Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Korean market opens up for Irish horses and ponies

Horse Sport Ireland's CEO Damian McDonald with Professor Ahn, chairman of the Korea Society of Horse Industry (left), and Professor Kim, head of equine science at Seoul National University
Horse Sport Ireland's CEO Damian McDonald with Professor Ahn, chairman of the Korea Society of Horse Industry (left), and Professor Kim, head of equine science at Seoul National University

Irish ponies may be soon be destined for the green pastures of South Korea as part of a bid to encourage children in the country into equestrianism, writes Siobhán English.

A new export market may be emerging as sourcing good quality riding ponies was very much the topic of conversation in recent days when a delegation of equestrian experts from South Korea visited Ireland to meet with key members of the Irish equestrian industry with a view to promoting the sport in their home country.

Currently Korea is one of only a handful of countries whose Government has signed into law a 'Horse Industry Promotion Act' in hopes of boosting rural economy.

The country has a market economy that ranks 13th in the world and a population of approximately 80 million. However, equestrian sport is low in terms of popularity and just 30,000 horses and ponies are registered between the thoroughbred and leisure industries.

There are just three racecourses across Korea and a total of 400 horse-riding facilities.

It is believed that there are still just 40,000 people engaged in horse riding from a population of 80 million. Statistics show that this is a marked improvement on previous years, proving that as Korea's economy expands, interest in the horse industry continues to grow.

Dressage and show jumping are the most popular of all equestrian sports, with some 60 competitions held annually throughout the country. There is a limited interest in eventing, however the country has been represented in all three disciplines at Olympic level down through the years.

Since the law was passed in 2011, industry experts have looked at other countries in Europe and also the USA as a means for sourcing good-quality riding horses.

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In 2012 alone, horses with a value of $18.8m (€17.2m) were imported into the country, with many of the well-bred sport horses coming from Germany and France.

This fact-finding visit to Ireland saw Professor Ahn, chairman of the Korea Society of Horse Industry, and Professor Kim, head of equine science at Seoul National University, meet with Horse Sport Ireland's CEO, Damian McDonald, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding outlining HSI's promise to assist in the promotion of equestrian sport in Korea over the next number of years.

Following a visit to South Korea in November, HSI's Director of International Marketing, Elaine Hatton, invited Professors Ahn and Kim, along with Korean horse owners, breeders and trainers to Ireland to experience first-hand Irish equestrian culture and the Irish horse.

"During our visit we have learnt a lot about the Irish equestrian industry. We are also very impressed with Horse Sport Ireland and how it works with the various affiliates. It is possibly something we could establish in Korea in time," Professor Ahn said.

Both men expressed great interest in the HSI coaching programme and later this year a Korean student will travel to Ireland to take part in the Level 1 course.


"Our equestrian industry is very poor, but we believe our relationship with Ireland will help to strengthen it in time. By making the pie bigger we can open up new markets between the two countries.

"Hopefully Ireland can also use Korea as a stepping stone to other Asian markets," Professor Ahn added.

Professor Kim has spent the past number of years sourcing riding horses from other countries in Europe, but during his visit discussed the possibility of using Irish bloodlines to improve the Korean native horse.

Jeju Island, where he is based, is home to 70pc of Korea's entire native herd.

However, this Jeju pony has limited use and part of the long-term plan would be to import Irish horses and ponies suitable for a wide variety of disciplines within equestrian sport.

Commenting on the delegation's visit, Elaine Hatton said: "HSI is delighted to be hosting a visiting delegation from Korea. This is a first step in a long-term mutually beneficial synergy between the equine industries in both countries and we look forward to opening a new export market for Irish horses and ponies.

"The UK continues to be the main export market for sport horses but to have interest from such countries as Korea is an added bonus and will hopefully be a gateway to other countries in Asia."

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