EQUESTRIAN sport enthusiasts across the length and breadth of Ireland and beyond this week mourned the passing of one of Tyrone’s greatest horsemen, Ronnie Smith.
Mr Smith, 82, who represented Ireland in international arenas across Europe and who established the renowned Augheronan Stud at Seskinore, died on Saturday following a short illness.
As a rider in his early 20s, Ronnie quickly earned a reputation as one of the best in the business, initially making his mark competing in point to points before taking the showjumping world by storm.
Ronnie was a regular in the winners’ enclosure at race meeting up and down the country and his most notable success was winning The Ulster Harp National Steeplechase on a horse called Gaybrook.
Perhaps his greater love was showjumping but his passion and deep understanding of horses combined with his natural ability in the saddle meant he had the skills to master all disciplines.
In the mid 1970s Ronnie clinched the prestigious Grand Prix at the Dublin Spring Show by beating the famous Tommy Brennan, one of his many friends in the showjumping world, into second place on one of his best known horses, Grey Slade.
In 1976 he was a member of the famed Aga Khan team at the Dublin Horse Show and one of his many career highlights was winning the puissance in Michelen, Belguim on arguably the most famous of all his horses, Onward Bound.
With a number of sons following in his footsteps and showing a flair for riding horses, in his latter years Ronnie placed a greater emphasis on breeding at his Augheronan Stud, outside Seskinore.
Augheronan always had a thoroughbred stallion at stud and with a shrewd eye for natural talent and temperament combined with his wealth of knowledge and experience Ronnie bred many great champions, the best of which were sold on to keep the home fires burning.
Copper King, a four-year-old Ronnie purchased went on to wn the Balmoral Grade D/E Championships and over the years he bred numerous top class performers by crossing Irish mares to thoroughbred stallions and thoroughbred mares to the draft.
He once took a jumping mare to James Keirnan’s Olympic stallion Touchdown and bred Desert Prince, a stallion his sons, who went onto compete at Grand Prix level, enjoyed tremendous success on and a horse who sired many great jumpers.
Youngest son Eric said that his father maintained his interest in horses right up until his final few days.
“He first sat in a saddle at the tender age of three on his grandfather’s farm and he was still sharing his passion for horses up until about three weeks ago,” he said.
“He always gave you sound advice, 100 per-cent horses were his life.”
Many mourners lined the route as Mr Smith’s remains was transported by a horse hearse and two black horses belonging to Tommy Irwin, Fintona to Seskinore Presbyterian Church for the funeral service, after which the deceased was laid to rest at the adjoining graveyard.
Mr Smith is surived by his wife Margaret, daughter Deirdre, sons Stephen, Nigel, Bryan, Harvey, Ian Peter and Eric.