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Eyes ahead

Sport horse breeders will be hoping this year brings with it a major change in their fortunes. After a year when prices for all stock took a hammering, breeders and producers are undoubtedly anxious that the market will pick up again in the coming months.

However, the overriding message to be learned from last year is that quality animals will always sell. Probably not at the highest prices we saw during the Celtic Tiger era, granted, but enough to generate a modest profit.

Internationally, Ireland is well regarded as a producer of quality sport horses and the country's reputation rests in the hands of individual breeders, so breeding decisions made this spring will prove critical in the coming years.

Informed breeding for specific markets is the key to maintaining our strength.

For the past 15 years, the Irish Sport Horse Studbook has topped the world rankings for eventing. It is time that our showjumping horses start to catch up.

Buyers make their decisions based on results and we need more top Irish-bred horses making their mark on the international showjumping circuit.

Meanwhile, Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) is mounting a Trojan effort to improve the standing of both Irish horses and riders.

A new rule book has been approved for equestrian sport, which will apply to all riders who represent Ireland in international competitions, be it showjumping, eventing, dressage, para-equestrian, carriage driving, endurance, reining and vaulting.

The new rules cover areas such as athlete licensing, entry into international events, conduct of athletes at international events and disciplinary structures.

The concept of a medication log book has also been enshrined in the rules.

Last year, more than 480 athletes were licensed by HSI to represent Ireland in international competitions all over the world.

HSI chairman Joe Walsh said that the new rules were needed and would help strengthen the governance of the sport.

"It is an absolute honour for a rider to represent their country on a team or as an individual, and we must have the very highest standards in place," he said.

"These rules set out good procedures to deal with issues that may arise. Our international riders are our flagship."

Irish Independent