Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

Better systems for producing Irish-bred horses urged

'We must do more to ensure horses reach top level'

Thomas O'Brien on Codarc
Thomas O'Brien on Codarc
Billy Twomey, riding Je T'Aime Flamenco, jumps a fence to make a clear first round at the International Grand Prix on the last day of the Failte Ireland Dublin Horse Show in Dublin
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Ireland's breeders and producers are losing out on potentially millions of euro in revenue from show jumping and need to start closing the gap immediately, according to international rider Billy Twomey and buyer Gerry Mullins.

Despite punching well above our weight on the rider scene -- with seven riders in the top 100 riders in the world -- very few Irish-bred horses are being sold to top international riders.

"We have seven riders in the top 100 riders in the world while Germany has 10 or 11 riders in the top 100 and Sweden has four. In order to stay in the top 100, those riders obviously need very good horses but they are not buying them here in Ireland so that's something we need to look at," warned former Irish Army rider and international coach Gerry Mullins.

"I think it's a shame. As a buyer, I would much prefer to buy horses locally.

"Maybe it's time for some sort of schism to change things here. Places like Holland, Belgium, even Sweden and Denmark are selling very good horses. Why are we not producing those types?"

The rider-turned-coach was speaking at the Showjumpers Club seminar sponsored by Connolly's Red Mills in Naas last week.

The former Army rider, who represented Ireland on 50 Nations Cup teams and racked up more than 100 international wins, said breeders and producers needed to have a clear idea of what the market demanded.


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"All of these sports need a flushing out with youth from time to time, we need young people to come into the industry," he added.

"We need more of an emphasis on the people who are producing the horses. This is also a problem in Germany. The dealers, riders and professionals are earning more and more money but what the breeders are earning is falling.

"In the end, our sport needs the horses to jump in the sport so something has to change here."

Mullins, who travels outside of Ireland for more than 200 days every year on scouting and buying trips, said the market for show jumpers was divided into two distinct spheres.

"At the top end you've got the Global Champions Tour, the five-star shows and the five-star Nations Cups. Then you have the one-star, two-star and even three-star shows where the market is totally different.

There are a lot of amateur riders at those shows but they are not like the amateurs here, where they are jumping 1.20m. These amateurs want to jump up to 1.40m, sometimes 1.45m," he explained.

"At the Gucci Masters two-star show in Paris, there were 200 tables costing €11,000 each and there weren't too many professional riders sitting up at those.

"There is a hell of a lot of money in the amateur scene and over in the States you can see that the professional's job is to service the amateur."

Mr Mullins said the growing influence of buyers from the Middle East, the Far East and South America was pushing up prices for top horses in Europe and elsewhere.

"The Arab and South American influence is making horses almost prohibitive," he remarked.

"Last year in a two-week period three seven-year-old horses were sold for over €1m and we all know about the horse that was sold out of the Europeans for €11m," he added, referring to the reported €11m price paid by former Dutch showjumping champion Jan Tops for Palloubet d'Halong, a 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding (Baloubet du Rouet-Indra Love, Muguet du Manoir) for his wife, Australian rider Edwina Tops-Alexander.

"There is money and a very good living in the sport outside Ireland. The dealers I work with in Holland, Belgium and Germany and even the ordinary dealers are doing a good business.

"I have a partner in Germany I work with and he sells 60-80 horses every year to South America, the Middle East, the Far East," highlighted Mr Mullins.

"Why are those buyers not coming here? We are not so far geographically from Germany and Holland so I would love to be able to answer that question.

"In my opinion, we don't seem to have moved on in a huge way here. We have produced and still produce some good horses but I do 30 shows per year and I don't see very many Irish horses competing.

"We need to look at the issue and do something so we can give a living to everyone in the industry," he insisted.

Irish international showjumper Billy Twomey also urged breeders and producers to focus more on marketing and promoting horses to the amateur market.

"With the best will in the world, you can try to breed a star but there aren't too many stars so you end up with middle of the road horses that need to be shifted," he explained.

"We need more emphasis on how our riders can produce and make those horses seem better than they are so that we can create a market for ourselves."

"Breeding, in a nutshell for me, needs great mares with proven bloodlines, and a record at 1.30m or 1.40m means the mare has a massive influence," he added. "The stars will look after themselves but we need more emphasis on how to produce the middle of the road horses better."

The rider highlighted Enda Carroll's Belgian base Ashford Farm as a shining example of how to produce and market horses to all levels of client.

"Enda has unbelievable jockeys riding for him in his partner Courtney Vince, alongside Marlon Xanotelli and Pieter Clemens," remarked Mr Twomey.

"They are fantastic riders and if they make a video of a horse jumping 1.30m, it looks like the next best thing."

While many of his rides originated in Continental Europe, Mr Twomey has been impressed enough by two Irish-bred horses to put his money where his mouth is by buying Special Lux (Lux Z x Coille Mor Hill) and Codarco (Darco x Orame).

"Special Lux came to me from Pádraig Judge and if I'm honest, his rideability in the beginning was a little all over the place but he learned very quickly," he recalled.

"I gave him to Anthony Condon to ride. Anthony has been with me six or seven years at this stage and he's a really stylish rider that I have a lot of respect for. I'm really proud that he's a rider who has come through my hands.


"Anyway Anthony did a really good job with Special Lux and he was sold to Christine Tribble in the States where he is working out well and winning Grand Prix," he said. "I'm really proud of the fact that I bought him in Ireland and sold him on to do very well."

Codarco he described as a "really good horse for the future". First bought by Twomey himself, the horse is now owned by his long-term supporters Sue and Ed Davies.

"Again, he's a horse that's easy to work with and it looks like he won't be sold and will be kept for me to ride and hopefully one day compete for Ireland in the Nations Cup," he predicted.

Both Gerry Mullins and Billy Twomey were wary of how much young horses in Ireland were being asked to do at a young age.

"In Ireland we have this phenomenal prize money for the Horse Sport Ireland young horse classes and that's great, that's fantastic but they're (young horses) are getting jumped too much," warned Mr Twomey.

"They are being jumped and jumped and jumped, with the young horse classes, then you've got RDS qualifiers, Millstreet qualifiers and all of a sudden your five-year-old is getting the legs jumped off him.

"To me, a lot of it is about how they (young horses) are produced and I don't want to see them wrecked before they are seven or eight years old."

Kildare-based coach and buyer Mullins agreed with the rider's sentiments totally.

"Here in Ireland there is a bigger emphasis on the young horse classes and I feel it puts too much pressure on the horse at a young stage. I would prefer the horses were given time to develop," said Mr Mullins.

"I would prefer a system where the horses could be judged on the things I look for in a horse when buying for a customer," he remarked.

"I've never bought a horse because it won a class -- except maybe at Grand Prix level -- but not a younger horse. Instead I look for horses with a good temperament, that are sound, that have a good length of stride, that are rideable and change leads, which is important for the amateur rider."

Broomes tip to breeders

David Broome on Irish bred horses:

"If I want to buy a pound of apples, I will go to the best shop for buying apples. The problem for Ireland is that your showcase horses are not doing the business," British showjumping legend David Broome told more than 160 delegates at the Showjumpers Club/Connollys Red Mills seminar last week.

"The best horses are being bred in Belgium, Holland, France and Switzerland at the moment. But there is no need to reinvent the wheel, try and copy what the successful ones are doing.

"I don't know much about breeding horses but the way I look at it, these days if you want to buy a car you tell them (car companies) what you want and they build it for you.

"Equally, you need to think about what you want in a showjumper and breed those qualities into your horse. You want a good temperament, a good mouth, good technique and lots of ability.

"These days those boys on the continent will tell you that if you're not asked £1m for a horse, the horse is no good!" he told the conference. "A real good one or 'the one' will cost you £10m!"

Irish Independent