wall plots a new direction for breeding

Caitriona Murphy

Focused breeding with a definite market in mind is the main message Horse Sport Ireland's (HSI) new chairman Professor Pat Wall is keen to push to horse breeders in his first weeks at the helm of the national organisation.

"As we approach the breeding season, people need to ask themselves what they are hoping to breed from their mares," he told the Farming Independent.

"The offspring has to be fit for some purpose and, with judicious stallion selection, an animal with a future will emerge albeit the different markets have different price points.

"The cost of keeping a mare and producing a foal needs to justify the expenditure otherwise we are set up to lose from the start and maybe some mares are not worth breeding from," he maintained.

"No farmer in Ireland would pick his worst cow to breed a replacement heifer from and that's the attitude we need all our horse breeders to adopt," he insisted.

"Unfortunately in the past, we've sold our best horses and bred from the rest."

Prof Wall, professor of Public Health at UCD, has just taken over the reins from Joe Walsh and is qualified both as a veterinary surgeon and a medical doctor.

He is adamant that there is huge potential to develop the market for all types of Irish horses, from riding school ponies up to elite Olympic-level show jumpers and event horses.

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"We have never had as many elite show jumping riders, scattered across a range of countries," he said.

"We could simultaneously field a team from our US-based riders, from those in the UK, those in mainland Europe and from our home-based riders."

However, the fact that many of our top riders are riding foreign-bred horses, owned by foreign owners is a tell-tale sign that breeders need to reassess their strategy.

"We have no shortage of sports horses but we don't have the product anymore for the top end of a sport that has changed and gone global," said the HSI boss.

"We can regain our rightful position as we have the right type of land to breed good horses. We have the facilities, the stock people and the riders both to produce and compete the horses and we have a passion and enthusiasm for the horse that doesn't exist in other countries," he enthused.

"However, we need to acknowledge that we have to become very selective in the mares and stallions we use, if we aspire to breed Olympic champions," he maintained.

"It is difficult to breed good horses from bad ones because you are beaten before you even start.

"Our competitors on the global stage achieved success by using mares with a) pedigree, b) performance and c) physique and proven sires that have done it themselves and are getting horses that can do it," he pointed out.

"This approach doesn't guarantee success, but it increases the likelihood of success. Our cattle farmers, seeking superior performance, moved from the Kerry Cow to the Holstein, and the beef Shorthorn to Continental breeds, but we haven't focused to the same extent on the genetics of superior jumpers."

However, Professor Wall was keen to point out that not every breeder has the wherewithal or the finances to invest in elite genetics that cost thousands of euro.

"Only a small number of people, and a small number of mares are likely to breed an Olympic champion, or even an international star in eventing or showjumping," he said.

"But there is a market for a range of horses of different abilities for different jobs.

"There are buyers out there for children's riding ponies and rideable horses at all levels for affluent amateurs."

The riding club and amateur markets both at home and abroad should be key targets for Irish breeders, as well as the top-level competitive markets, he said.

"Our indigenous breeds, the Connemara pony and the Irish Draught and our traditional sports horse are famous for their soundness, temperament and rideablility but currently we are not getting the return for these qualities," he maintained.

"There is a competitive amateur market in many countries requiring rideable horses jumping up to 1m30 or 1m40 and we need our producers to have access to it," he added.

However, further reduction on the number of breeding mares may be needed before the imbalance between supply and demand is corrected.

"Foal registrations are well back since 2008, so we are heading in the right direction but we need to continue to focus on quality rather than quantity," he insisted.

"There is nowhere more lonely, and depressing, than the sales ring when nobody comes to look at your offering and those that do offer you derisory prices."

Irish Independent

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