Farm Ireland

Wednesday 26 October 2016

'There will always be a market for our traditional Irish horse'

Showing enthusiast Michael Lyons looks at how breeders can make the most of their stock

Published 04/05/2016 | 02:30

Michael Lyons exhibiting Cyril Conway's young horse Grove Hill Boy at the RDS in 2014.
Michael Lyons exhibiting Cyril Conway's young horse Grove Hill Boy at the RDS in 2014.
The successful 2015 campaigner Kilmastulla Newmarket Spartacus is now being aimed at the eventing circuit in the UK.

Showing horses at competition can be a type of addiction, but the reality is that in order to remain commercially viable, the horse must be an athlete and be able to jump.

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I usually look for a performance pedigree of some degree when buying in youngstock, most of which I buy as yearlings and two-year-olds.

I buy maybe two foals every year but I find it difficult to make financial sense of foal prices when you analyse the figures compared to a two-year-old that you can vet.

The Irish show ring remains a unique emporium to showcase our young horses and it's imperative that we continue to raise the bar to ensure that the standard of presentation continually improves year on year.

I like to produce a few horses for the RDS potential event class and the qualifiers for this competition are now less than one month away.

I have won four qualifiers in the past but never managed to win this lucrative and very popular class.

In my opinion these classes must remain cognisant of the market, and where and what the demand is for.

The commercial aspect can simply encapsulate the ideology that the most valuable and commercial horse in the class should win.

Our biggest market remains the UK and by their sheer population they have obviously a bigger number of professional producers than we do, and so it is encouraging to see the vast majority of them visit Ireland regularly looking for specific horses to suit their individual clients.

I have visited the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida on a few occasions and the range of classes available for what we might consider show and working hunters (American equivalents are the equitation horse and green hunter) is enormous. However, the American market in general is looking for an older horse with more mileage than the UK customer which prefers a three or four-year-old.

The old-fashioned Irish show horse remains incredibly scarce and if you are lucky enough to find him he will make plenty of return, but in general a correct athletic horse with scope over a fence is where the profit remains.

Our classes need to be tailored to suit these individual markets and we need to be showcasing the product in demand.

I believe that in order to become more attractive to what one might call reluctant competitors we need to restructure the show ring upon occasions to create a marketing platform.

Last year Horse Sport Ireland introduced the €30,000 Foal Championship and it brought people to the ring that might not in the past have been interested.

The South East Clare Show recently introduced a performance class for three-year-olds. The incentive was that the top horses would be selected for the Cavan Elite Sale.

Last year we had 27 entries, and one of the sale toppers happened to be in that group.

Smaller hunters

Based on my own experience there is also a need for classes for smaller hunter types. A horse I bred called Designer Diamond (Kilmastulla Nelson) only stood 15hh and was sold to the UK as a three-year-old.

I would have kept him only that there was no suitable class for him and he would not have been looked at if he was up against much bigger geldings - no matter how good a model he was.

Since going to the UK he has been a multiple winner in the ring.

No doubt there is a market for small hunters, as well as small and large riding horses and hacks and cobs. I think we need to market these to the UK audience and that means we introduce a few classes to show case and sell them while still in-hand.

On a more positive note, it's good to see an earlier start to the season this year with a few shows running in April in the lead up to Balmoral.

The UK showing season usually kicks off a few weeks earlier run than here and runs on into October, with some small shows in November.

While we generally don't have a lot of indoor shows in this country, the facilities at Clonshire for the Stonehall Harriers Show and Cavan for the recent Northern Ireland Festival are always excellent.

It is also encouraging to see them host qualifiers for the Cuddy Championships for the Horse of the Year Show in Birmingham later in the season.

The process of judging a horse is considered subjective by its very nature, a matter of opinion than can vary starkly from one judge to another.

You can find some judges with hang-ups about front legs, hind legs, top line, shoulder and head, I believe the over-riding factor should always be movement and athleticism.

Irish breeders are the most dedicated in the world, but in order to remain commercially viable, they need to continue to define what they want to breed - show jumper, eventer, show horse or leisure/hunter/all-rounder.

There is always a market for our traditional Irish horse and we must continue to have this product available to a marketplace.

This does not mean that someone with a traditional mare might be better advised to look at a top-end warmblood stallion as a more commercial option.

It's all about categorising the mare and her type, paces and pedigree alongside her percentage of thoroughbred blood and her performance record.

The results of these should dictate what direction their breeding strategy should take for 2016 and beyond.

Michael Lyons and his wife Rachel run Kilmastulla Sport Horses outside Birdhill in Co Tipperary

A conveyor belt from the Premier county

He's a veteran in the show ring, but last year was the most memorable yet for Michael Lyons thanks to the success a young horse called Kilmastulla Newmarket Spartacus.

“I believe that I had the best horse I ever put a bridle on,” he says of the now four-year-old. “He stood out from the first moment I saw him.

“I bought him New Year’s Eve and he was sold the following Christmas week, but in between then he won three championships and a couple of reserves in-hand.

“His paces and jump brought him to a higher level and his new owners Peter Goodwin and Jo Theze are now targeting the Burghley Young Event Horse Series. He is being produced by Sophie Miller of Proper Horse Productions.”

By Newmarket Venture out of a mare by Cavalier Royale, he was bred by the stallion’s owners Billy and Brian Daly of Newmarket Stud in Cork. “I believe Newmarket Venture remains the most underrated sire in Europe,” says Michael.

“He has an amazing strike rate for the limited number of mares he covers and has a fabulous record of siring three medal winners at the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses.”

Over the past number of years Michael Lyons has sold on a great number of

horses as prospective eventers and show jumpers, while also producing horses for clients.

Under his expertise Grove Hill Boy claimed the reserve sash in the Pembroke Cup at the RDS for the best home-bred young horse for his owner Cyril Conway in 2014.

Kilmastulla Fred Astair (by Cobra) was a multiple winner in-hand and is now eventing at two-star level with Niall Griffin and Polly Jackson, while Kilmastulla Khalifa is jumping 1.40 metre in Norway with Ellie Mariell Wenngren Ytrehus.

“Ardmore Jestor is another one that stands out in my mind,” he says.

“I produced him as a three-year-old for Tom Casey and he won six championships. His paces were exceptional and when I started jumping him I knew showing would never be his future career. Linda Courtney bought him and he looked a top Grand Prix prospect before his untimely death a few years ago.”

Other successful graduates of Kilmastulla Sport Horses include Blacker Cat NJ, Kilmastulla Douglas, Thomas Tallis, It’s a Clover, Sun City, Tetrarch, Kilmastulla Wilson, Kilmastulla Amazon, Kilmastulla Magnetic and Boswell Lilly.

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