Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Breeding the Badminton best

Ireland can stay ahead of the rest by breeding from relatives of title-winning event horsesClass ACTS: Imperial Cavalier, ridden by Mary King (left), and Lenamore, ridden by Caroline Powell (above), recently finished fourth and fifth respectively at Badminton

Norman Storey Equine specialist, Teagasc

To compete at the world's best known and most prestigious eventing competition is an honour and a great achievement. To win, you have reached the top.

To breed a horse that successfully negotiates its way around Badminton is also an achievement. As we know, Irish-bred horses have dominated eventing and, for the past 15 years, the ISH studbook is number one in the world rankings.

A recent English study showed that the heritabilities for most eventing disciplines at every grade were significant, so there is potential to breed event horses. So looking in more detail at the breeding of the Irish-bred horses that competed at Badminton this year is a useful exercise.

Out of 83 starters, 31 (37pc) were Irish-bred. Twenty (40pc) of the 50 finishers were Irish. Of the Irish-bred horses competing, 65pc finished -- an excellent result indeed.

Of the 31 Irish starters, 28 were geldings and three were mares -- there were no stallions competing. Only the mares will come into breeding at some stage, but at 13, 11 and 10 years of age, and still competing, they will be lucky to produce six to eight foals between them in their lifetimes.

The next best option for us is to breed from siblings of the geldings. So we need to examine the pedigrees and try to identify if there are any relatives. Two of the 31 have no breeding recorded -- another disappointing situation.


The average age was 14 years, so we again must remember that we breed for the long-term goal. The winner of the 2024 Badminton will come from this year's crop of foals. Five were ten-year-old horses; two were foaled in 1993 and one in 1992.

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A look at the breed of sire once again highlights the importance of the thoroughbred in eventing competition. One was by a Connemara Pony, one each by a Hanoverian, Holstein and Zweibrucker, three were by Irish Draught, nine by Irish sport horse and 13 by thoroughbred stallions.

One horse was a full Thoroughbred; two were traditionally Irish-bred, ie a thoroughbred stallion on an Irish Draught mare. Three were reverse-cross, ie Irish Draught stallion on a Thoroughbred mare

Four stallions were represented by two progeny each, Kiltealy Spring (ISH), Political Merger (TB), Puissance (ISH) and Taldi (TB), and all are well-known sires.

The others are also well-known sires of performance horses, namely: Cavalier, Spring Diamond, Crosskeys Rebel, Diamond Clover, Step Together, Furisto, Legal Pressure, Clover Brigade, Supreme Leader, Pallas Digion, I'm a Star, Billies Bank, Crosstown Dancer, Touch Stone, Petardia, Bolivar, Edmund Burke, Supreme Edge, Porter Rhodes, Sea Crest and Morgangold Major.

Common talk tells us the mare is the most important part of the breeding equation. She is very important to us as individual breeders. We must have a good mare. As I said above, 28 of the starters were geldings, so we must breed from siblings.


Of the 28 dams listed, I could only source information on 21. From the records I have, between the 21 of them they produced 107 foals -- an average of five each. Of these, 51 were filly foals.

So mares that are capable of breeding Badminton competitors will, on average, produce a replacement for themselves and one other filly.

If the average age of the Badminton competitors is 14 years, then the average age of these sibling sisters must be much the same.

Where are they now? Can they be identified? Should they be classified as 'elite' mares? Should they form the nucleus of our 'event' brood mare population?

We can talk all we like about the theory of breeding but we must start doing something. These are already 'old' mares.

We must identify young three-, four- or five-year-old mares with potential. We should put them through a simple performance test. Perhaps we should be identifying the dams of the winners of the four-, five- and six-year-old championships and starting with them as elite or superior mares.


Of the dams' sires, six were ISH, seven RID and 13 thoroughbreds.

Many of them are well known performance sires. They include Diamonds are Trumps and Clover Hill, who appear twice, and Imperius, Rossa, Nelgonde, Kiltealy Spring, Mizen Melody, Bulldozer, Cruising, Master Buck, Le Patron, Laughtons Flight and his brother Errigal Flight, Salluceva, Balgaddy, Kildalton King, Classic Secret, Puissance, Diamond Lad, Horos, Bassompierre, Western Light, Valitar and Buckskin.

Diamonds are Trumps, Kildalton King and Diamond Lad are full brothers by King of Diamonds. Laughtons Flight and Errigal Flight are also by King of Diamonds.

If you go back another generation to the dams' maternal grandsires for the 16 that are available, many are also well known. Twelve are thoroughbred and four are Irish Draught. They include the thoroughbreds Tepukie, Sunny Light, Matcklike, Quisling, Hildenly, Varano by 2, Rhett Butler, Bahrain, Bargello, Darantus and Bulldozer. The Draughts include King of Diamonds, Pride of Shaunlara, Ben Purple and Knocknagow.

What is in this for you and me? We know performance is heritable -- it is passed on from one generation to another. It can be improved through selective breeding.

If your breeding objective is to breed performance horses from your mare, she must have a performance pedigree. Remember the dams of Badminton competitors produced only five foals each in their lifetime, so you must aim to breed the best each time. As well as pedigree, she must be sound and have conformation and movement to suit.

The importance of thoroughbred in eventing cannot be over emphasised. Performance must be clearly identified in the back pedigree whether it is Irish Draught or thoroughbred.

Successful competition breeding must be performance-related. What can you say about your mare?

Irish Independent