A Tale of Two Horse Shows: From Dublin to Doha and back
The Dublin Horse Show has been held since 1864. At one stage it was held at Leinster House, now the home of the Irish Parliament, but since 1880 it has been held at the premises of the Royal Dublin Society in Ballsbridge, an affluent Dublin suburb.
I first attended the Dublin Horse Show with my father in the late 1950s. Here is a video (with ‘period’ commentary) of the Nations Cup competition in 1963. I may have been there with my parents as I saw Dundrum the little wonder horse, featured in this, competing on many occasions.
About five years ago I became a member of the Royal Dublin Society and I began to attend the Horse Show on a regular basis again. My late father had been a member for some years after he had retired. I am not a ‘horsey’ person myself but my two daughters took riding lessons and competed in some gymkhanas. I do have a cousin who is a race horse trainer and some other cousins who are jockeys. They have been successful at this and my cousin, the trainer, trained the winner of the Grand National in 2003.
Between 2005 and 2010 I worked in the Middle East State of Qatar. When in 2008 we saw a horse show/festival advertised for Doha ,with some Irish participation, we felt that we had to attend.
The first night we attended we arrived a bit late but just in time for the last of the judging of young Arabian horses. These are highly prized in the Gulf States and the top stallions are worth millions. They are bred to emphasise the features of the pure bred Arabian such as a very distinctive head shape. The handlers were very skilled and adept at getting the young horses to trot for the judges.
After the judging of the Arabian horses there was a display by a French equestrian troupe. This was in almost total darkness with just some ‘mood lighting’. High ISO was fairly new back in 2008 and I was amazed afterwards to see that I had cranked the ISO up to 12,800 on some shots.
The show jumping was held the following week. There were a number of side shows featuring local culture, particularly the beloved falcons which rank up there with camels as prized animals in the Gulf region.
The first half of the show jumping was held during daylight hours.
As the sun went down, we were entertained by the Qatari Army pipe band. Although they did not wear the kilts one would find in Scotland or Ireland, they made a magnificent sound and their appearance in such a faraway place was an unexpected joy.
The second half of the jumping programme was held after dark and it featured international and local riders. One of the fences was designed with Arabic coffee pots on either side.
It was a wonderful event with a mixture between local and international elements. The heat was much higher than we would be used to at horse shows in Ireland but we were delighted to find at the end of the evening that the overall winner was Irish rider, Denis Lynch.
After I came back to Ireland from Qatar I joined the RDS and I have attended the Dublin Horse Show every year since 2012. The show is held in late July or early August every year and it stretches over five days starting on a Wednesday and ending on a Sunday. I usually attend on the first day as the crowds are smaller. The busiest day is Friday when the Nations Cup (Aga Khan Trophy) takes place. The video from 1963 linked above shows that this was also the case many years ago.
The Horse Show includes a very large trade show of equestrian items and apparel which I will not show. Before going to the show jumping , I visit the judging rings where horses in various classes are displayed. Nowadays there seem to be two main categories, one where the horses are ridden and the other where horses are led. I go to these rings to photograph the judges and other participants as much as to photograph the horses. The mere addition of a bowler hat certainly adds to one’s air of authority around the parade rings but when items like walking sticks and boots are added, the picture is complete. The categories also include ladies’ side saddle events where another set of old time apparel pops up. While this may seem a little bit ‘retro’, it is wonderful to see some standards have not dropped in our world where getting dressed properly often seems like an optional extra nowadays.
The same applies to those who only come to watch. Their conversations about horses seem to be most knowledgeable and us city folk can just watch and listen to their familiarity with horses with some awe.
When I was at school many years ago we had a teacher who used to wonder what he called ‘horse show people’ did for the other 51 weeks of the year. I still don’t know the answer to that one, but I imagine that it has something to do with horses. It strikes me that it is an all-consuming passion, even more so than photography.
The show jumping takes place in two arenas. A smaller one in the Simmonscourt Extension for junior riders.
The international competitions are held in the main arena which also serves as a rugby ground and a concert venue at other times. Riders come from all over the world to compete at the Dublin Horse Show, both individually and in national teams for the Nations Cup. I particularly like the speed competitions which are against the clock, as well as including jumping faults.
Most of the riders are professionals riding attached to large stables with wealthy owners. It can also help if you have rich relations like the following two ladies who are the daughters of Bruce Springsteen (who performed many times at the RDS) and Michael Bloomberg respectively. Both of these ladies are very skilled riders and have been on the USA team for the Nations Cup.
Just as in Doha, there are interval displays by equestrian troupes. One of the best ones in recent years involved scurry driving.
There you have it; two horse shows held in different cultural environments over 5,000 kilometers apart. The common element is the love of horses which is as strong among the Arab people as it is with Irish people.
Finally, for the technically minded, the cameras used included the Nikon D3, D800E, Lumix GX1, the Fujifilm X-T1 and Fujifilm X-Pro2. No Leica cameras were used or abused in the production of this article but some Leica lenses rendered valiant service. The usual St Patrick’s Blessing will go to anyone who can identify one photo each taken by the five different cameras.