After a two-year hiatus, organisers have hailed the return of the Dublin Horse Show as a success with crowds larger overall than when the event was last run in 2019.
Sunday’s attendance brought the total number of spectators for this year’s five day event at the Ballsbridge venue to more than 100,000. RDS Director of Commercial Michele Griffin said the numbers were very positive with crowds filling the venue and traders running the many food stalls and clothing booths doing a brisk business.
Given the enforced break, Dublin Horse Show Director Pat Hanly admitted there had been some anxiety among the organisers coming into the season.
“When you look at other sports throughout the spring and summer, attendance has not been strong. But we came back a lot stronger than we left,” he said.
In addition to returning spectators, Mr Hanly said, new people have picked up the sport during over the course of the pandemic, leading to a more diverse audience.
“During the pandemic, people realised they needed to slow down a little bit,” he said. “One of the things about horses is that they force you to stay in the moment because they are in the moment. That’s one of the skillsets that we’ve lost because we are all so busy.”
In 2020, the Dublin Horse Show was cancelled because of the Covid pandemic and though it had been hoped that it would return in 2021, the ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic meant that it ultimately had to be dramatically scaled back with a smaller, national show taking place behind closed doors. That setback only added to the sense of delight that the full show returned this year.
Despite the two-year gap, Mr Hanly said that getting back into the swing of things was fairly easy.
Early ticket sales indicated that it was going to be good year, he says, and while final revenues won’t be available until next week, Ms Griffin is confident that between ticket sale income, vendor stall profits and revenue from sponsors who remained with RDS during the two-year lapse, they will break even.
The financial side of things is important, of course. The RDS was set up as a nonprofit to help Ireland thrive culturally and economically through arts, equestrianism, entrepreneurship, enterprise and science but it costs €6 million to run the Dublin Horse Show.
“A lot of stakeholders wanted it to succeed and wanted it to come back, so you have a willing audience to work with you,” said Ms Griffin.
There were challenges, though and Mr Hanly admits it was difficult to find the people required to supplement the society’s core staff of 80 given the country’s current labour shortage. Those who did work on the show did brilliantly to ensure it went so well, he said.
A certain local success did no harm either with Ireland’s Nations Cup win on Friday providing what Ms Griffin described as a spillover effect into Saturday and Sunday.
Mr Hanly said the win will encourage kids who already ride to ride better. “We have a system at the moment of producing exceptional riders and they’re progressing very well in the sport, and some are making a fabulous living out of it. Ireland’s breeders compete at the highest levels, which will help the sport grow and develop.”
He is not sure how much the industry can capitalise on Ireland’s Nation’s Cup win given that many riding schools have closed because of insurance issues, making it more difficult for novice riders to enter the sport.
He is optimistic about the future, though, and said he hopes that the show will support the scientific and educational sides of equestrianism in addition to helping to widen the participation base.