Young event horse producers from across Ireland are expected to be out in force tomorrow, Wednesday, for the opening leg of the inaugural Young Eventhorse Series (YES) in Scarteen, Co Limerick.
Previously named the Future Event Horse League for some 15 years, this series was officially wound up last autumn. However, after consultation with Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), who agreed to come on board as sponsor, it was then re-launched under a new name, and slightly new format.
Confined to four and five-year-old potential event horses, it is one of the most successful competitions on a global scale and several graduates have gone on to achieve great success in international eventing. One such graduate, Fenyas Elegance, placed third in the Saumur three-star in France recently for new rider, Britain's Oliver Townend.
"We thought long and hard about it and had made the decision to wind up the FEHL as one of the founders Lars Bjoerk had called time on it, and we had also lost another founder, the late Ronnie MacMahon, a few years earlier," commented chairman Harold McGahern. "However, HSI chairman Professor Pat Wall thought this was unfortunate as he realised how important the series is to event horse breeders and producers in Ireland. Rather than let it vanish he encouraged us to hold on to the concept, and, through HSI, put up a prize-fund of €20,000 for which we are most grateful."
After a full review the format was tweaked to make it more user-friendly, and McGahern believes this will be appreciated by owners and riders. "Previously horses were being pulled out of the horsebox twice in the day for the flatwork, jumping and then conformation judging which was tough on them. Now the four-year-olds will do all three phases in the morning, which will mean they will be finished in about an hour, and the same will apply for the five-year-olds in the afternoon."
As in previous years, the series will act as a qualifier for the Dublin Horse Show, with three horses from each of the seven qualifiers in each age category being invited to compete at the RDS.
The increase in prize money has also allowed the organisers to acknowledge the input by breeders and riders, as well as owners, and each of those associated with the top five horses in the final of each age category will receive €1,000. "This is unique, but as we all know, without all three we would not have our horses."
Over the years the FEHL proved to be a vital cog in the wheel for producing event horses here in Ireland. Just as the series was being wound down last year, two Irish-breds - namely Bay My Hero and Paulank Brockagh - won two of the biggest three-day events in Kentucky and at Badminton.
Both horses boast considerable thoroughbred blood, an important trait that McGahern believes is in fear of being lost here in Ireland.
"We have seen a lot of changes in the past 15 years and we believe more and more Irish-breds are turning pan-European with the influx of foreign bloodlines. The prototype of the Irish horse has changed and that is a serious concern.
"Our remit is to identify Irish-bred horses with the aptitude and potential to become four-star eventers in the future but the systematic dilution of thoroughbred blood is a definite shift in the wrong direction."
Records show that, in 2014, not one horse in Badminton, Burghley or at the World Equestrian Games got home inside the time allowed.
In their quest to educate breeders and producers, the organisers of the Young Eventhorse Series say that "this must be a wake-up call to not dilute the thoroughbred imperative in the design specification of potential four-star eventers. Unless and until the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) reduce cross-country tracks below 6000m and/or reduce the cross-country speed below 570mpm, successful eventers will need to retain thoroughbred ancestry."
"There are serious questions to be asked now," McGahern concluded.
The series kicks off at Chris and Sue Ryan's Scarteen Stud tomorrow, followed by Ravensdale, Co Louth on June 11.
The five remaining dates and venues are Forth Mountain, Co Wexford (June 17); Rincoola, Co Longford (June 25); Tattersalls, Co Meath (July 2); Tullymurry, Co Down (July 8) and Dollanstown, Co Kildare on July 15.
For more information, see www.youngeventhorseseries.com