Study on Irish draught horse welcomed by breeders


EFFORTS TO preserve and sustain the future of Ireland’s only native horse breed, the Irish draught, are expected to be significantly helped by the publication of a new report.

The study, which was commissioned by the RDS as part of its ongoing support for the breed, has been welcomed by specialist Irish draught breeders. They view the report, based on data highlighting the radical inconsistencies in the judging of conformation traits, as official recognition of a grave and ongoing threat to the already endangered breed purity of the horse.

Irish draught breeders believe that the emphasis on performance has resulted in the increasing decline of the breed’s defining characteristics such as good bone density which has resulted in a lighter, less robust animal.

Current breeding practices, often directed towards the producing of show-jumpers, have also caused a lengthening of the canon bone. The emergence of what has been described as the “modern Irish draught” has threatened the future of the traditional animal, a unique horse that was often used for farm work and pulling the family trap as well as for hunting.

It is a heritage issue; the Irish draught played its part in social history. It is also special in that it is a type of horse that became an officially acknowledged breed with the establishment of its stud book in 1918.

Whereas the Connemara pony enjoys its status as Ireland’s native pony, the Irish draught horse has increasingly paid the price of its versatility, its intelligence, courage and good temperament owing to increased confusion as to exactly what its intended function is, and what it should look like.

Also contributing to its dilemma is its long-recognised role as the foundation stock in the breeding of half-breds, or sport horses, the combination of a thoroughbred crossed with an Irish draught for the breeding of potential showjumpers. Formerly regarded as a vital element in the breeding of show-jumpers, this role has now been somewhat overshadowed by the popularity of German and French horses among Irish riders of varying levels.

The Irish draught, which remains the only breed recruited by the Garda for service, has a proven reputation as a talented national all-round competition horse a well as a hunter and leisure mount, breeders contend.

However, this very point of performance has contributed to the main contention surrounding the Irish draught. Many approved stallions failed at inspection for poor conformation quality have later been approved on performance.

This practice has perpetuated conformation faults within the breed. Instead of eradicating the weakness which caused certain stallions to fail their conformation inspections, the possibility later being approved on performance has resulted in inferior stock being sired, who in turn pass on these physical shortcomings.

The study, complied by Elaine Breen of the University of Limerick, focuses on inconsistencies in existing and admittedly subjective judging techniques and instead promotes the urgent adoption of a linear scoring sheet as used in Germany and The Netherlands.

This sheet, which breaks down the anatomical features in detail, enables a thorough and balanced appraisal of the anatomical features under scrutiny.