Tommy Wade and Irish Show Jumping
THE R.D.S. SHOW JUMPING ARENA, August, 1967. A diminutive horse and a tight-lipped rider appear for their second round in the Nations' Cup. Twenty-two faults in their first round and a fall for the rider at the eleventh jump should have severely rattled their cO:1fidence. But, with icy calm and determination they approached each obstacle, willed on by an excited but tense and silent crowd. At a couple of fences the top pole trembled, but none fell. Finally, horse and rider sailed over the last jump for a clear round as wild cheering greeted the terse announcement of R.D.S. Secretary, John Wylie: "Ireland has won the Aga Khan Cup."
The horse? A gallant over-grown Connemara pony called Dundrum. The rider? Surely few in Ireland would fail to recognise the other half of one of show jumping's all-time favourite partnerships-Tommy Wade, the horseman from Tipperary, who jumped his way in the sixties to national adulation and international acclaim. For years the charisma of this Cinderella-on-horseback and the erstwhile cart-horse that was bought for a song guaranteed the commercial success of any show the pair attended.
Make no mistake: Wade had not won the Aga Khan Cup on his own. The Nations' Cup is a joint effort and Seamus Hayes, Billy Ringrose and Ned Campion shared the glory. But Wade's success in the Aga reflected hL success on a wider scale in showjumping circles at the time. In 1967, Wade and Dundrum were the undisputed kings of the green ring. In that year, and years preceding, Wade had captured prizes at almost every major international show, prizes that included the coveted King George V Cup at the White City, the Vaux Trophy at Newcastle, the Boylan Trophy at Ballsbridge, the Grand Prix at Brussels, the top prize at the Horse of the Year Show at Wembley, as well as being on the Irish team in two Aga Khan victories.
Now, at the age of thirty-two, Tommy Wade is far from the usual retiring age. N or is Dundrum senile by the standards of the showjumping ring, even though at 17 he is hardly a spring chicken. But Wade has not jumped at a major show for nearly two years. So what happened? Where is he? And why isn't he riding for his country?
Tommy Wade is alive and well and living in Tipperary. In the last few years he has been training greyhounds and racehorses. Now, six nights a week, he stands at the greyhound tracks of Thurles, Clonmel and Kilkenny, as one in a line of bookmakers laying the odds on the dogs-a far cry from the showjumping arenas of Europe where he had represented Ireland with such distinction. Why?
The reasons may be seen against a background of certain events that took place in 1967. Wade was outraged by what he said was the unfair treatment meted out to him following the "Dungarvan affair" of that year. The facts can be summarised briefly:
August 3rd: The Dungarvan Show, a few days before Horse Show week. After clear rounds, three remaining riders, Tommy Wade (with two horses), his brother Ned, and Gerry Costelloe asked the judges to divide the £102 prize money, rather than have them jump off on hard ground for the first four prizes. The judges refused and ordered the riders to jump off. The riders decided to split the money in equal shares and jump off anyway. Wade went first on Rolling Hills, knocked the first fence and withdrew. He reappeared on Dundrum, jumped the first fence and the elimination bell sounded because the starting bell had not rung. Costelloe appeared, took the wrong course (on what Wade claims was a "genuine mistake") and was eliminated. Wade's brother, Ned, also took the wrong course and was eliminated. The judges announced that no winner would be declared and that they were referring the matter to a disciplinary committee.
August 8th: The opening day of the R.D.S. Show. Tommy Wade declared: "I am not riding during this Horse Show unless I get an apology and retraction from the Show Jumping Association of Ireland." Co!. Jim Neylon, Chef d'Equipe of the Irish team, announced that if Wade would not ride at the show he would not be on the Irish team for the Aga Khan Trophy later in the week. Then, minutes before the start of an international competition, Wade relented and took part. On Friday, Ireland won the Nations' Cup.
October 27th: The Munster Region Committee of the Show Jumping Association of Ireland announced the suspension of the Wade brothers and Gerry Costelloe until June 30th, 1968, because they had "consciously violated the rules of the Association in an attempt to defeat the directions of the Judges." Tommy Wade announced that he would pack up and take Dundrum to England to the dismay of Irish showjumping fans.
Wade has always been a man to speak his mind-and he pulls no punches in the process. In a recent special interview with NUSIGHT at his home in Goold's Cross, Tipperary, in the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, Wade succinctly outlined the reasons behind his prolonged absence from the showjumping
scene and his views on the future of Irish showjumping.
"I was treated disgracefully from the word go. Of course you won't hear anyone in Dublin saying that, except a few fair-minded people. The showjumping crowd around Dublin are a rotten crowd-terribly jealous. The trouble with them is the trouble with Irish people generally: they're jealous of someone who gets to the top."
"Irish people suffer still from a peasant mentality, why the showjumping establishment have always regarded the Tipperaryman as some kind of equestrian maverick. Basically, Wade's criticisms are: the powers-that-be in Irish showjumping are nearsighted, old-fashioned, and biased in favour of Dublin and its environs.
He considers that some of the judges "wouldn't know the difference between showjumping and going up in space," to which he adds: "They should get some young men in. Things have changed since they were riding twenty years ago." On the question of amateur and professional status, he is equally blunt: "Diana Connolly Carew and myself were the only two real amateurs on the Irish team. We were riding our own horses. That amateur business is only a joke. It's all bull and should be scrapped. The people who frame these rules must be the greatest mugs of all time."
He has scant respect for the way the authorities organised the national teams: "If I was depending on the chefs d'equipe they sent abroad with Irish teams I'd never have had a chance. Harvey (Smith) and I would ask one of the foreign lads and then we'd go on ahead."
On the Irish team's showing in the 1968 Mexico Olympics: "I believe it cost £28,000 to send the team over to make a bags of the thing, and they're crying out for a training centre." Wade's first showjumping visit abroad was when he went to Manchester in 1957 and won the North of England Championship. He went on his own, paying his own expenses. Recalling this, he declares: "I was not picked by the crowd here until I started getting invitations from England."
His main criticism, however, and one to which he returns relentlessly, is that the showjumping authorities in Ireland ("the Dublin crowd") have little interest in what happens beyond the Pale. "They're killing the interest in the country," he says. "The best kid in the world could be in Cork or Limerick and no one up there will do a thing for him. They're ruining showjumping in Ireland. In this country, it's a case of who you are."
Col Jack Lewis, President of the Show Jumping Association of Ireland, calls Wade's claims of a pro-Dublin bias "complete and absolute nonsense." He regards the "pro-British" comment as ridiculous, and he is "perfectly happy" with the chefs d'equipe who accompany Irish teams abroad. At the international level, Co!. Lewis describes the present state of Irish showjumping as "not good," due chiefly to the fact that some of the horses that once were mainstays (Loch an Easpaig, Goodbye, Dundrum and Doneraile) are no longer with us. But he emphasises that the Army jumping team is better now than it has been for a decade and points to the fact that a number of younger horses and civilian riders are thrusting their way into the limelight.
On showjumping generally, Co!. Lewis declares: "It is not widely known that showjumping contributes a tremendous amount annually to charity. Of all the April to October shows in the Dublin area, there are only three that I know which are not for some charity or another." He estimates that the annual contribution to charity from showjumping in the Dublin area averages £100,000. He believes that the bad image which once attached to the social side of showjumping-the bun throwing and other inanities at the Hunt Ballshas largely disappeared, although he feels that the Dublin Horse Show has now become as much a "must" for the trendy English deb set as Ascot and Wimbledon.
Capt. Ian Hume Dudgeon, a committee member of the Show Jumping Association of Ireland regards Wade's view of a Dublin-based prejudice as "absolute nonsense." He says: "The so-called establishment isn't against anyone. At one time, things were rather run from Dublin, but now showjumping is one example of how all corners of Ireland can manage to co-operate happily in sport. Criticising the S.J.A.I. is "Six to fOl/r the field!" Tommy Wade pictured recently at Thurles Greyhound Stadium rather like running down the Government. Who puts them there?The S.J.A.I. are our representatives. If people don't like them they should change them."
On the judges, Hume Dudgeon comments: "It's quite easy to keep on good terms with the judges. If the competitors were in charge of a competition it would be a curious thing. The judges are doing their best. If you keep jumping around and avoid knocking the jumps it's pretty clear that you must win." On the state of Irish showjumping, Hume Dudgeon agrees with Lewis that we are going through a bad phase at the international level. "A lot of the good horses are being sold out of the country," he says, and adds: "But the Army is on the improvement and that is a healthy sign. In fact, it is doing better than ever. It's a curious attitude on the part of those people who criticise our sale of horses abroad. If we're an exporting country, we can't hope to keep all the best horses. The horses we export still make a great name for Ireland even if they jump for Italy. If we win the Aga Khan Trophy every ten years we are doing well. It's very hard to pick a team good enough to compete with the best in the world-from that point of view we are going through a bad phase." Referring tC' Tommy Wade, Hume Dudgeon comn.ents: "He's not happy. I don't know why. He seems to think that everyone is against him. It's sad to have a distinguished showjumper who thinks the administration of showjumping is all biased. I think he really believes it."
Well-known showjumper, Tommy Brennan, agrees that merit is the only basis for selection. "If you justify selection," he says, "it doesn't matter what part of the country you're from. Horses are scarce and the selectors are only too anxious to get the best." He agrees with Wade that there is scope for some "new blood" among the judges, but he declares: "With bigger sponsorship and competitions it is a difficult task and there are few people willing to take it on". Brennan agrees that at international level we are not doing well, but he is highly optimistic about the younger horses in the country - "We've never been so well off in this respect. In my opinion the standard is as high as it has ever been in Ireland. The Army are definitely on the up. The big problem is that we haven't got the horses for top competitions."
On this point, Brennan makes one concrete suggestion: "Until we have some kind of a federation fund we will never have a top international team like Italy, Germany or others. Anything with promise is bought up so if we are to keep the top horses in the country a lot of money must be made available for the purchase of top-class jumpers." Seamus Hayes, who with Goodbye rivalled Tommy Wade and Dundrum as public idols, is schooling a number of young horses on the Curragh. "I don't think I have another Goodbye," he says, but adds: "I do have a very promising horse called Greenside but he's very voung." Hayes' big concern is for training: "It's all a question of training. There isn't enough of it going on in the country. It's a matter of balancing natural ability and theory. We do have the natural ability - which is probably the most important-but you can't rule out the theory."
Col. William Rea, Officer Commanding the Army Equitation School at McKee Barracks, Dublin, is equally emphatic about training and experience. He took over the Equitation School in April of last year and immedi..tely set about implementing his own policies. Unlike his predecessors, who had been members of Army jumping teams, Rea, insisted adamantly on having an official trainer at the Equitation School. "This is where we started on the road back," he says.
One of the first things he did on assuming command of the School was to sell off a number of the sub-standard horses and to change the buying policy by purchasing fewer horses but of a much higher class. Among the horses currently at the School, Commandant Ringrose has Darragh and Bunratty; Capt. Campion has Liathdruim and Cluain Aodha; and Capt. Larry Kiely has Inis Cara, Cinn Saile, and Ardmore (which used to be ridden by Seamus Hayes). Another policy he introduced was that of keeping horses active by jumping them at shows more frequently than had previously been the case.
Col. Rea is enthusiastic about the S..A.I.'s concern for younger riders and he is happy too that owners are making their horses available. On the S.J.A.I.'s concentration on youth, he comments: "I think the problem is being tackled in the right way. There is no substitute at all for international experience."
In April 1968 when he took over the Equitation School, Co!. Rea forecasted that it would take three years to make the Army jumping team a force to be reckoned with. Already this year the Army's number of firsts at gymkhanas, local shows and-more important-in international competition greatly exceeds the corresponding period last year. (Example: 1969 has seen four first places and three seconds in international competition compared to a solitary third place last year.) Rea is optimistic about the progress of his forecast: "I'm very happy about it now in fact I think we're ahead of schedule. We need one more season and we will really be a force next year."
Internationally, Ireland may well be going through a "bad phase" at present. But national success in showjumping, as in any sport, has its ups and downs. Nobody will contradict world-famous English showjumper Harvey Smith when he says: "There has been nothing to compare in Ireland since Tommy Wade on Dundrum and Seamus Hayes on Goodbye." The success of men like Wade and Hayes, and the Army jumping team, in the last decade gave a definite boost to Irish showjumping both at home and abroad. Those days may be gone, but it would be the height of pessimism to believe we will not see similar ones again.
With a continually improving and successful Army team under the direction of Co!. William Rea and a number of good young riders thrusting their way forward, the future looks bright. We can hardly hope to win the Aga Khan this year-all are agreed that would be long odds against-but at the grassroots the state of Irish showjumping appears decidedly healthy.
It is unfortunate that Tommy Wade is at odds with the establishment. His skill and experience would be an invaluable asset at a time when they are needed most. His criticisms may be blunt, or even coloured by personal animosity, but criticism does serve to keep people on their toes. In this respect, at least, Tommy Wade is fulfilling a function - even if it is against the background of his self-imposed exile from the arena.
The Royal Dublin Society is highly confident that this month will see one of the biggest ever Horse Shows in its 238-year-old history. Opening on Tuesday, the show takes in a Sunday for the first time. In fact, with the exception of the Nations' Cup battle for the Aga Khan Trophy on Friday, the show's climax will come on Sunday with the International Grand Prix for the Irish Trophy, (the show's individual championship), as the highlight of the programme.
Most of Europe's jumping stars should be in attendance during the week, for the sponsorship of such firms as Guinness, Shellstar Ireland, Irish Shell and B.P., Player and Wills, and United Distillers has ensurde lucrative pickings for the winners. The Irish Govnerment has put up £5,000 for the Grand Prix itself which makes it the world's richest showjumping competition.
On Friday, the Aga Khan international needle match should see the Australian, Belgian, Swiss, Italian, German and British teams competing against the home side. For the first time, the flag of the Federation Equestre Internationale, the world ruling body on showjumping, will fly over the R.D.S. grounds: this year the European Ladies' Jumping Championship is to be decided at Dublin. The competition-which will include women riders from this country, Britain, Sweden, Portugal, Belgium, Italy and Germany-will extend over Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
An R.D.S. spokesman told NUSIGHT: "We are expecting a very successful show. We have the highest number of entries on record for show horses and we will have the biggest attendance of international teams for years."