Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Waterford breeder Carmel Ryan reveals the dedication, luck and heartache involved in running a successful programme

The rewards are worth the blood, sweat and tears

Carmel Ryan

I was born and reared on a dairy farm that always had a few horses on the side so I inherited my interest in horses from my late father. Milking cows kept the show on the road and helped to allow a little indulgence in horse breeding. My father had a great interest in all horse sports but he particularly loved showjumping.

He had a simple, straightforward motto for breeding, which was that every horse should be capable of doing some job, whether it was pulling a plough or cart, racing, or showjumping. His motto subsequently shaped my own attitude towards breeding horses.

As the days of horses doing farmwork were drawing to a close, we realised that to produce a horse for sport, particularly showjumping, we needed to make some adjustments. We needed more blood, movement, power and speed. However, our mares did have a few very important qualities to build on -- they were willing to work, had great attitudes, and, most of all, wonderful minds and great soundness.

So began our first attempt to breed a performance horse. We covered a chestnut mare (by a thoroughbred stallion called Seven Bells out of an ID mare) to a thoroughbred stallion called Harrigan x Mossborough.

She produced a filly called Carrigbrahan Peggy, who was the mare we would ultimately breed to the popular showjumping stallion King of Diamonds. Peggy bred six fillies and three or four colts and in the end she was the dam of five Grand Prix horses and three international horses, including Kingsmeadow, Kings Farewell and Vagabond King. All of her offspring were campaigned by Jack Doyle and sold on to keep the wheels turning at home.


We learned early on that if you went down the road of competition, you had to produce the horse to near his potential if you wanted to get paid for it. We had to sell horses to help finance the rest of the breeding production programme, which even in those times was an expensive exercise.

While at the beginning our plan was to breed a good foal, later it became important to see what that foal might be as a three-year-old, and maybe get to a show.

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Eventually, our goal became qualification for the Dublin Horse Show. It was all about trying to win an RDS rosette. Getting to Dublin was quite a challenge every year, it took hard work and commitment, and just like these days, many people try hard and still never get there. Sometimes Lady Luck plays a part -- everything has to go right on the day when you are taking part in the qualifiers.

Over the years we had many successes and, luckily, secured some RDS rosettes.

They were always a highlight of the year and proof that you were doing some things right.

As time goes on, your goals continuously change and what is important for breeders is that you can adjust to meet whatever new standards you have set for yourself.

In those early days, one of the most influential horses we bred was undoubtedly the chestnut King of Diamonds mare that we called Trump Carder. Although we had intended to sell her as a three-year-old, we were encouraged to jump her. This was sound advice and so began the next phase of our lives.

Trump Carder turned out to be a very good jumper and was a natural winner -- she was a Grade A at just seven years old. She began her jumping career with Kay Bowe and was later campaigned by Jack Doyle.

Like the mare herself, Jack was also a natural winner and was at the top of his game at that stage. This was another important lesson we learned -- always try to match your horse and rider. Above all, make sure you understand and trust your rider and vice versa.

Sometimes fate plays an important role in life. Trump Carder could have been sold. We were to meet serious clients to negotiate a sale on one occasion but got sidetracked and before we resumed negotiations, the mare sustained an injury that meant she was retired to stud at just seven years of age.

But however good she was under saddle, Trump Carder turned out to be an even better brood mare. She went on to breed several foals including the Irish Sport Horse stallion Royal Concorde, who is fully approved.

Royal Concorde was another great servant for us, winning many international classes and he was something of a speed specialist. In fact, he still holds the record for the fastest time in both the Hickstead and Hamburg speed derbys. He is also the sire of the exciting Army Equitation horse Annestown, from a small first crop.


Something I think all serious breeders need to take on board is the value or breeding strength of the family that any competition animal comes from.

Another King of Diamonds chestnut mare that we kept for breeding was The Queen of Trumps, who was a full sister to Trump Carder.

We never got to compete The Queen of Trumps because she was mysteriously injured in the field as a yearling so she went to stud as a three-year-old.

Her first offspring by Skyboy was called Drumhills Diamond Sky, who proved to be a very useful showjumper. Her second foal, a filly, was also successful and as a brood mare produced the event horse Moores Stream.

Her third foal, by the great Clover Hill, was the stallion Clover Flush. We sold him as a young horse to Australia, where he went on to become five-time showjumping champion of Australia and was the reserve for the Sydney Olympics at just nine years old.

More importantly for us, Clover Flush was the sire of the Nations' Cup mare Harristown Princess. Flush is back in Ireland now at stud; it will be interesting to see what the future holds for his progeny.

There were other full sisters to Trump Carder and the Queen of Trumps that we sold on who were equally strong producers, proving that there was breeding strength in the family line.

Another great opportunity came along for us when we met the Gustavii family from Sweden, who were anxious to cover King of Diamonds mares with their young stallion Irco Mena.

Irco Mena and his full sister Marcoville were rated as two of the best natural jumpers in the world at that time and competed together on Nations' Cup teams for Sweden.

Irco Mena was a remarkable showjumping stallion with an Irish connection -- he was by Irco Marco and out of an Irish mare that went back to Battleburn, sire of Eddie Macken's famous ride Boomerang.

Our acquaintance with the Gustaviis gave us our first introduction to the use of frozen semen. Suffice to say this was an entirely new concept for us and a complete eye opener.


As breeders, it really broadened our horizon and paved the way for our breeding development over the following decade.

We had immediate success with frozen semen. Trump Carder went in foal on the first occasion and produced a colt foal the following year in 1992, who we called Dutch Treat.

By that stage, we had begun to keep the colts entire (if they looked good enough), so that if they made the grade as showjumpers, we could potentially use them as stallions.

This was our way of adding value to what we were breeding, and adding another string to our bow when the time came to sell. As I already mentioned, we had to keep selling in order to keep moving forward with our breeding programme.

Dutch Treat showed great ability and in 1992 won the seven-year-old championship at the RDS under Jack Doyle. He also qualified for the World Championships in Lanaken that year and became the first owned-and-bred Irish stallion to be approved in the Studbook Zangersheide.

From that point, we began to look to Europe more and more, and the next venture was to purchase semen from the great Carthago Z. He was by the great Holsteiner foundation sire Capitol 1, of whom I was already aware of because of his influence in breeding and in the sport. He competed in many Nations Cup competitions, two Olympic Games -- Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 -- and became an outstanding sire of stallion sons and daughters.

The first Carthago foal we bred was Carmena Z, from the mare Irma, a full sister to Dutch Treat. We produced Carmena Z to Nations Cup and Global Tour level. She opened up yet another level of the sport for us, which proved to be a huge learning experience.

It is an extremely long road from planning the covering of the mare to getting her to big super league shows and jumping consistently over the huge, modern 1.60m tracks.

That's not to mention the many sleepless nights that go hand in hand with producing a horse to this level. However, all's well that ends well -- Carmena was sold to American rider Saer Coulter and is enjoying good success with him.

By then, another new era was emerging -- the age of frozen semen. While the process was commonplace in Europe, Ireland was just starting on the learning curve.

These procedures are not for the faint-hearted, but anything that is worthwhile is rarely easy and the benefits can outweigh the costs and effort involved.


With any business there will always be setbacks along the way and that is particularly the case with breeding and producing performance horses. We have not escaped disappointment. We lost Dutch Treat when he was looking to be a really promising eight-year-old.

The late Eric Wouters, who had ridden him for his stallion assessment in the Irish system, had given the stallion a major vote of confidence, saying that Dutch Treat was what a sport horse stallion should be.

This made the loss of the stallion even more difficult to come to terms with. Sadly, the following year we lost another potential stallion -- a full brother to Clover Flush -- at six years old. These knocks are always going to be difficult to take but as breeders we have to be resilient.

I sometimes wonder if I had the chance to go back, would I do it all again or change anything? On the whole, the good days have far outweighed the bad.

Perhaps I might have followed our own initiative a little earlier because, at the end of the day, it is the breeder who puts his own hand in his own pocket and survives or goes under by his own decision.

The costs in this business are high and putting the semen in the tank is one thing but putting it in the mare and hoping for a successful outcome is another thing.

But so long as the better decisions outweigh the less clever ones on a regular basis, then it will be all worthwhile and you get to enjoy some magic moments.

This was the case for us at the RDS Dublin Horse Show in 2011 when four horses from our Carrigbrahan Peggy line competed in classes in the main arena. Annestown by Royal Concorde, Cherubini Z and Carmena Z were all Waterford-bred.

Irish Independent