To investigate a little further, I rooted out the Irish Sport Horse Studbook -- Marebook volume 2, which contains all mares registered in the Irish Horse register after January 1, 2000, and all mares which have progeny recorded in the Irish Horse register after January 1, 2000. It includes the breeding returns available up to November 30, 2006.
In this volume there are breeding records of around 26,000 mares.
I decided to look at about 1pc of the records, so, at random, I chose six pages of records that gave me statistics on 264 mares. A small sample, I grant you, but enough to give us an indication of the national trends.
In the sample, mares ranged in age from two to 23. The table (below left) shows the year of when the mares were born.
There were 74 mares born from 2000 to 2004. Of these, only 16 have been covered and 11 had foals registered.
So 74 out of 264 (28pc) of registered mares are six years of age or younger, and less than one quarter of these are actually breeding.
In the sample, 162 (61pc) of the mares were covered at some stage in their lives, while 148 (56pc) have foals registered. In other words, just over half of those registered as brood mares have actually bred a foal.
The average number of foals produced by each registered mare is 1.9.
The average number of foals registered for each covered mare and each producing mare is 3.1 and 3.4 respectively.
So the average breeding mare produces three foals in her lifetime.
I have calculated the stud life (number of years breeding) of a mare from the first year of a recorded covering (or foal registration) to the last year of a recorded covering. The result was an average stud life of five and a half years.
Active breeding mares
Of the 264 mares, only 59 were recorded as having been covered or bred a foal in 2006. So I have called them 'active' breeding mares.
In the analysis, 20 mares either qualified for the premier or quality-mare schemes.
Nineteen of them have bred foals, while 12 are still what I call active breeders.
These mares have a similar stud life to the average mare but produce 4.2 foals each. Surely this was the objective of the schemes, to identify the better mares and encourage owners to breed from them?
Interestingly, only 30 of the mares -- 11pc of the sample -- have showjumping points and only 15 of these are breeding. Eight of these 15 mares have fewer than 10 points.
One mare has 600 points and, when she is excluded from the sample, the other mares have an average of 25 points each.
The mares with jumping points have a shorter stud life of 4.5 years -- one year less than the average breeding mare. Unfortunately, these performance mares, on average, also only produce 2.5 foals each.
For the breeder, surely the best mare to own is a premier mare with SJAI points?
So how many of them are out there? Within my 264- mare sample herd, there were only three premier mares with SJAI points. That equates to just over 1pc of our registered national population of mares.
All the figures show that we need to register a huge number of mares each year to maintain the current breeding population.
The majority of mares do not start breeding until they are at least seven years old.
There is a massive scarcity of quality mares with performance. We need these schemes to identify them, coupled with some sort of a performance testing programme. Results from performance testing are strongly correlated to competition results later in life.