Ireland prides itself on being the land of the horse, but a group of breeders has warned that the traditional Irish sport horse is in danger of becoming extinct if action is not taken to protect it.
The sport horse, used for showjumping, eventing and leisure, has traditionally come from thoroughbred stallions crossed with Irish draught mares.
However, Flannan Frawley of the Western Horse Breeders' Association said owners of Irish draught mares were finding it increasingly difficult to get good thoroughbred stallions because their owners only wanted to breed them with thoroughbred mares.
“We’re left with an inferior breed of stallions and that needs to be upgraded and we need to upgrade our mare selection as well,” he said.
Mare owners were also importing frozen foreign semen but he said this was producing offspring unsuitable for the leisure industry. “A lot of our horses have gone to the factory this year because of the problems caused by the recession,” he said. “But, of the few we have left, if we don’t do something rapidly, we’ll lose them all and then there’ll be no Irish horse. That would be a sad scenario because Ireland is seen as the home of the horse.”
He said his association had come up with a plan to safeguard the future of the sport horse. It would cost €1 million to implement and would include the purchase of four stallions. These would be leased to stud farms and result in production of at least 300 foals a year.
He said the group had applied to the Department of Agriculture for funding to implement the plan but was unsuccessful. The group was hoping to get the conditions for grant aid changed and reapply next year.
“It’s something that needs to be done badly because there’s a lack of quality Irish horses and there’s a huge demand for Irish-bred horses,” Mr Frawley said. The sport horse sector contributes more than €700 million a year to the economy, according to analysis by UCD.
'Sell the best'
This point was echoed by chairman of Horse Sport Ireland Prof Pat Wall in an article he wrote in this newspaper last week.He wrote that Ireland was losing its position as a world leader in the production of leisure and competition horses because of the tendency to "sell the best and breed from the rest". Prof Wall noted that of the 32 horses competing on the eight teams in the Aga Khan cup at the recent Dublin Horse Show, only one was Irish-bred – Dermott Lennon's Loughview Lou-Lou.