Farm Ireland

Friday 22 March 2019

Horse: A colourful breed

The injection of thoroughbred blood means that coloured horses now excel in most equine pursuits

Andrew Hoy with the Irish-bred piebald Right to Play's Jack Sparrow who made a stunning debut on the British eventing scene.
Andrew Hoy with the Irish-bred piebald Right to Play's Jack Sparrow who made a stunning debut on the British eventing scene.

Siobhán English

There was a time in Ireland when coloured horses were considered nothing more than being good for pulling carts.

Now, as the foreign market for well-marked, all-round coloureds continues to grow, breeders and producers are enjoying their expanding popularity across the disciplines.

One of the most stunning Irish-breds to make their debut on the British eventing scene in recent weeks ago was Right to Play's Jack Sparrow, a striking piebald now competing with British-based Australian rider Andrew Hoy.

Owned by Swiss businesswoman Barbara Keller and ridden as a novice here by Edie Murray-Hayden, the seven-year-old is out of the racemare Jessie's Muppets, by Anshan.

His sire, however, remains somewhat of a mystery, but the potential he has shown since his arrival in Andrew's yard in November makes him a rather exciting addition to the rider's current string.

"Jack Sparrow is the most charming and sunny character - and at the same time a real fighter who wants to give his best every day," said Andrew Hoy. "2015 is going to be our first season together and I can't wait!"

Originally crossed with thoroughbreds, the original heavy 'Vanner' coloured mare produced middleweight hunter-types.

But as the breed incorporated more thoroughbred blood over the years, the majority of coloured sport horses in Ireland are now more finely-boned and excel at most equestrian sports, from showing, and show jumping to the demanding hunting field in Ireland and beyond.

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Some of the most influential sires here in recent years include the event horse Glenhill Gold (by Saracen Hill), as well as Cavalier Two For Joy (by Cavalier Royale) and Tullibards Shakespeare (by Zhivago).

Dealers such as Miley Cash have been exporting coloured cobs abroad for years, many of which are sourced at horse fairs, but fixtures such as the Dublin Horse Show are considered an ideal location for would-be buyers of show horses in search for 'something special'.

Over the years many RDS winners have gone on to achieve further success at some of the biggest shows on the British circuit, most notably the Horse of the Year Show where the Irish-bred skewbald So Smart became the first coloured horse to win the Supreme Horse of the Year accolade in 2006.

It is said that the pinto or coloured horse originated in Spain and was introduced to North America by Spanish and other European explorers.

Often referred to as piebald or skewbald horses in literature about the Wild West, the pinto was a favourite among American cowboys and Native Americans.

Several horsemen in the 1930s formed the Pinto Horse Society with the purpose of breeding superior coloured horses. The registry they created is the basis of what is now known as the Pinto Horse Association of America.

Here the Irish Piebald & Skewbald Studbook is run by the Galway-based Leisure Horse Ireland.


Coloureds here are identified as skewbald, which can be bay, brown, chestnut, grey, dun or palomino, and white.

There may be some black marks in addition. Piebald are recognisable by large irregular patches of black and white (usually black on a white base).

They are both defined by their external visible coat colouration and markings and not by genetic makeup or type. They are therefore distinctive and unique from other "coloured", splash marked, or extended leg marked breeds or types.

In North America the specialised term 'paint' refers specifically to a breed of horse with American quarter horse or thoroughbred bloodlines in addition to being spotted.

Pinto refers to a spotted horse of any breed. Americans usually describe the colour shade of a pinto literally as black and white, chestnut (or sorrel and white, or bay and white.)

Pintos come in two distinct colour patterns, tobiano and overo. Tobiano are white with large spots of colour, with a greater percentage of colour than white. Overo horses, meanwhile, have jagged white markings.

Coloured thoroughbreds, although rare, are not new and overo thoroughbreds were documented to have occurred as early as the 1700s.

An oil painting from 1790, which hangs in the Walker Art Gallery, in Liverpool, shows a coloured racehorse owned by King George III.

After a long absence, coloured thoroughbreds have now appeared in the Northern Hemisphere once again, with Angrove Rumbaba, Modern Society and Join The Dots as the only three to have raced under rules in the UK in the past decade.

Bred by Angrove Stud in Yorkshire, Angrove Rumbaba's sire is Ricco who carried 75% thoroughbred and 25% sport horse breeding. His bloodlines go back to Nureyev, sire of 135 stakes winners, with the grand-dam also carrying substantial thoroughbred through Zhivago and Top Hat.

Modern Society, meanwhile, is by the sire I Was Framed, one of only a handful of coloured thoroughbred stallions in Europe and the first ever to be registered with Weatherbys.

Also sire of the German-based two-year-old colt Silvery Moon, I Was Framed is by the American thoroughbred Racey Remarque.

I Was Framed stood in Ireland for a short time and also in the Britain, but is now based in France at Haras des Loges.

Close by in Holland, one of the most eagerly sought after tobiano stallions is Sambertino, son of the legendary sire of coloured performance horses, Samber. As the first and only coloured stallion to have been approved by the KWPN stud book, Samber is said to have been the most influential of all pinto warmblood sires.

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