Olympic event rider Tommy Brennan dies

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The Irish Olympic event rider and championship course designer Tommy Brennan has passed away aged 74.

Career highlight

Tommy – or TB as he was affectionately known – was famous for his successful partnership with a horse called Kilkenny, with whom he evented and showumped.

Over the years he accrued 67 international showjumping wins and nine Irish National Championships on nine different horses at the Dublin Horse Show.

But the highlight of his career was in 1966 when he won team gold at the FEI World Eventing Championships at Burghley riding Kilkenny. The pair also came fourth in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, narrowly missing out on a medal.

Creating history

In 1968, Tommy became the first Irishman in history to be selected to compete in two disciplines at one Olympics. Sadly he didn’t get to compete in the showjumping, as a month before the Mexico Games his horse Tubber Mac broke a leg in a fall at the water at the Dublin Horse Show.

Tommy nearly lost his own life in the water when riding around the Olympic cross-country course. Heavy rain caused the river at the second to last fence to burst its banks and both he and his horse March Hawk were swept downstream.

Tommy couldn’t swim and he only survived by holding onto the saddle until he was pulled out of the water by the then FEI President, Prince Phillip.

Top trainer

As well as competing himself Tommy trained many top riders. He was the chef d’equipe for junior and young rider teams, and between 1981 and 1985 the Irish junior eventing team won a gold, two silver and a bronze under his guidance.On occasion he also took on chef d’ equipe duties for the senior showjumping squad.

Tommy was also a well-respected cross-country course designe, working at the European Championships at Punchestown in 1991 and 2003.

Badge of Honour

In 1985 he was awarded the FEI Gold Badge of Honour and in 1997 he was entered into the Irish Sports Council Hall of Fame for Services to Equestrian Sport.

“Tommy Brennan was a real character, a legendary producer of top horses and a very talented course designer,” FEI eventing and olympic director Catrin Norinder said. “His designs for the European Championships in Punchestown were brilliant. He always had a story to tell, and his many talents will be sadly missed.”

He is survived by his sister Kathleen (O’Neill), brother Peter, nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. A large crowd attended his funeral mass on 22 July, prior to his burial at Callan in his home county.