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Marathon journey for Clare and Prince as they go for gold in Rio

By Ruth Loney

A 12-hour flight can be a difficult ordeal for anyone, but spare a thought for Euro Prince, the Olympic horse which is carrying local hopes in Rio.

But while the rest of us have to make do with uncomfortable seats and flavourless food, Euro Prince had his own customised cabin with fresh fruit and apple juice served.

After the marathon journey, the horse has arrived in Brazil and has been reunited with Dromore High School teacher Clare Abbott. The pair will compete in the Three Day Event which begins this weekend.

Clare (29), a maths teacher and former pupil of Armagh Royal School, prepared for the Olympics by swimming Euro Prince at George Stewart's equine pool in Lisburn.

She said: "Euro Prince loves to swim, it was a vital part of his fitness programme, and we left no stone unturned in ensuring he is in peak form for the big Olympic track."

Pet named Sparky, the 13-year-old came to Clare as a youngster and they have been inseparable ever since.

Rio is her first Olympic competition, and Horse Sport Ireland has pulled out all the stops to ensure the Irish horses are taken care of.

At Stansted Airport, they loaded 2.5 tonnes of feed and bedding on to pallets for the epic flight, and Euro Prince was accompanied by the Irish team vet Hugh Suffern from Banbridge on the direct flight.

Clare explained how she balanced her work as a teacher with Olympic preparations.

"We have seven horses in the yard, and I work seven days a week, including school. It's a 5.30am start, but I don't ride out until after school on my teaching days. I ride as much as possible and do a bit of running to boost fitness.

"I haven't a minute to do any hobbies, only eat, work and fall into bed fast asleep. If I have a chance to read a book then I am very lucky. I played hockey at the Royal School Armagh, but went full-time into horses after A-levels, and it has been hectic ever since."

Sister Stephanie (25), who is currently working with horses in Australia, is official groom to Euro Prince and has accompanied Clare to the Games.

Irish grooms flew out in advance to the Olympic site and were on hand to receive their horses last weekend.

Clare added: "I am only allowed one groom, so Stephanie takes the place of my mum Catherine, who usually has a pass as rider's companion, but her parents, Ronnie, and Catherine, will have to settle for watching their daughter on BBC.

Catherine is a former show hunter rider and has won championships in both the Balmoral and Dublin Shows.

Since tiny tot classes, Clare Abbott has won many titles, but she faces her greatest challenge yet, as she takes on her first Olympic track.

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