Farm Ireland

Thursday 27 July 2017

performance and pedigree the key to horse prices

Shorten the odds of breeding a top level show jumper by targetting winning dam bloodlines and proven stallions

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Regardless of whether you see breeding as a hobby or a profession, all horse breeders need to make sure they are being ruled by their heads and not their hearts.

Teagasc equine specialist Wendy Conlon issued this stark warning to breeders at the Horse Sport Ireland/Teagasc breeding seminar in Limerick last week.

Ms Conlon told breeders it costs a minimum of €1,500 to produce a foal, not including stud fees, labour, land lease, mare depreciation and professional fees and a minimum of €3,000 to produce a three-year-old horse.

"If you find yourself, year after year, with a foal that is not making enough money to cover the costs, then you need to reassess what you're doing," she urged breeders.

"Too often we treat breeding as a hobby and don't take account of the costs, but after a few years you could be down by €9,000-10,000."

The Teagasc specialist urged breeders to be clear about their breeding objectives.

"Know what your goal is, decide what you want to breed and assess whether it is realistic or achievable," she advised.

The graphics (right) show how the market is divided. To target the highest point of the show jumper market, breeders must produce elite horses capable of jumping 1.6m and they will be rewarded with top prices.


Moving down the market pyramid, more horses will achieve lower targets but prices will fall accordingly.

The same applies to producing event horses, with the top prices paid for the limited number of animals that will be capable of competing at advanced level. Horses with less ability will still be marketable but at lower prices, she claimed.

Regardless of whether it is an event horse or a show jumper you are aiming to breed, the market demands a good-looking horse that is athletic and balanced. In terms of size, customers are looking for horses of 16.2-16.3hh.

Rideability and temperament are key attributes in any animal, she insisted.

"Riders are not prepared to spend an endless amount of time getting a horse right," she said.

"Remember that temperament is a heritable trait, so look at what animals you are breeding from."

She warned that the market would not tolerate poor pedigrees, no performance records, poor conformation, lack of athleticism or poorly produced animals.

The criteria to consider before breeding any mare are whether she has a five generation pedigree for jumping or eventing, the level of performance of her progeny and relations, her conformation, as assessed by linear profiling or the Horse Sport Ireland mare inspection process, and whether she is veterinary sound.

Barry O'Connor, from O'Connor Swail Stables in Malahide, Co Dublin, reiterated Ms Conlon's point about rideability when he spoke about the market for the 70-80pc of show jumping horses that do not make it into the top flight.

The show jumper producer said the future market for Irish horses was for big, scopey, free-moving and good-looking horses that were rideable.

"When we miss out on producing the top show jumper, we need to have the attributes that will suit the rest of the market," he insisted.

"The biggest market is the amateur jumper, low level eventing, riding club, pony club and hunting.

"A riding club or amateur rider is probably working five days a week and does not want a problem loader or a horse with a hard mouth. He wants an easy horse to work with. Twenty years ago, our export market for Irish jumpers was to Italy and Sweden.

"There was a great brand loyalty for Irish horses because they were easy and mannerly, good to hack and quiet to handle," he added.

"Today, the export market is Canada and America, where 50pc of the top horses bought in Ireland go to. As well as the top show jumping ranks, equitation classes are huge over there.

"People like Paul O'Shea, Darragh Kerins, Shane Sweetnam and the two Hanleys are putting more horses through their hands than Cavan and Goresbridge combined. They are selling millions of euro worth of horses.

"I buy most of my horses in Holland," he added when speaking to the 150 breeders gathered at the conference in Adare, Co Limerick. "I'm not proud of it but that's what my market demands."

He advised breeders to assess their mares under three main headings:


"Look at your mare critically to assess her conformation from head to toe," he advised. "Ugly breeds [are] ugly most of the time so you have to be self-critical. There's no point in saying that if you close one eye, her hocks look straighter."


"The mare's movement needs to be free and easy, with a good canter," O'Connor added.


"If your mare has not jumped to 1.30m at a minimum or her half-sister, dam and grand-dam don't have performance records, then it's like scratching a lottery card," he insisted.

Mr O'Connor urged breeders to get out and find the type of mares that would breed top horses.

"Research the winning lines, follow the dam line and find a filly, yearling or two-year-old from the line and buy it," he urged.

"If you were a dairy farmer, you wouldn't breed from a cow that produced 2-3ga of milk, you want to breed from a cow that does 10-12ga. As horse breeders, we should be doing the same -- don't breed from mares that won't produce the goods.

"You can't take hay off a bog field and, unfortunately, that's what some breeders are trying to do."

In terms of selecting a stallion, he advised breeders to assess potential sires under the headings of model, movement, pedigree and progeny.

"There are so many useless stallions with fantastic glossy brochures out there," he warned. "We have to stop accepting the marketing lines about presence, the number of foals on the ground and so on.

"You must research the stallion yourself. Find out about what price its progeny are making, what they are achieving, and if you cannot find it on YouTube or read it independently, don't believe it."

When asked about the choice of sires, in terms of warmbloods versus thoroughbred or Irish Draught, the producer said it was critical to choose the right one.

"In Ireland, we imported some bad warmbloods, myself included," he said.

"Regardless of whether you're going to use thoroughbred Irish Draught or warmblood sires, use a good one. We need to weed out the bad ones."

He urged breeders to upgrade their mare herd by breeding good jumpers and then breeding off the new generation again.

"If you have a very, very good three-year-old filly, you could breed a filly foal from her to keep the line before selling her on," he said.

The conference was told that in order to shorten the odds of producing a top horse, breeders need to start with proven performance.

"Hickstead is widely regarded as the best horse in the world, he has won millions," he said.

"Yet Hickstead's sire, Hamlet, is not used by Dutch breeders because they recognise that Hickstead is a freak."

"I would be worried that if Hamlet stood here and had a fancy brochure, he would have hundreds of mares coming to him."

Mr O'Connor also advised breeders that they would be paid for producing foals and young horses correctly.

"Add value to your youngstock by feeding them correctly, handling them and marketing them well," he said.

"Too often we see young stock that have been brought in from the field at the last minute before sales. They are wild, tied with a blue rope and there's someone water-skiing off the back of them," he said.

"Then the owners complain that the market is crap," he said. "But the market isn't crap, the horse is."

The show jumper producer finished by urging breeders, owners and riders to support local shows, riding clubs and hunts. "If we let shows and clubs die out, the market place starts to shrink," he said.

"But if you increase the number of people riding, you increase the number of people buying, so get involved locally."

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