Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

Horses: Sales a tale of boom or bust

Results paint mixed picture for the year

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

After one of the hardest winters in memory, horse breeders and owners are hoping this year will bring a return to profitable horse production.

There are few who cling to the hope of getting back to Celtic Tiger price levels but the majority hope for prices that will reflect an adequate return on the work put in. There is not yet a definite answer as to whether their prayers will be answered this year.

Sales results have been mixed so far, with some decent prices paid for quality animals. However, animals at the bottom of the market look like they will languish there for some time to come.

With buyers seeking more 'bang for their buck', sellers, in the main, have taken a healthy dose of realism before they enter their animals. Nonetheless, no one wants to lose money either.

Goresbridge sales director Martin O'Donoghue said the prospect of getting value for money has lured some buyers back into the market.

"There are some English customers coming back that weren't around for the high prices," he said. "Now that prices have levelled out, they are back in the market because they left when they felt they couldn't get value for their money."

The most recent performance sale at Goresbridge last month hinted at a recovery in the trade.

The venue's first sale of the year, held in February, had 113 animals on offer compared to 134 last year, but turnover at the sale increased by 30pc.

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Mr O'Donoghue said entries doubled from 300 horses last year to 600 horses this year, and total sale revenue increased by 50pc from €500,000 last year to €750,000 this year.

"Overall, there was a better buzz around this year," he said. "We had a lot of new English customers, privately based clients.

"That is good news for everyone because they can go higher to secure the horse they want."

However, Mr O'Donoghue warned that the private English buyers were less likely to buy a younger horse and would instead aim for the well-used horses of five years old or older.


"They want something that can be brought home and used in competition straight away, the more well-used horse," he claimed.

The top price of the sale was €12,500, paid for KEC Corsica, a seven-year-old gelding by Corghano out of a Ballinvella mare. The next three lots sold for €8,000 each: an eight-year-old show gelding by Don Juan de la Bouverie out of a Candle King mare, a five-year-old grey gelding by Tulla Flight out of a Buster King mare and a five-year-old gelding with unrecorded breeding.

The next highest price was €7,500 for a mare by Ghareeb out of a Kiltealy Spring dam. Last of the top prices was €6,500, paid for a son of Bahrain Cruise.

However, the four-year-old trade struggled in the main, with a clearance rate of 84 from 183 horses on the day.

The exception was a gelding by Ard VDL Douglas, which was sold to a Norfolk buyer for €6,400. A Shannondale Sarco gelding was the only other four-year-old to break the €6,000 mark, although there were several who made more than €5,000.

In the three-year-old sector, only five horses were sold from 15 entered, with a top price of €4,000 for a Mohill Cavalier Clover gelding.

Cavan Horse sales director Stuart Clarke was also positive about the opening of this year.

"The young stock sale early in the year was weak enough, but the first performance sale in March definitely had a good optimism about it," he said.

"There was a clearance rate of 60pc. Prices were well back on a few years go but they were a small percentage better than 2009 and, hopefully, prices will gradually increase for the rest of the year.

"There are definitely more buyers around now, and even last year there was an improvement as the year went on."

The presence of UK buyers added to the sense of optimism at Cavan.

However, with the sterling advantage that used to be in our favour now lost, it remains to be seen how much spending power the English and Northern clients will have in the coming year.

"It would be fantastic if sterling could go back up again," said Mr Clarke.

Demand for older horses is also the theme at Cavan, with buyers keen to secure quiet and well-used animals.

As for the sellers, most are disappointed with prices for ordinary animals, but many also admit they are glad to have secured a sale -- albeit at reduced prices.

"They realise that those animals are not going to make big prices and they are just glad to get a sale," said Mr Clarke.

Despite the positive soundings from the sales managers, there are distinctly negative signals coming from some of the larger customers for Irish horses.

Sussex-based dealer Donal Barnwell sources three to six-year-old horses exclusively from Ireland, with most aimed at an eventing career later in life.

The prolific buyer described the trade in the UK as "absolutely diabolical" at present.

"There is nobody buying anything, no trade whatsoever," he insisted. "This should be a busy time of year for me, but it's not.

"The trade for novice horses is a complete waste of time. It's so bad that I'm thinking of pulling the hind shoes off the younger ones and turning them out."

The real effects of the recession are only now starting to filter through in the UK, he claimed.

"The tightness is only starting now. Company dividends aren't enough for the housewives to spend money on keeping a horse at livery or competing in eventing.

"The [UK] election is pending too and people are expecting taxes to go up, no matter who gets into power."

To illustrate the lack of demand, Mr Barnwell said he had not received one phone call after he ran a quarter-page advert in the Horse & Hound for three weeks running.

"Not one call, " he said. "Not even to ask the price."

The dealer, who is also involved in the famous Billy Stud with William and Pippa Funnell, insists that falling prices will not entice dealers to buy more horses.

"If I buy a horse for a pound and there is no-one to buy him, he is still too dear," he claimed.

"It's often easier to make money when you are buying dear and selling dear.

"Cheap is not necessarily a good thing."

Athlone-based dealer Jim Derwin described the trade in England as "OK -- and no more than that".

"They [English buyers] have it in their heads that horses are being given away in Ireland. That might be the case in the thoroughbreds but not in the rest," he said.

"They are much tighter with money now."

Having secured 37 animals in the last Goresbridge sale, the dealer said he was hoping they would make good "summer horses".

Demand for four-year-old horses has plummeted among UK buyers, while the 'happy hacker' sector is also quiet. Frost and snow effectively put paid to the hunting trade early in the new year, he claimed.

"If someone had a leisure horse but lost his or her job, the horse will go," he said.

"That market is quiet and prices have come down.

"The finest of horses are now being bought at €4,000 or €5,000.

"The change in weather might help, it might level out into some kind of trade."

While relying on the Irish weather to improve the horse trade would not be a reliable bet given the Irish climate, it remains to be seen how sales will progress this year.

Irish Independent