Irish sport horse sales back on track
The market for horses and ponies has rebounded but many buyers are still struggling to source affordable, well-bred stock for their clients
As a country we may still have a long way to go to catch up with the calibre of some of the elite sport horse sales across Europe, yet nowhere else in the world is there such a demand for horses and ponies than right here in Ireland.
Across the board prices for 2015 were shown to be much improved on previous years, with well-bred colt foals by continental sires, in particular, making the headlines as show jumping prospects at the elite sales at both Cavan and Goresbridge.
It was also another good year for well-produced three-year-olds with a top jumping or eventing pedigree, but, at the other end of the scale, a high number were still not bred for market, resulting in a substantial amount of non-commercial poorer quality stock.
Performance Irish Draughts and Connemara ponies, however, were said to be holding their own at auction and the recent returns from Clifden showed ponies bred for performance making in excess of €4,000. This particularly applied to dun geldings.
"It was a marked improvement on 2014, but then again it had to get better," commented Stuart Clarke of Cavan Equestrian Centre, who hosted several performance sales as well as two elite sales this year.
"In particular there was a good demand for well-bred horses from €7,000 upwards. Those who paid a lot of money for foals perhaps took a gamble, but they were afraid the right one would not be there as a three-year-old so ended up paying more now."
This sentiment was echoed by Martin Donohue of Goresbridge who agreed that more horses are making more money than ever before. "The results are definitely stronger for 2015 but then again a huge amount of horses we sold this year went abroad. The demand is there, whereas the domestic market is down."
Each year it is estimated that some 5,000 horses and ponies pass through the sales' rings here, with a huge percentage overall bound for export either through Irish dealers or by visitors who travelled over in search of that next top show jumper, eventer, hunter or pony.
Research shows that a total of 6,599 sport horses to the value of €26.1m were exported in 2011, with net exports amounting to €15.9m.
One such dealer who has contributed to that export trade for many years is Jim Derwin. This year, in particular, he has seen a noticeable improvement in terms of quality and standard at these sales, so much so he has been responsible for purchasing several of the top lots throughout the year. However, he admits that he still struggles to find a 'proper traditional Irish-bred' for many of his overseas clients.
Derwin buys much of his stock as four-year-olds and upwards to ensure a relative quick turnaround.
The sales' results this year make for interesting reading. Of those sales analysed, Irish sires were responsible for just handful of the top-five in each of the younger age categories, with the largest number only appearing in the figures for older horses at both Cavan and Goresbridge.
Many of the top lots boasted either continental jumping sires or thoroughbreds, with several dams also by foreign sires. Some exceptions included the sale-topper at the Goresbridge Supreme Sale of Show Jumping foals who is out of the top jumping mare Ballypatrick Flight (Laughtons Flight). She can boast the 2015 RDS Aga Khan winner Going Global as a half-brother.
According to a study carried out as part of the 'Reaching New Heights' Strategy a significant percentage of horses registered in the Irish Sport Horse Studbook now have genetics which originated in foreign studbooks and the majority of top show jumping horses competing nationally and globally have continental genetics.
Further research, based on results from the Dublin Horse Show, showed that the percentage of Irish-bred horses competing in the Nations' Cup teams in the RDS decreased from 35pc in 1982 to just 3pc in 2014.
In the figures released by Teagasc for the 5,160 foals registered in 2013, 1,736 of these were registered as foreign, with 1,275 as Irish Sport Horses. A further 1,060 were registered as Irish Draughts, with 832 as thoroughbred.
This has led to concerns that what had been renowned as the Irish Sport Horse - the 'Traditional Irish Sport Horse' ie the Irish Draught/Connemara pony/thoroughbred cross - is being bred out of existence.
In 2013, Horse Sport Ireland offered breeders the option of having their foal identified as 'traditional' on its passport and over 400 traditional foals were identified, but, according to Jim Derwin and many of his fellow supporters of the Irish-bred, not enough is being done to encourage breeders to revise their breeding programmes long-term.
"People will always pay good money for a traditional Irish horse but they are so difficult to find. This year I sourced 50pc of my horses at Cavan and Goresbridge, with the rest bought privately or at fairs," Derwin commented, adding that another problem lies with the unrealistic pricing of some animals.
"I heard several vendors complaining this year that trade was bad, but it will only be bad when they are charging over the top for their average stock," Derwin added.
This was particularly evident at the recent sales of foals where a number of vendors who had turned down realistic prices privately some weeks earlier, were later forced to take their youngsters home when they did not fetch the reserves when going through the ring.
While the cost of producing a home-bred foal for sale can cost in the region of €1,500 (including stud fee), when it comes to selling them publicly as three-year-olds that figure is likely to double. It is at this point the majority of vendors struggle to make a profit, although private sales will most often yield a higher return.
An examination of the cost of production relative to the price achieved at public auction conducted by Teagasc showed that those selling at the bottom and middle market prices were suffering a loss, while those selling in the top 20pc of the market or at elite auctions were more likely to see a return on their investment.
One man who ensures he gets a return for his investment every time is Co Clare-based Vincent Meaney. As a long-time producer of three-year-olds, bought in as foals, he knows exactly what the customer requires in a young show jumper or event horse.
At the recent 10-day sale at Goresbridge he received one of the highest prices (€11,000) for a gelding by OBOS Quality out of a mare by Flagmount King. "I don't mind the sire being continental once the dam has good Irish bloodlines," he said.
While Jim Derwin is among a select number of Irish dealers who account for substantial numbers of horses and ponies at auction each year, figures for 2015 show a dramatic increase in the numbers of animals being knocked down to UK buyers.
At the recent 10-day sale at Goresbridge an estimated 80pc of the horses and ponies sold were destined for overseas, with many of the top lots purchased by regular British visitors.
Among these was the €17,000 paid by Leicestershire-based Graham Smith for a five-year-old son of Lux Z who will further his career in show jumping across the water.
Incidentally Smith also owns the British Nations Cup horse Dougie Douglas, who was sourced at the same venue and will return to be auctioned during the forthcoming Supreme Sale of Show Jumpers on November 10.
"The strong sterling rate has definitely contributed to the sharp rise in British buyers," Derwin said. "An expensive horse over there is an affordable one here at the moment."
However, while the cross-channel visitors will nearly always find something to fill their order books given the lack of public horse sales in the UK, the same cannot be said for some of our well-known producers of show horses.
On a recent visit to the sales Jane Bradbury left empty-handed after two days when failing to source her next potential show champion.
"I did not find anything suitable at the sales but we searched the country for almost six weeks and did find a few nice ones," she said.
"It is so hard to find a nice traditional Irish horse for what we want. In most cases you have to go back to the second dam to find Irish bloodlines, which is disappointing to see."
And, according to Stuart Clarke, this trend is set to continue. "The breeding system here has definitely changed and we are now following European bloodlines more than ever," he concluded.
CAVAN EQUESTRIAN CENTRE
Tuesday, November 24
Performance Horse & Pony Sale
Wednesday, November 25
Performance Horse & Pony Sale
Thursday, November 26
Youngstock Sport Horse Sale and Registered Irish Draught Sale
Saturday, November 7
Monthly Horse & Pony Sales
Tuesday, November 10
Supreme Sale of Show Jumpers
Wednesday, November 11
Go For Gold Sale (Event Horses)
Event Horse Sale
Tomorrow and Thursday (Nov 4-5)
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