Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 February 2018

Falling sport horse foal numbers 'an opportunity'

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Falling sport horse foal numbers across Europe could create a new opportunity for Irish breeders to capitalise on the shortage of top performance horses in the near future, Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) has predicted.

Since 2009, foal registrations in all of the major sport horse breeding nations have fallen dramatically, with the number of foals in German studbooks falling from more than 26,000 in 2009 to fewer than 19,000 in 2012.

Similarly, foal registrations in the Dutch and Belgian warmblood studbooks have fallen continuously since 2009. The Irish Sport Horse studbook is also on a downward trend, with foal numbers falling from a peak of around 7,500 in 2008 to 5,010 in 2012, and early indications for 2013 are that foal numbers have steadied at around 5,000.

"If that trend (of falling foal numbers) continues, roll that on and over the next six to eight years there is going to be a shortage.

"There is going to be a shortage of top performance horses -- some would argue there already is -- but certainly if the foal numbers drop throughout Europe, there will be an opportunity for a country that can produce what the market wants," HSI breeding director Alison Corbally told the Teagasc National Equine Conference recently.

Interestingly, the breeding policy implemented by Horse Sport Ireland since 2010 is having a marked effect on breeders and how they choose stallions.


Under the HSI system, stallions can be Approved, Preliminary Approved, Not Approved 1 (NA1) or Not Approved 2 (NA2) and mare owners have been voting with their feet by choosing to use more Approved stallions on their best mares and by choosing Approved stallions with higher star ratings.

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HSI research has found that the use of NA1 and NA2 stallions on five-star mares fell from 22pc in 2008 to just 5pc in 2012.

Breeders with five-star rated mares have also become more discerning about the stallion they use, with the use of four-star and five-star stallions on five-star mares rising from 49pc in 2008 to 55pc in 2012.

However, there is still a significant proportion of breeders who are not making any attempt to upgrade their breeding stock, according to the HSI research.

Only around 2pc of the recorded breedings in Ireland last year were 'elite' crosses -- that is mares of three-star or higher being covered by stallions of three-star or higher.

Some 44pc of crosses involve a select mare crossed with a stallion of one to three stars, while 26pc of crosses involve an Approved stallion with no star rating and a select mare.

The remaining 28pc of crosses are entry-level mares who have not been inspected being covered by NA1 and NA2 stallions.

"That's worrying from a studbook point of view to have almost 30pc of crosses consisting of entry-level mares being put to NA1 and NA2 stallions," remarked Ms Corbally.

"There may be mares in there that are being wasted on lesser stallions, because the breeder maybe doesn't appreciate the mare he has."

Breeders who ignore mare inspections and stallion classification guidelines are at risk of losing out financially.

The average sale price of a foal from entry-level crosses at public sales is just €1,300.

However, the average price for a foal from a select mare crossed with an Approved stallion is 32pc higher.

If the breeder uses a performance stallion with a star rating of one to three, the return is 184pc higher; and for breeders with three-star mares or better crossed with three-star or better stallions, the foal price is on average four times the price of an entry-level foal.

"It's in your own interest as a breeder to aim to upgrade the mare. There is a financial return for it," maintained Ms Corbally.

Irish Independent