Monday, December 14, 2009

The Future of the Irish Sport Horse

Since the glory days of the 1960s and 70s, the number of Irish horses competing in Show Jumping at the top level have dwindled. While our Irish riders still compete at the top level, few of them ride Irish horses because there just are so few able to compete at this level. Horse Sport Ireland have put together a task force to consider what can be done to regain our ranking and their recommendations include education for breeders, better information and communication on breeding, improvements in the production of young horses and changes to the way mares and stallions are classified. All good stuff, but it got me thinking about the sport horse industry as whole and this is an extract from a submission on the subject:

1. We are currently very successful in the breeding of event horses. Any plan to improve show jumpers must ensure we do not lose that ranking.

2. Are we trying to breed IRISH show jumpers or EUROPEAN show jumpers bred in Ireland? I suspect that most of the potential breeding stock in Ireland already have a substantial amount of continental warmblood and that they would be taken to top class continental stallions. There is nothing wrong with that if you aim is to produce a top class show jumper. However, if producing Irish Show Jumpers was a business, we would be asking what is the USP (unique selling point) of the IRISH horse otherwise why will people travel to Ireland to buy a horse that differs little from those produced on the continent?

Maybe the advertising for an elite sales in Ireland in 10 years reads " Looking for a hose that is easy to train, will get you out of trouble and stay sound for years? Come to the Elite Irish Show Jumper sales... "

I am aware this is a challenge for which there is no easy answer but maybe this is a starting point. What gets measured gets done, goes the old saying, so identify what makes Irish horses unique and give these measures prominence in the stud book. Also ensure that these qualities are included in the branding of irish horses.

3. Consider the aim to produce top class show jumpers as part of the overall strategy of building a thriving sport horse industry in Ireland - that includes eventers and leisure horses. What is the traditional Irish Horse suited for? Clearly eventing, at which we continue to be successful, and the leisure and amateur sport horse where the good nature, intelligence and agility of the irish horse are highly prized. It would therefore make commercial sense to focus on the markets for which we already have a good product. That is not to say that I would not like to see Irish Show Jumpers represented again, but suggest that to achieve this we should focus on quality rather than quantity. Properly support a smaller number of specialist breeders with the interest and competance to breed and produce show jumpers, rather than hoping the farmer and small breeder are going to create a large enough pool from which a few good horses will emerge.

By developing all three strands - show jumpers, eventers and leisure horses, with a focus on breeding straightforward horses that are trainable, intelligent and sound, we build a solid foundation for all forms of sport horse and avoid a situation where horses bred for a specialist purpose that cannot fulfill their potential are not suitable for anything else.


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Anonymous said...

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