Sheep farmer's Hero stallion conquers RDS
County Mayo sheep farmer Sean Barker had never attended the Dublin Horse Show prior to 2008 when his Irish Draught stallion Gortfree Hero first made his entrance into the showing world.
Eleven years on and Gortfree Hero is now one of the most successful stallions of this past decade, with three RDS titles to his credit. In addition he has produced multiple winning progeny at the same venue.
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He first won the Irish Draught stallion class at the show in 2010 and won again in 2014 before completing the hat-trick in 2018.
"He is retired from showing now so will not return this year," Sean says, adding that instead his stallion son Gortfree Lakeside Lad will contest the title for 2019, in addition to the Working Hunter competitions.
Sean purchased Gortfree Hero as a foal in 2002. Only one broodmare had ever lived at the farm before that and so for Sean the arrival of this young horse was a great introduction to the world of horse breeding.
"The intention was to keep him as a stallion so we sent him show jumping for a while, first with Delyth Collins and then with Richard Kerins."
At one point the stallion was covering some 60 mares, but these numbers have reduced in recent years owing to the huge success of his son, the seven-year-old Gortfree Lakeside Lad who covered some 50 mares last year.
Bred on the farm by Sean and out of his foundation mare Springvale Rose, Gortfree Lakeside Lad has accumulated numerous wins on both sides of the Irish Sea in the past two years.
He first won the performance Irish Draught championship at the RDS in 2017 and last year retained the title under rider Linda Murphy.
In addition the combination has won the performance class at the Irish Draught Horse Breeders' Association (IDHBA) National Show in Punchestown for the past two years running. With Brian Murphy in the saddle, they won the ridden championship at the same venue in 2017, when also reserve supreme champion, and again in 2018, after which he was again crowned supreme ridden horse of the show.
Across the water, the stallion won both the supreme ridden and working hunter championships at the 2017 Irish Draught Show in the UK. In 2018 the grey was the highest-placed Irish Draught in the Blue Chip Challenge and next week he will return to the same venue to contest further titles.
With the farm work quiet in the summer months Sean thoroughly enjoys following the success of his horses. The winter months are spent closer to home tending to his flock of 200 horned ewes that spend much of the year grazing the hills near Tourmakeady, between the Partry Mountains and Lough Mask.
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