Trotted in and trotted out at Goresbridge horse sales
In search of a sociable riding horse or perhaps a potential showjumping star, Eileen Battersby went ringside in Goresbridge
Saturday morning at Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny, a small village. It's early. Only two horse-boxes have come through the famous gates of the Donohoe family auction complex. It is a sales day.
Not one of the big sales, just one of the monthly, first Saturday of the month, sport horse and pony sales, with about 90 horses and ponies on offer.
Still, it's August. Suddenly the complex is full. Buyers interested in acquiring a proven hunter at the right price for the coming winter could be lucky and will have time to get their new partner fit. "Have done everything" ponies are plentiful.
Good ponies make good riders; they also become outgrown, so their owners, some tearful, bring them to the sales. The more stoic ponies look philosophical, "here we go again", others seem world-weary, a few look openly betrayed.
While the sales-ring at Goff's, - where untested yearlings fetch gamblers' prices on the strength of family bloodline - is the showcase for the thoroughbred bloodstock industry, Goresbridge is the established market-place for experienced riding horses and school master ponies, as well as unbroken young stock and potential showjumping stars.
It's a formal sales, complete with auctioneers and traditional sales ring, light years removed from a horse fair but far friendlier than Goff's, and a lot less surreal.
Many vendors exercise their horses in the adjoining indoor arena for watching potential buyers. An average good sale here is closer to €3,000 than €300,000.
Kitty Donohoe is the matriarchal figure behind the family business, which was started in 1968 by her husband.
His sudden death at 45, in 1978, left her, a non-horsey mother of nine children with another baby on the way, at the helm of what has become Europe's largest auctioneer of sport horses.
If the thoroughbred is the ultimate racing machine, the crossbred, particularly the Irish draught, with or without the hint of thoroughbred, is the definitive riding horse. Goresbridge is where you will get your Irish draught/thoroughbred cross, coloured horse, sturdy cob, the versatile Connemara pony and all matter of riding and sport horse to suit the most basic hacking needs - to hunting, to serious pony club and riding club events, on to international competition level.
Mrs Donohue is very quick, direct and claims not to be an expert on horses.
But she certainly enjoys the excitement of the sales. "I want you to meet Sonny Cody" she says. "He's worked at every sales we've had here." Her sons, Martin and Edmund, are the auctioneers.
Even if you are outbid at Goresbridge, Edmund's sales patter justifies the trip.
"It's not the saddle I'm bidding. He's done it all, this fella." Late in the sale, a classy-looking bay filly, by Lord Americo out of Boderan Bridge by Kemal, comes in.
Registered with Weatherbys, she is unbroken and, as Edmund says to a bidder, "she could put your name in lights, sir." She leaves unsold, at €1,575.
But most of the others went, many at bargain prices, including the most beautiful coloured horse I have ever seen.
This special four-year-old skewbald filly was sold by Edward Cahalan, a young man from Abbeyleix in Laois.
He had hunted her all last season and had obviously done a lot of work on her over cross-country. Good, strong and willing - the dream sport horse - she was temptation on four legs and sold for €2,500 and left several onlookers choking with regret.
Also alluring, if unbroken, was Molly, a three-year-old light chestnut filly bred by John Chambers, from Rathcoole, Co Dublin, by a son of Bobby Sparrow.
Chambers is a farmer and looked like a proud father slightly embarrassed by a dangerously pretty daughter.
Molly has four white socks, a white blaze and a sweet expression. Sweet enough to counter every warning ever voiced about chestnut mares.
I think he had said it had taken about three days to get her in out of the field, the wait was worth while.
"She's a cracker," enthused the auctioneer. Grunts of asset ricocheted around the arena. The hammer went down at €1,200, a bargain. Then there was the fine bay gelding, about 16.3 hands, a son of Flagmount King. With three years hunting behind him, and a few hunting scars, he was a princely type, eight years old, and the sort of horse you would want to keep for life. Not surprisingly he fetched €2,800.
A good-looking English girl wearing track- suit bottoms turned out to be owner of a livery yard in Sussex. Justine Ewer is a serious buyer with a seer's eye and knows horses.
"These are good sales. I've been here before. Irish riding horses are more socialised.
"They do more. In England, a riding horse auction is a dumping ground. In Ireland, it's different. There's real quality here."
She bought a lightweight hunter/riding club-type bay gelding, a useful little piebald pony for her two children and a majestic looking unbroken three-year-old dark brown gelding with a roman nose. Standing about 16.2, he oozes nobility and was a bargain €850. "He's only a baby, still growing, I'll keep him in a field for a year and sell him on."
He already looks a classic English hunter.
The Goresbridge International Jumping Sale begins on September 9th and runs for nine days. About 2,000 horses will be offered, and European buyers will be shopping for showjumping talent - as will many others.