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Sunday 24 September 2017

Eastern promise: Gulf States could be a significant outlet for Irish-bred horses

Top Class: The Al Forsan Equestrian Centre in Qatar opened in 2011 and has since imported 60 Irish ponies for lessons. Photo: Mark Bolger
Top Class: The Al Forsan Equestrian Centre in Qatar opened in 2011 and has since imported 60 Irish ponies for lessons. Photo: Mark Bolger
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Irish-bred ponies are more used to wet and windswept grass fields than air-conditioned stables in a desert, but that is exactly where some 60 ponies bred and produced in Ireland are earning their keep.

Since last year, the prestigious Al Forsan Equestrian Centre in Abu Dhabi, with its fully floodlit international polo field and air conditioned indoor arena, has been home to 60 Irish ponies that are used in lessons for children in the oil-rich state.

The Al Forsan Equestrian Centre was officially opened in November 2011 when it hosted a leg of the Global Champions Tour in Showjumping and since then, Athlone dealer Jim Derwin and Anne Berry of Welwyn Stud in Folkestone, Britain, have supplied dozens of Irish ponies for the riding school.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney embarked on a high profile trade mission to the Gulf States last October which highlighted the huge potential that exists in the region for Irish horses, ponies and equine expertise.

The region offers extraordinary opportunities for the Irish equestrian industry, ranging from the supply of top-flight competition horses to the ordinary everyday child's pony, according to Mark Bolger, who travelled with the minister as the representative for Horse Sport Ireland.

Minister Coveney and Mr Bolger met with Mr Atef Nagib, managing director, and Mr Ahmed Ali Al Hammadi, equestrian director at Al Forsan, during the trip.

"Al Forsan has been a huge supporter of Irish sport horses and ponies, mainly through the purchase of horses and ponies for its riding academy," explained Mr Bolger.

"According to Mr Al Hammadi the Irish horses and ponies have worked out very well and are well suited to the business.

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"They do on average three lessons per day. They have adapted well to the climate and the longevity of the Irish horse is cited as being an advantage over other breeds."

There are many other links between Ireland and the Gulf States, according to Mr Bolger.

In Qatar, Irishman Charles Maudlin is stable manager at the Qatar Equestrian Federation equestrian centre and stables.

He told Mr Bolger that there was demand in Qatar for Irish horses for the riding school academy and Irish horses suitable for police duty.

The pair also explored the opportunity for Ireland to host Qatari riders on overseas training so they could escape the extreme heat during the summer months in Qatar.

POSSIBILITY

Mr Hamad Al Attiya, chairman of the Qatar Equestrian Federation, also discussed the possibility of buying Irish horses for use in the Qatari Riding School Academy.

The type of horse required is a quiet schoolmaster that would suit beginners and learners, as well as horses capable of jumping 1.10-1.20m horses for more advanced riders.

During the trade mission, Mr Bolger caught up with Larkhill Cruiser, the Irish bred showjumper stabled at the Sharjah Equestrian Club in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The most high profile Irish horse sold to the Gulf region in recent years, Larkhill Cruiser, is by Cruising out of Dunadry Lady (RID) and had good success with John Floody at national and international level before going on to Cian O'Connor. O'Connor sold the horse after a very successful La Baule Nations Cup debut to the Saudi rider Abdullah Al Sharbatly.

LVS Vanessa is also flying the flag for Irish-bred horses. Part-owned by the successful UAE showjumper, Mr Abdullah Al Marri, LVS Vanessa is an Irish Sport Horse by Vancouver out of the dam Suir Forever.

LVS Vanessa was bred by Anne Marie O'Gorman Owens of Cahir, Co Tipperary, and bought as a five-year-old from Greg Broderick after the mare jumped in the national age class in the RDS.

Since then, LVS Vanessa has competed in the young horse championships in Lanaken, Belgium, under her new owner, Mr Al Marri.

He and the mare are currently training using facilities at the Emirates Equestrian Centre in Dubai, which is managed by Meath man Paul McAuley.

"Mr Al Marri is very satisfied with the mare and intends to compete her further. He indicated that the experience of buying an Irish horse has been a positive one and he would come again to Ireland to buy Irish horses," said Mr Bolger.

Assessing the opportunities for Ireland Inc to develop equestrian trade with the Gulf States, Mr Bolger remarked that there was a huge amount of goodwill towards Ireland.

CHALLENGE

"However the challenge for the sport horse industry is that Ireland is seen as a place to buy thoroughbreds, but the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium are the countries to go to for sport horses," he explained.

He added that business between Ireland and the Gulf States would only succeed after investing time and effort in developing ties with Gulf partners.

"Personal contact is essential, these countries do not want to deal with fly-by-nights," he added.

Irish Independent