – last year we won in Aachen, probably the toughest test and with the exact same team at the WEG we were not successful,” Splaine points out before he continues “However, if I can get the team I want to Madrid in good shape and with one of the most important ingredients of all; good team spirit – then I believe we can achieve our goals,” Splaine finishes.

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