IN A mammoth high-penalty competition on one of the world's biggest show jumping courses, Ireland finished fifth tonight (Thursday) in the Nations' Cup at Aachen, Germany.
With only one double clear round recorded in the eight-nation contest, by winning Netherlands team rider Gerco Schroder, the Irish quartet of Dermott Lennon, Shane Breen, Shane Carey and Billy Twomey fought bravely to improve their halftime sixth position, but the notoriously unforgiving Aachen track continued to take its toll and at the end of the two rounds, Ireland moved up just one place.
However, the points gained mean that Ireland as a nation is in fourth place overall in the Furusiyya Europe Division One leaderboard, with just the Dublin Horse Show left on its qualifying score schedule for 2013, ahead of the Barcelona final in September. The top six teams will qualify for the final.
Ireland's best-scoring rider at Aachen was Co. Down pathfinder Dermott Lennon, who took down just one fence with an added time penalty in each round with Judith Sossick's Irish Sport Horse Loughview Lou Lou. Tipperary's Shane Breen on his own bay stallion Balloon had eight faults in the first round but recovered to make just one error in the second, while Limerick's Shane Carey started off with eight faults on Jim Bolger and Mel Sutelipp's grey gelding Ballymore Eustace, but ran into trouble in the second round and ended on a discard score of 27.
Cork's Billy Twomey as Irish anchorman had two jumping mistakes and one time fault in the first round with the chestnut mare Tinka's Serenade, which he owns jointly with Sue Davies, but rallied in the final round, coming home with just five faults.
However, an epic battle at the top of the leaderboard between Belgium and the Netherlands outshone all other team efforts, with the Dutch claiming victory on 14 faults after Belgium's last man in, Ludo Philippaerts, brought down the very last fence on the course.
Afterwards Ireland's show jumping manager Robert Splaine said: "Aachen was a pre-selected show for us and we always knew it would be a difficult task and indeed it proved to be so. However I would like to praise the professionalism and team spirit of our riders, which was exemplary.
"A case in point would be Dermott Lennon, who designed his competition programme over the last three months with Loughview Lou Lou so that she would peak at this Nations' Cup. They delivered two solid rounds with scores that counted in both instances. I'd also once again like to thank all the owners for making their horses available to us at Aachen."