Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Striving for success in showjumping

Breeding the right traits and knowing what to look for will help you meet all those goals

Clem McMahon rides Coole Al Clover to Ireland's first World Breeding Championship gold medal in Lanaken, Belgium
Clem McMahon rides Coole Al Clover to Ireland's first World Breeding Championship gold medal in Lanaken, Belgium
Eamonn, left, and Margaret Kenny, Co Laois, receive an award as the breeders of Coole Al Clover from HSI's Jim Beecher, right, accompanied by rider Clem McMahon, second from left
Horses go for a gallop
Pacino, the seven-year-old Selle Francais stallion by Diamant de Semilly, standing at Clem McMahon's Hilton View Stud, shows the qualities Clem looks for in a showjumper. The 17.1hh French-bred sire is a half brother to Hermes De Reve, out of a Muget de Manoir dam who has bred five international horses so far. "Pacino rides on a snaffle and is well balanced, making him easy to ride. He's got a nice, sloping shoulder and a strong back, with his hind legs underneath him," says Clem
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

What are top-flight show-jumping riders looking for in a horse and what can breeders do to produce it?

If anyone were in a good position to offer advice, it would be Clem McMahon, who rode Coole Al Clover to Ireland's first ever gold medal at the World Breeding Championships in Lanaken, Belgium, last year.

The chestnut stallion by Aldatus Z (OLD), out of Laural Lodge (AID) by Clover Hill (RID), was bred by Eamonn Kenny from Newline Stud, Attanagh, Co Laois, and beat more than 248 starters to take first place in the six-year-old final.

Since then, the horse has been sold for a price "well into six figures", according to Clem.

Speaking at the Teagasc 'Breeding for the Market' seminar in Charleville this week, the rider outlined the requirements of the modern day showjumping horse:

  • Athleticism/Blood -- "Athleticism is the first requirement. Unless the horse can bend his hocks, he is not going to jump at the upper levels," the rider insists.
  • Balance/canter -- "These two go hand in hand with athleticism," says Clem. "A horse with good action with his hocks underneath him will be in balance, have better self-carriage and will be easier to ride."
  • Scope -- "The horse has to have power, especially in combinations like a one-stride oxer to oxer combination," he claims."You can't have a horse that relies on pace for scope -- where will he get his speed in that combination? It can't be done so he needs to have the power to get over it without speed."
  • Carefulness -- "Showjumping courses have small, light poles in shallow cups and safety cups on the back pole that collapse easily," the rider says. "It's not like the old days where the horse could sit on the back pole and it would stay where it was."
  • Stride -- "The horse will always be under pressure if he doesn't have a decent stride," Clem says. "He must lengthen and collect easily for the more technical courses that require you to shorten at ease. The rider must be able to adjust for an open stride or a backward one or else the course builder will catch you out."
  • Temperament -- "Temperament is not as important for the professional rider as the amateur rider, but a very hot horse could cause hassle," he says.
  • Technique -- "The Irish are inclined to get too hung up on technique," says the rider. "They tend to get very hung up on the front end and want the legs hitting the belly every time."

"But, to me, too much technique at a young age can indicate a lack of scope sometimes."

Interestingly, the Nations Cup team rider told breeders he would forgive small conformational irregularities or faults, like a small turn or wind, as long as the horse's overall athleticism was good.

"But I do mean small -- not something that goes really east or west," he insists.

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Outlining the market for showjumpers, Clem described it as a pyramid, with the lucrative market for horses capable of jumping at 1.60m Nations Cup level at the pinnacle, followed by horses capable of performing at 1.50m.

Horses that would jump at 1.40m National Grand Prix level would give a good return, he claims.

"There is a big market in the American amateur scene for those horses if they are easy to ride and have a good balanced canter," he says.

Moving down in scope, horses capable of jumping 1.30m need to be easy to ride for junior and young rider customers, he insists. The same applied to the 1.10m amateur and riding club clients.

"If your horse is in the 90cm-1m bracket, you are not looking at a great return price wise," he says.

According to Clem, the market demands for a showjumping horse are looks, athleticism, balance, size and rideability.

"If a horse is balanced in canter, it will jump. You rarely see a horse with a good canter that cannot jump," he claims.

"No one wants a horse that is on its head or unbalanced that you would be afraid of coming down to a cross pole."

Irish breeders were breeding horses too small. "The days of 16hh horses making it to the top are over," he insists.

At the other end, the traits that the market would not tolerate include:

  • Ugly horses -- "If you see a mallet of a head looking out over the door, you are not going to ask to see the horse. The head is the first thing you look at in a horse and the horse needs to be a looker."
  • Conformation issues, particularly conformation traits that make a horse more difficult to ride, such as a ewe neck.

"You could spend 24/7 working on a horse that has an upside down neck and, yes, you can improve muscle to a certain extent but you can't remodel bones," maintains the rider.

Upright shoulders, an unbalanced canter, a horse whose hind legs are camped out behind and extremely crooked conformation were other major faults that would not be tolerated in the market place, he insists.

He advises buyers and breeders to assess balance in a three-year-old horse by lungeing it on a smallish circle.

"If he's not balanced, he will be swinging out of you and constantly changing legs behind," Clem says.

However, he warned against breeders and producers doing too much work with a young horse and advised on a gradual training regime.

"A lot of three-year-old horses are abused and over-produced to get to Dublin and Millstreet," he claims.

"The first thing I do when I see a young horse jumping to the sky is turn and walk away. It's a total disaster."

He outlined the typical training regime for a good three-year-old horse in his yard as starting with breaking in October, followed by schooling and then a few training shows starting in March. The horse is then given a break until August and lightly competed in September, October and November of its four-year-old year.

The five-year-old year is the first real competitive year, with horses being aimed at the five-year-old classes in Dublin and the Horse Sport Ireland classes, as well as the Cavan Classic final.

As six-year-olds, they will be aimed at Lanaken and will jump 1.30m by the end of the year, while they will be jumping 1.40m by the end of their seven-year-old year.

"That's if all is going well. The main thing is that they are not over-jumped," insists Clem.

The international show-jumper did not mince his words when asked what breeders would have to do to improve the quality of horses being bred.

"There should be a cull and start again," he says bluntly.

"There are too many mares being covered that should not be bred.

"You would nearly cringe when you see some of the mares coming through the gate. Honestly, it doesn't matter what stallion you use on some mares, you will not get a good jumper. People have to go home and be very critical of their own stock."

He offered the example of a farmer with two fillies that could only sell one.

"What will he do with the one he can't sell? He'll breed from her instead of selling her for any money and keeping the good one to breed from. That's ludicrous."

"Personally, if the mare had not performed I would not dream of covering her. You could cover a donkey with Sadler's Wells but you're not going to get much of a racehorse, and the same applies to showjumpers," he concludes.

Next week we will examine the latest sport horse sales analysis from Teagasc, which outlines the effect of sire breed on profitability

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