Competing with Heart: Ger McNulty’s Wins at the Leinster Dressage Botanica 2 Day Dressage Festival

When it comes to the world of competitive dressage, few journeys are as inspiring as that of Ger McNulty. His recent successes at the Leinster Dressage Botanica 2 Day Dressage Festival have not only highlighted his skill and dedication but also the deep connections he shares with his horses, Billy Hans and Dionysus II. In this candid interview, Ger opens up about his preparations, challenges, and the emotions that come with competing at the highest levels.

Preparation and Strategy

Preparing for competitions with both Billy Hans and Dionysus II involves meticulous planning and a synchronised schedule. Billy, belonging to Ger’s friend and client, Aine Keily, is exercised in a coordinated effort to ensure he is always competition-ready. “We both have a synchronised schedule to exercise Billy and make sure he is feeling good, looking good, and competition-ready,” Ger shares. For Henri (Dionysus II), Ger rides him six days a week, gaining a deep understanding of his energy levels and adjusting as needed. “I don’t practise ride tests at home; I pick specific movements and practise them wherever I school,” he explains.

Pre-Competition Routines

Ger’s pre-competition routine involves a light workout the day before to let Henri stretch and relax. “The day before a competition I like to take it easy. I usually do very light work on the gallops, allowing Henri to stretch right down and then finish with a hack,” Ger shares. This routine helps maintain Henri’s physical and mental well-being, ensuring he is in top form for the competition.

Ger keeps pre-competition routines simple to avoid disrupting his horses’ normal schedules. Cleaning gear thoroughly and allowing Henri to stretch before a light workout are part of his preparation. “Once I wash Henri from head to tail and his mane gets braided, he knows the score,” Ger shares.

Mental Preparation for Competitions

Maintaining mental clarity and focus is crucial for Ger’s competition days. He avoids extravagant routines, preferring to keep things simple and consistent. “What I would normally do is gather all my gear and clean it thoroughly. Once I wash Henri from head to tail and his mane gets braided, he knows the score,” Ger explains. His approach ensures that both he and his horses remain calm and ready for the challenge ahead.

Overcoming Challenges

Like many competitors, Ger battles with nerves. His strategy to combat this includes finding moments of solitude to study his tests and using music to get in the zone during warm-ups. “I suffer quite a bit with nerves. I like to be alone for a few minutes, study the test, and sometimes in the warmup arena, I put on my headphones and listen to music. This helps me get in the zone,” Ger confides.

The Thrill of Victory

Winning the 4-year-old championship with Billy Hans was a thrilling experience for Ger. Despite making some rider errors, his confidence in Billy’s talent shone through. “Winning the 4 Year Old Championship was a bit of a surprise to me, given the fact I had some costly rider errors in my test. But overall, I was delighted for Billy’s owner, Aine. To win made it all worth every second, and I’m incredibly proud of Billy,” Ger recalls.

Performance Highlights

Henri’s performance in the Cat. 2 Medium and Advanced Medium Championships was a standout moment. “Henri played a blinder for me over the whole weekend. He gave it his all to perform the way he did,” Ger says. Despite Henri’s usual tendency to get tense, he remained relaxed, contributing to their success. “To win the overall Advanced Medium on 66%+ was a shock to the system as it was only our second outing at that level,” Ger marvels.

The emotions following his win with Dionysus II were overwhelming. “Disbelief and shock were at the forefront. To think when I got Henri last November, he was a Prelim/Novice horse and winning the AM is unbelievable. I am so proud of that horse!” Ger expresses.

Lessons and Growth

Ger’s key takeaway from the competition is to relax and not be too hard on himself. He plans to build on these achievements by studying judges’ comments and working closely with his trainer, Sandra. “I aim to better my last scores as best I can,” Ger says.

Looking ahead, Ger has set clear goals for both Billy Hans and Dionysus II. “With Billy, qualifying him and getting him to the Dressage Ireland National Championships is a fair goal for this year,” Ger outlines. For Henri, Ger aims to be selected for the Dressage Ireland Home Nations Team and to get Henri qualified for national championships at both Medium and Advanced Medium levels.

Balancing training and competition schedules for multiple horses is no small feat. Ger relies on an A4 day-to-day diary to keep everything organised. “I would be lost if I didn’t have it,” he admits.

Memorable Interactions

The Leinster Dressage Botanica 2 Day Dressage Festival was filled with memorable interactions. Ger fondly recalls the camaraderie and support from fellow competitors and friends, making the experience even more enjoyable. 

Ger had numerous memorable interactions with fellow competitors and their teams. He mentions Lorna O’Hare, who is always patient and helpful, and Lynn Cadogan, known for her friendly demeanour. Meeting Emma Dair who is also involved in the Grassroots Community, and reconnecting with Sarah Mellor and her always-smiling daughter Milly were highlights for Ger. “There are way too many to mention,” he adds, reflecting the supportive environment of the dressage community.

Festival Atmosphere

The atmosphere at the Leinster Dressage Botanica 2 Day Dressage Festival was electric. Ger describes it as alive and filled with excitement, friendly faces, and well-run events. “The sun was beaming and all the horses looked fantastic,” he recalls, highlighting the positive energy that permeated the festival.

Constructive Feedback

Feedback from judges is a vital part of Ger’s improvement strategy. He plans to focus on enhancing suppleness and relaxation for both Billy and Henri based on the constructive criticism he received.

Ger’s primary area for personal improvement is relaxation. “Get into a better headspace and in return, that will transpire via the horses and our overall performance,” he believes.

Key Takeaways from the Competition

Reflecting on his experiences, Ger identifies several key takeaways from the competition. “Learn my tests more clearly. I need to relax. Don’t be so hard on myself,” he notes. These insights will undoubtedly guide his future training and competition strategies.

Constructive feedback from judges plays a crucial role in Ger’s continuous improvement. Comments about needing more suppleness for Henri and more relaxation for Billy are taken seriously and incorporated into their training routines. “All of which I will be working hard on to improve my scores for our next outing,” Ger asserts.

Building on Achievements

To build on his recent achievements, Ger meticulously reviews judges’ comments on his results sheets. He discusses these thoroughly with his trainer, Sandra, to avoid repeating mistakes and to take constructive criticism to heart. “I aim to better my last scores as best I can,” he says, highlighting his commitment to continuous improvement.

Identifying areas for improvement, Ger emphasises the need to relax and get into a better headspace. This mental adjustment, he believes, will positively impact both his and his horses’ performance. Both Billy and Henri will undergo phases of training with multiple exercises to enhance their suppleness and relaxation.

Advice for New Competitors

For those preparing for their first competition, Ger emphasises the importance of consistent training and seeking help when needed. “Find a good trainer that will put in the consistent work. Don’t skip training days. Learn your tests and if it seems too much, don’t be afraid to ask for help,” he advises.

Support Team

Ger’s success is supported by a dedicated team, including his sponsor and trainer Sandra Blake Farrell, manager Clare Swift, and friend Madison Nightingale. His partner, Meghann Foley, also plays a crucial role, providing emotional support and expertise from her own riding experience. “I am blessed to have such a strong team of experts behind me,” Ger acknowledges.

Upcoming Events and Goals

Ger has ambitious plans for both Billy Hans and Dionysus II in the upcoming months. For Billy, the goal is to qualify for the Dressage Ireland National Championships and prepare for the next level. With Henri, Ger’s focus is on upcoming Nations Training with Fiona Hayes and aiming for selection to the Dressage Ireland Home Nations Team as a Senior Rider. “Also, to get Henri qualified for the national championships at both Medium and Advanced Medium levels,” Ger adds.

Ger McNulty’s journey is a testament to dedication, strategic planning, and the invaluable support of a strong team. His story serves as an inspiration to all aspiring dressage competitors, showcasing the importance of resilience, preparation, and a deep bond with one’s horses. From meticulous preparation to overcoming challenges, celebrating victories, and learning from each experience, Ger’s approach to dressage is a model of passion and perseverance.


Competing with Heart: Ger McNulty’s Wins at the Leinster Dressage Botanica 2 Day Dressage Festival

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