Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad' is an old Irish proverb that translates as 'praise the youth and they will come'. In other words, young people will learn more from compliments than criticism and should be encouraged to show their talents.
The Teagasc/Horse Sport Ireland National Young Breeders competition aims to do just that, by educating and training young people between 14 and 25 on how to assess horses for their breeding potential.
And believe you me, the young breeders get a comprehensive education which includes giving them the expertise to assess horses' loose movement, loose jumping and conformation, and present a horse in hand in front of judges. They also complete a theory module that teaches them about all aspects of breeding, stable management, health and welfare, and sport.
The National Young Breeders Competition takes place every two years, in order to coincide with the international competition, in which Irish youngsters compete with young breeders from across Europe and the world to prove that they are the best young breeders in the world.
Sponsored by Pegus Horse Feeds, this year's national competition took place at Teagasc's Kildalton College and attracted 45 competitors.
The young contestants had been preparing for the competition through various training sessions, organised by Teagasc's Wendy Conlon, since September last year.
Their training began at the Tattersalls elite event horse sale, where former Olympic eventers John Watson and Eric Smiley taught the young breeders what they should look for in a competition horse and assessed the horses on sale.
In November, it was the turn of dressage experts Gisela, Heike and Eric Holstein to host the group at their Sweep Stud in Carbury, Co Kildare.
The group then followed up with training sessions at Hilton Stud with showjumper Clem McMahon, and at Monart in Wexford with Olympic eventer Niall Griffin and producer and Horse Sport Ireland inspector Maurice Coleman.
Next it was off to Belmont House Stud in Co Offaly, where breeder and coach Andrea Etter and show producer Phillip Scott took charge, then Marian Hughes' stud with Patrick Hester and Jack Doyle; Lisbeg Farm with Deirdre Bournes and Tiernan Gill; and finally a day at Kildalton College with the Teagasc equine specialist team.
This comprehensive training regime, with such easy access to experts in every field, is a unique feature of the Young Breeders programme. The majority of 'older' breeders would give their right arm to get a look at the home set-ups of such world-renowned specialists.
The final part of the programme -- the real test -- took place at Kildalton College on April 19, where the judges included Clem McMahon, Jack Doyle, Tiernan Gill, Maurice Coleman, Phillip Scott, Patrick Hester and Anna Camon.
After a day of blazing sunshine, the deserved winners were announced in each of three categories: youth (14-15 years old), junior (16-19 yrs) and senior (20-25 yrs).
Maeve Farrell took first place in the youth category, while Ruth Carey was second and Grainne Embleton third.
In the junior age category, Aoife Crotty took first place, second was Ruaidhri O Cianain and third Siobhan Schouss.
In the senior age category, first place went to Iris Brazil, second to Amy McCarthy and third to Ciara McIntyre Walsh.
The winners of the junior and senior categories will be joined by a further nine individuals (juniors Iona Nichols, Caoimhe Kenny, Niamh Butler, Emer Quinn, Philippa Scott and Aisling Micklis and seniors Naomi Fallon, Connor Higgins, Regina Daniels, Eileen Murphy and Katie McCormack) to go forward for further training in preparation for the World Championships to be held in France at the end of July.
Three team members plus a reserve in both age categories will be chosen to represent the ISH studbook in Chazey Sur Ain in July and there is no guarantee that the national winners will get a place on the international team, so it is all to play for in the coming months.
While the youth winners have no international competition to look forward to, it is clear that their skill at this stage will stand them in extremely good stead when they move up into the junior and senior ranks.
So who are the young breeders of the future? I spoke to the junior and senior winners to find more about them.
Iris Brazil, winner of the senior category, is a 24-year-old accountant from Kinnegad, Co Meath, who was the reserve member of the senior Irish team at the world competition in 2009.
Iris first took part in the Young Breeders competition when she was away at college as a way of keeping in touch with horses. Her previous experience with horses was a typical pony club collection of showing, jumping and other activities.
Now chairperson of the Young Breeders, she is a vociferous advocate of the competition.
"It's not every day you get to talk with big names such as Erik, Heike and Gisela Holstein, Jack Doyle, Niall Griffin or Clem McMahon," she says. "How many opportunities do you get to tap into their knowledge and see first-hand the type of animal they want for their respective discipline? And the beauty is that all this training is available completely free."
Iris was recently accepted on to the Irish Working Hunter Association (IWHA) panel as a junior judge. She says the IWHA credited her judging abilities to her experience with the Young Breeders programme.
With the Young Breeders already working as arena party for three-year-old loose jumping competition at the Mullingar international show, her next target is to convince the RDS to use Young Breeders for its three-year-old loose jumping final.
Amy McCarthy from Kiltegan, Co Wicklow, took second place in the senior competition at Kildalton. The 20-year-old was a member of the junior team at the 2009 world championships and says the competition has given her a great insight into what to look for in a horse.
A keen showjumper, moving from ponies into young riders and amateurs, Amy intends to breed mares for both showjumping and eventing into the future.
"The Young Breeders teaches you how to develop an eye for the little things that make a difference between horses," she says.
Third-placed Ciara Walsh-McIntyre runs her own livery yard at home in Ballacolla, Co Laois. Having graduated from property economics just as the bubble burst, the 24-year-old turned to her background in showjumping as a way to make a living. She now produces her own horses for competition and takes in young horses for breaking and schooling.
"I've got spaces at the moment if anyone is interested!" she laughs.
Ciara is also working towards her BHS instructors' qualifications through Dunbyrne Stud and intends to follow these up with the Horse Sport Ireland coaching exams.
Breeding top competition horses is a career goal for Ciara, who intends to start her breeding career this year with a Lux Z/Clover Brigade mare that she will put in foal to Euro Commerce Berlin.
Anyone wishing to be involved in the young breeders programme should contact the Teagasc equine team: Wendy Conlon 087 987 9083; Declan McArdle 087 683 1876; Ruth Fennell 087 960 2537; or Norman Storey 087 222 2513.