MORE than 6,000 sport horses worth €26m were exported out of Ireland last year, new research from UCD and Horse Sport Ireland has revealed.
This latest snapshot of the non-thoroughbred equestrian industry shows that the Irish Sport Horse contributes more than €708m to the Irish economy every year.
The UCD report found that the Irish sport horse industry employed more than 11,400 people full time but more than 47,000 people were involved in the sector in total.
Ireland's horse population increased dramatically for a number of years from 2005 onwards but has since levelled off.
This levelling off is due to a combination of a reduction in foaling rates and an increase in equine slaughter rates.
The proportion of the horse population accounted for by thoroughbred horses has fallen from a high of 44pc in 2005 to 35pc in 2011.
In contrast, sport horses now make up approximately two-thirds of the horse population in Ireland, equating to around 124,000 sport horses.
Breeding is the largest sector of the equestrian industry and accounts for a total expenditure of €226m annually.
There are 15,110 active breeders in the Irish Sport Horse sector, according to the report.
Interestingly, the age profile of active breeders showed that only 8.1pc of breeders were less than 30 years of age and almost 23pc were over 60 years of age.
This mirrors the age profile of farm holders, of whom 26.3pc were over 65 years of age in 2010.
The majority of horse breeders have been in the game for more than a decade, with 83pc owning horses for more than 10 years.
Less than 5pc of breeders have owned horses for less than five years.
The UCD report found that horse breeders and owners spent €454m each year on goods and services.
An in-depth analysis of the UCD report will be carried in the Farming Independent next week.