Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

A jump into the future

Even though breeders are intent on producing potential stars, there is a scarcity of quality mares in the national herd

NUMBERS GAME: Nearly 3,000 mares need to be registered each year
to keep Ireland's sport horse stud, while the average number of foals
produced by these is 1.9
NUMBERS GAME: Nearly 3,000 mares need to be registered each year to keep Ireland's sport horse stud, while the average number of foals produced by these is 1.9

Norman Storey

Irish sport horse breeders are aiming to produce animals that have the potential to jump on the international circuit in the future.

Yet among the national herd there is a massive scarcity of quality mares with performance records.

The national replacement rate for Irish sport horse mares currently stands at 38pc.

Put simply, close to 3,000 new mares must be registered every year to maintain our national stud of 7,739 sport horse mares.

One of the most interesting figures produced every year by the Irish Horse Board is the number of new mares registered annually.

For the period 1996 to 2007, an average of 2,948 new sport horse mares were registered each year. In the same period 7,739 mares were covered annually.

In other words, to maintain a national stud of 7,739 sport horse mares we must register 2,948 new mares annually. This is a national replacement rate of 38pc -- very high indeed.

Taking it a step further, the average breeding mare must be replaced every three years. Following on from this, how many foals does the average mare produce in her lifetime?

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To investigate a little further, I rooted out the Irish Sport Horse Studbook -- Marebook volume 2, which contains all mares registered in the Irish Horse register after January 1, 2000, and all mares which have progeny recorded in the Irish Horse register after January 1, 2000. It includes the breeding returns available up to November 30, 2006.

In this volume there are breeding records of around 26,000 mares.

I decided to look at about 1pc of the records, so, at random, I chose six pages of records that gave me statistics on 264 mares. A small sample, I grant you, but enough to give us an indication of the national trends.


In the sample, mares ranged in age from two to 23. The table (below left) shows the year of when the mares were born.

There were 74 mares born from 2000 to 2004. Of these, only 16 have been covered and 11 had foals registered.

So 74 out of 264 (28pc) of registered mares are six years of age or younger, and less than one quarter of these are actually breeding.

Mares covered

In the sample, 162 (61pc) of the mares were covered at some stage in their lives, while 148 (56pc) have foals registered. In other words, just over half of those registered as brood mares have actually bred a foal.

Foals produced

The average number of foals produced by each registered mare is 1.9.

The average number of foals registered for each covered mare and each producing mare is 3.1 and 3.4 respectively.

So the average breeding mare produces three foals in her lifetime.

Stud Life

I have calculated the stud life (number of years breeding) of a mare from the first year of a recorded covering (or foal registration) to the last year of a recorded covering. The result was an average stud life of five and a half years.

Active breeding mares

Of the 264 mares, only 59 were recorded as having been covered or bred a foal in 2006. So I have called them 'active' breeding mares.

Premier mares

In the analysis, 20 mares either qualified for the premier or quality-mare schemes.

Nineteen of them have bred foals, while 12 are still what I call active breeders.

These mares have a similar stud life to the average mare but produce 4.2 foals each. Surely this was the objective of the schemes, to identify the better mares and encourage owners to breed from them?

SJAI points

Interestingly, only 30 of the mares -- 11pc of the sample -- have showjumping points and only 15 of these are breeding. Eight of these 15 mares have fewer than 10 points.

One mare has 600 points and, when she is excluded from the sample, the other mares have an average of 25 points each.

The mares with jumping points have a shorter stud life of 4.5 years -- one year less than the average breeding mare. Unfortunately, these performance mares, on average, also only produce 2.5 foals each.

For the breeder, surely the best mare to own is a premier mare with SJAI points?

So how many of them are out there? Within my 264- mare sample herd, there were only three premier mares with SJAI points. That equates to just over 1pc of our registered national population of mares.


  • All the figures show that we need to register a huge number of mares each year to maintain the current breeding population.

  • The majority of mares do not start breeding until they are at least seven years old.

  • There is a massive scarcity of quality mares with performance. We need these schemes to identify them, coupled with some sort of a performance testing programme. Results from performance testing are strongly correlated to competition results later in life.

  • Irish Independent