Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Match breeding policy to market demand for foals

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

To breed or not to breed, that is the question that many sport horse producers must ask themselves in these early days of 2014.

Foal numbers have dropped significantly since horse production peaked in 2008. Breeders have clearly digested the message from the post-boom market that only good horses will make a return and Irish Sport Horse foal numbers are steady at around 5,000 for the past two years.

This reduction in volume, which is being mirrored across Europe, could create an opportunity for Irish breeders (see Page 11) but it is just one step in the right direction and there are many more steps that breeders can take to improve their own lot.

In the past three years, fewer than 160 Irish Sport Horse (ISH) mares were inspected annually in the Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) inspections. Table 1 (below) shows the number and result of inspections for ISH and Irish Draught mares.

This is disappointing, given how much information could be gleaned from the process and used by the breeders to their advantage.

The mares are assessed on their pedigree, conformation and movement and mare owners receive a detailed linear profile to take home, which gives a detailed description of their mare's conformational strengths and weaknesses.


This sort of assessment, provided by an independent panel of experts, is worth far more than the inspection fee of €35 for Irish Horse Board members.

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Another way breeders can help themselves is by making the connection between the breeding of foals and the sport that you breed them for. A common criticism of the sport horse industry is that there is a distinct divide between the people who breed horses and the people who own and ride them in later life.

If you want to sell the progeny from your mare, you need to know what the buyers are looking for and there are numerous ways to do this.

Travel to shows, particularly those hosting young horse classes and see for yourself which stallions are producing the goods. Ask riders, dealers, agents and owners what horses are selling, which ones are going to the top and which ones to avoid.

Utilise the internet to keep up with results at home and abroad.

Follow horses that you have sold, stay abreast of their results and investigate the results of horses that are related to your mares at home.

Pedigree recording is essential for any breeding programme and if a horse you bred does well, you need to be able to cash in on that with siblings, progeny and other relations. None of that would be possible without recording the foal's pedigree so don't skimp on registration costs or you could end up being 'penny wise and pound foolish'.


On Pages 12 and 13, breeder Carmel Ryan tells us how she and her family went from breeding a couple of working-type mares to top flight international competition horses in just a few generations.

The key to her success and that of many other top breeders is the ability to be self-critical when appraising broodmares and only choose the best for breeding.

Asking yourself some difficult questions and giving yourself honest answers could be the quickest route to success in breeding horses this year and for many more to come.

The achievements of showjumper Arraghbeg Clover and event horse Fenya's Elegance -- both mares -- in 2012 has proven what can be accomplished by Irish breeders and now is the time to start planning for more success stories like those.

Irish Independent