Time to Plan Your Visit
The Annual Royal Dublin Society Horse Show is truly an international affair, with visitors from France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, America and many more countries who are there to see some of the finest horses in the world. Of particular interest is the Irish Hunter. During the course of the week of the 3-7th of August this year, what has become known as ‘The World’s Most Charming Horse Show’ will attract some 80,000 visitors to the 40 acre site of the RDS Showgrounds in the centre of Dublin City in Ireland.
There they will see the cream of Irish horses competing for the most sought after prizes in equestrian sport in Ireland. More than 1,400 horses and ponies will compete in over 100 competitions with the owner’s dream of saying, “My horse won at the RDS in Dublin.” The beautifully manicured main arena has seen a succession of world dignitaries like presidents, crown heads of Europe and the Middle East, Hollywood film stars and other household names relaxing from their daily duties and mingling with the crowds enjoying the spectacle. Film director John Huston bred Connemara ponies while he lived in Ireland, and showed them at the RDS. In fact he has the distinction of being the only owner to show a pony that gave birth to a foal the following day in the stables at the RDS!
The Royal Dublin Society was founded in 1731 to advance agriculture, arts, industry, commerce, science and technology. To assist the breeding and development of the Irish horse, on Tuesday 28th July 1868 at the instigation of Lord Howth, the Council of the RDS held its first showjumping competition initially known as a ‘leaping competition,’ on the lawns of Leinster House, now the home of the Irish Parliament. The prize money on offer was £55. The course consisted of a High Leap, a Wide Leap, and a Stone Wall that stood at 5 feet 10 inches jumped from wet sawdust. There were 366 entries and 6,029 spectators. The winner was a horse called Shaun Rhue owned by Richard Flynn, a sheep farmer from County Roscommon. Apparently Thomas Conolly of Castletown House in County Kildare, whose family were masters of the Kildare Foxhounds, purchased the horse for £1,000, a remarkable amount of money at the time.
The show is substantially larger today with in-hand showing classes and national and international showjumping competitions for ponies and horses. The main arena hosts the Parade of Champion for all classes. This is a real sight to see, first all the in-hand, mares and foals and then the ridden champions, followed by the native breeds like Irish Draught horses and Connemara ponies. But pride of place goes to the Supreme Hunter Champion, which is the winning horse from the winners of the lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight classes. Frances Cash shares the record of six championships and she will come back this year to try and break the record. It was here that double World Champion event rider Bruce Davidson’s Eagle Lion was first spotted by Kathleen Crompton, who hunts with Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Hounds in Unionville, Penn., and she recommended the horse to Mrs. George Strawbridge. The horse later went on to win Badminton Horse Trials, and represent the US in international eventing all over the world. Another horse, All the Aces, is in Davidson son’s Buck’s stable in New Jersey. He won the 4 year old Young Eventer Class at the RDS with Clare Lambert on board. He is considered a future Olympic horse for the US team. Then there is a parade of foxhounds, and more recently the Dunhallow Foxhounds, founded in 1745, often referred to as ‘The Dashing Duhallows’ displayed their Old English hounds in the main arena. The huntsman asked them to stand on the double bank at one end of the arena, while he walked to the other end. He then blew his hunting horn and they raced across the arena to him to the applause of the crowds. One of their joint masters is Kate Jarvey, whose maiden name is Lilly, a member of the family that founded US global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in Indiana in 1876. Kate owns Mellon Stud in County Limerick, the centre of some of the finest hunting country on the east coast of Ireland.
On Nations Cup day the stands around the main arena fill quickly as spectators like to see the arrival of the dignitaries including the ambassadors occupying the diplomatic boxes overlooking the arena including the US Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney and his wife Patricia. The Rooneys are from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Mr Rooney is probably better known at home as chairman emeritus of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. Then the arrival of the President of Ireland and the parade of the combined army bands leading each national team competing in the Meydan sponsored Nations Cup. The cup was presented to the RDS in 1926 by His Royal Highness The Aga Khan, the father of the present Aga Khan. The US flag was carried by an Irish army soldier for the 2009 team of Beezie Madden, Cara Raether, Laura Kraut and Charlie Jayne and in 2010 for team members Beezie Madden, Mclain Ward, Carl Raether and Rich Fellows who was riding the Irish bred Flexable. The Irish crowds love to cheer on Irish bred horses on other nation cup teams just as they did when McKinlaigh and Gina Miles won the individual Olympic silver medal (eventing) in Beijing for the USA. At the end of the Aga Khan Nations Cup competition last year the Netherlands won with Ireland second and the USA in third divided by the narrowest of margins, just one fence between them and the winners. But the following day was a good pay day for US team member Mclain Ward riding Anatares winning $100,000 in the Longines Grand Prix with Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut picking up prize money also. It is interesting that the present manager of the US team, George Morris, won this event in 1958.
But there are many other spectacles to see. Last year American horse whisperer Monty Roberts ran free demonstrations all week. For the fashion set there is the Best Dressed Lady competition with a prize valued at $14,000, and additional prizes for Best Dressed Man and the Most Creative Hat. Children are catered to. They can watch the pony competitions or go for a pony ride. And if they like entertainment they can watch the Punch & Judy Show.
The RDS Library is the oldest library in Ireland, and during horse show week they hold equestrian related exhibitions. More recently they featured The Horses of the US Presidents exhibition in conjunction with White House curators, and another on James Hoban 1758-1831 from County Kilkenny in Ireland who emigrated to Philadelphia and set up an architects practice after his training at the Royal Dublin Society School under Thomas Ivory. George Washington, of course a horseman and master of hounds met Hoban on his southern tour in 1791, and was so impressed with his designs, particularly the Charleston County Courthouse in South Carolina (1787). In 1792 he was contracted to design the White House.
The Royal Dublin Society Horse Show is an institution in Ireland and has very pleasant memories for equestrians all over the world. This year it will have many more surprise events, and of course the Nations Cup will be hotly contested in the main arena, and maybe Frances Cash will create a new record and win her seventh Supreme Hunter Championship?
Equestrian enthusiasts who would like more information on the Royal Dublin Society Horse Show can look up the RDS web site, www.rds.ie.