After a strong Rugby World Cup as a pundit, Bernard Jackman will return to Paris for next summer's Olympics in his role as Horse Sport Ireland's new Head of High Performance. Ben Brady/INPHO
Paris 2024

Bernard Jackman relishing the chance to take the horses to France

The former Leinster and Ireland hooker will assist Ireland’s equestrian teams with their preparations for next summer’s Olympics and Paralympics.

AFTER A RUGBY World Cup during which he further burnished his reputation as one of the foremost rugby analysts in the world, Bernard Jackman will return to France next summer in a very different guise.

Jackman, a Heineken Cup winner with Leinster and a Grand Slam winner with Ireland, has been appointed by Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) as its acting Head of High Performance and will assist each of Ireland’s qualified teams at the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

An important distinction: Jackman has not assumed the role of High Performance Director. He will instead work with HSI’s existing directors in the three Olympic equestrian disciplines: show-jumping, eventing, and dressage.

In rugby terms, Jackman will be the David Nucifora to three Andy Farrells, piecing together the framework behind the scenes that he hopes will equip Ireland’s teams for the world stage in 10 months’ time.

“My job is to support the High Performance directors, support their athletes, and make sure they have everything they need to achieve a personal best in Paris Olympics, effectively,” Jackman explains.

“We have some outstanding riders and outstanding support teams. Our showjumpers are ranked no.1 in the world at the moment which is kind of similar to the rugby. We just need to make sure we can find that little bit extra to make sure we medal.

“Our eventers were also one of the first teams to qualify for Paris and we still hope to qualify two more teams: a dressage team and a Para-dressage team.

“I’ll only look after the teams that have qualified — and I won’t be riding any horses, so animal-cruelty protestors can sleep soundly.”

bernard-jackman Bernard Jackman. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

This is a role which immediately marries two of Jackman’s biggest passions: the concept of High Performance, and horses.

He has always been fascinated by the bond between horse and athlete, and in 2021 even enjoyed a couple of wins in Kilbeggan and Roscommon as the co-owner of Exit Poll, then trained by Jessica Harrington.

For a man with Jackman’s range of sporting and coaching interests, the opportunity to influence an already promising-looking Irish Olympic campaign — and as soon as next summer — was a godsend.

That he will need to conjoin so many of his professional and personal experiences in the pursuit of medals for his country make this a hugely appealing role for the Carlow man.

“Obviously, I’m lucky as well that it’s such a short timeframe for me,” Jackman says.

“There are people who have been working towards Paris for a couple of Olympic cycles; you’d nearly feel a bit guilty coming in at the end of it. It’s very fortunate for me to be able to join for this exciting part of the journey.

“It’s just about trying to tap into all my experience — and not just from rugby.

“Rugby’s been a big part of my life but I’ve been very lucky to observe and to talk to people who work in other high-performance environments, both in business and in sport.

“I’ll be trying to bring all of that together and, like I said, making sure that our high performance directors, our riders, and the people who help them perform get everything they need.

“It’s going to be busy — but I like being busy.”

cian-oconnor-onboard-eve-douilly Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

cian-oconnor-onboard-eve-douilly-celebrates-after-his-last-round Former Olympic bronze medallist Cian O'Connor onboard Eve d'Ouilly at the Dublin Horse Show. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Jackman received his handover a couple of weeks before Horse Sport Ireland publicly confirmed his appointment on Friday. He has already gotten down to work, which at this formative stage consists mostly of research, meetings, and research meetings.

“At the moment, it’s mostly fact-finding, meeting the team, understanding how they like to operate. I’m trying to get as much intellectual property as I can, trying to understand what the hurdles are, where the opportunities are.

“It’s very different in that a lot of our eventers are based in Ireland and the UK, whereas our showjumpers are all over the world — either competing or based in countries like Germany, the States, et cetera. So, we have to find opportunities for me to meet them face to face but obviously, we can do a lot virtually as well.

We already have very detailed high-performance plans for everybody, so it’s a case of understanding those and understanding my role in helping to implement those; but also, to be fair, questioning and modifying those plans to make them better.

“The biggest thing for me is that we go to the Olympics with every possible area covered off; the riders, the coaches being happy that we’ve had the best preparation that we could have had.

“And hopefully, then, we can do something special.”

Many of the congratulatory messages Jackman has received from friends and family over the weekend have also made reference to a ‘high horse’.

His favourite response to his appointment, though, was a tweet which pointed out that the mystery surrounding the famous 1994 Kerrygold television ad is finally over: Bernard is taking the horse to France.

Jackman adds:

I’m sure there’s people saying, ‘What the hell does he know about horses?’, but again, I would urge that my role isn’t to know anything about horses. My role is to know about people and high-performance systems and plans, and to be able to put all that together.

“My job over the next few weeks and months is to show I add value. If I was coming from an eventing background or a showjumping background, I’d still have to show I add value or else I’d just be a bad appointment.

“I’m not stressed about that (potential scepticism). I’ll learn what I need to learn. I’m excited about that. But again, from my experience up to now, I already know a lot about what I need to deliver on.

“Whether I was going in to do a rugby job or whether it was a speaking gig, which I’ve lots of experience in, it effectively comes down to how you perform on that day or in that role.

“I expected there to be some resistance or some blowback, but that’s not going to stop me doing what I can to help the team to perform at the Olympics.”

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