Horses - industry taking the rough with the smooth

Martin Donohue of Goresbridge Sales
Martin Donohue of Goresbridge Sales
Ballynoecastle RM is one of three Irish Sport Horses named on the US evening squad for the Alltech World Equestrian Games
Martin Donohue's father Ned started the first Goresbridge auction in 1968 by selling mainly donkeys from a rostrum made from a car trailer
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

The sport horse industry has gone through many changes over the years, and no one knows that better than Martin Donohue.

Having been at the helm of Goresbridge Horse Sales since the early 1980s, he has witnessed the highs and lows of the business across the board.

"I do think that the trade is as good as ever for the right horse though," he told the Farming Independent as he prepared for a very busy few weeks of sales under the Goresbridge banner.

"Breeders lost their way for a while, and got disillusioned with the industry. They got fed up of breeding year in, year out, and not getting a return. Sadly we lost some of Ireland's best broodmares to the factory during this time. Hopefully now things are on the upturn."

Martin's comments came as he was finalising the catalogue for the marathon eight-day sale of sport horses at the Goresbridge complex next month. "Entries are back about 500 from last year, but 1,350 is still a sizeable number," he said.

The sale offers the full range from novice ponies to experienced show jumpers, and eventers. "There's always trade for the right type of horse and pony. Some 80pc of our customer base comes from Britain , and they come in their droves each year."

Top British event riders such as Ollie Townend and his partner Nina Barbour are regular visitors, as are British-based Irish riders Austin O'Connor and Mark Kyle.

Riders of this calibre will always seek out a quality horse with a good percentage of thoroughbred blood.

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Breeders who choose to cover their well-bred mares with good-quality thoroughbred stallions will naturally have a better return than those who take alternative routes with their breeding.

Despite the healthy numbers of thoroughbred sires for the racing industry, there is a continued shortage of such sires suitable for the sport horse industry.

This year, however, saw the welcome addition of three new stallions approved by Horse Sport Ireland. It is strongly hoped that Elusive Emir, Wounderwall and Munther will go on to sire successful competition horses.

"Most people coming to Ireland for event horses are looking for the traditionally-bred horse, with thoroughbred blood," said Martin.

While this has always been the case, numerous Irish Sport Horses boasting foreign blood have proven successful at four-star level, and this includes Goresbridge graduate Ballynoecastle RM.

By the Belgian Warmblood sire Ramiro B, he was placed 31st in the rankings listed by the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses for 2013.

Not surprisingly, though, a traditionally-bred Irish sport horse - Mr Cruise Control - finished within the top 10. By Cruising, he too was sold through Goresbridge in recent years.

Ballynoecastle RM is one of three Irish Sport Horses named on the US eventing squad for the Alltech World Equestrian Games which are taking place in France over the next two weeks.

Now boasting some 22 sales, Goresbridge Sales have come a long way from humble beginnings in the 1960s.

Martin's father Ned had been left the auctioneering business by his uncle Jack, a well-known horse man and breeder of the top chasing mare, Height of Fashion.

"Dad was of the opinion that if cattle could be sold by auction, so too could horses. People thought he was mad, but he had a vision."

The first ever auction took place in 1968, and that consisted of mainly donkeys. "It was fairly basic and the rostrum was made from a car trailer," Martin said.

Ned passed away in 1978, but by then the Goresbridge complex had expanded and more and more stables were being added as the business grew.

On Ned's passing, his wife Catherine was left to rear nine children while taking over the running of the business.

After spending two years in Dublin learning the auctioneering trade, Martin returned home in 1982 to kick-start what has since become one of the leading sales of sport horses in Europe.

"The September sale first started off as two days," he recalls, "but soon it grew to three days. I remember having so many entries and we did not want to turn people away. The more horses we had, the more it encouraged people to come. It quickly grew to six days and, for several years was held over 10 days. Back then we had 2,000 entries."


The days of such high entries may be over for some time, but customers will still come to Goresbridge in the hope of finding that 'special horse'.

As leading British show producers David Tatlow and daughter Loraine Homer once said: "We get a really big buzz from going to Goresbridge. We have bought some lovely horses - you can never tell what you might find."

One of those finds over the years is Major Moylaw, whom Loraine rode to multiple championships across Britain, including the Horse of the Year Show.

While the September sale may be the place to find a potential champion hunter, the Goresbridge Go For Gold Sale has grown into a hugely successful source for top Irish event horses.

Now in its fifth year, it takes place over three days from November 10 to 12. Horses are put through their paces at Barnadown, outside Gorey, with the auction taking place at the nearby Amber Springs Hotel.

"It was a success really from day one," said Martin, "and the results are now speaking for themselves. Red Curran, who topped the sale in 2011 when sold for €47,000, was this year selected to represent China in the 2014 Asian Games.

"The standards are improving all the time and we have another lovely selection of horses this year. We have already selected the three-year-olds and the selection for the older horses take place this week," Martin said.

A new departure this year sees riders assessing the horses as well as the regular selection panelists of Sally Parkyn, Chris Ryan, and also Clare Ryan. "We are delighted to have top event riders Michael Ryan, Sam Watson, Ciaran Glynn and Captain Geoff Curran involved this year."

The ongoing success of this sale of event horses has, this year, prompted Martin to introduce a similar sale of show jumpers to coincide with the Breeders' Classic on September 5 and 6.

"We had it on our mind for a few years and we are now very excited about it. I feel it will be big in time. We are starting with a small but exciting catalogue of horses," said Martin.

The catalogue is indeed impressive and includes Ard Ginger Pop, a recent winner of the Millstreet Ruby Final for five-year-olds, and the six-year-old Talks Cheap, third at the RDS earlier this month.

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