Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Getting the inside track on irish breeding

International event rider Sam Watson (right) outlined what event riders look for in a horse, describing what weight he would give each trait.

He also outlined what he considered the minimum score he would need for each trait when buying an event horse.

• Temperament (40pc) -- He claimed this is a combination of training ability, heart, intelligence and ability to be ridden. Training ability is about how willing the horse is to learn and please the rider. A horse with heart will never give up and is careful jumping, even on the third day of an event. A good brain is required both in cross-country, where the legendary Irish 'fifth leg' could be needed in a sticky situation, and in the dressage arena, where the horse is expected to stay calm in a fraught atmosphere.

Riding ability refers to a horse's mouth and his sensitivity to aids.

• Soundness (25pc) -- This is a heritable trait, Sam told breeders at the conference, so know your mare and research and grade stallions for soundness before breeding them.

Conformation is one of the biggest factors in assessing soundness so do not breed from horses with conformation faults that will impede the ability of their offspring and result in injuries.

• Gallop (15pc) -- The horse's gallop can be assessed by examining the percentage of thoroughbred (TB) blood in him. Horses with lots of TB blood have been bred for generations to gallop and will expend less energy in a cross-country event.

"Stamina is still essential in eventing," he said. "The courses may be shorter but the intensity is much greater."

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Jumping speed is another essential factor to look at. "The horse needs to be quick through the air and have a quick getaway."

Acceleration is as important, if not more important than average ground speed on today's shorter format courses, he added.

The horse also needs to be economical, travelling the course within time at less than 100pc effort. "He needs to be easy to turn, with good acceleration and not pulling at the rider all the time," he said.

• Movement (10pc) -- This is a vital indicator of athleticism and an athletic horse is one that will sell. However, it can be influenced by the horse's ability to be trained and the skill of the rider and producer.

• Jump (10pc) -- Another indicator of athleticism and essential for selling horses. Again, the influence of the rider and producer can either help or hinder a horse when jumping.

In grading a potential horse , Sam told the conference that he would only buy a horse if it scored a minimum of 7/10 in each of the five areas outlined above.

"Ideally I want a higher score for each area but I will not take a horse that has less than 7/10 in any area," he said. "For me personally, temperament is the one area where I want a 10/10."

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