Farm Ireland

Monday 25 March 2019

Why Irish horses have an edge

So what makes our horses the best?

First: Connaught, bred in Co Clare, took first place at the Rolex three-day event in Lexington, Kentucky, under rider Philip Dutton
First: Connaught, bred in Co Clare, took first place at the Rolex three-day event in Lexington, Kentucky, under rider Philip Dutton

Caitriona Murphy

Breeding talented horses is something at which Irish producers are very good, and we are renowned for producing some of the best eventing horses in the world.

Whether it's the common sense that comes from the Irish Draught breeding or the so-called 'fifth leg' that our horses develop while out hunting, it's clear that Irish horses have the edge.

In 2007, the Irish Sport Horse Studbook took first place in the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH) rankings for eventing for the 13th successive year.

Since the rankings were established, the Irish Sport Horse Studbook has been the world's leading studbook in the eventing rankings.

Last year, not only did we top the rankings for eventing, but we also had the top sport horse -- McKinlaigh (ISH) -- in the individual standings.

Born in Co Carlow in 1994, McKinlaigh is a chestnut gelding by Highland King (ISH) out of Kilcumney Hostess (ISH), by Stetchworth Lad (TB) and was bred by Yvonne Walsh of Rainstown.

Chris Ryan, from Scarteen, bought McKinlaigh at Goresbridge horse sales as a three-year-old and the Ryans went on to break and produce McKinlaigh to win the young event horse class at Punchestown in 1998.

He was bought by the Schultz family shortly afterwards but remained with the Ryans until 2000, during which time he won the Grove combined training class and was second in his first novice class at Dartfield.

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In 2000, McKinlaigh went to the USA and recorded 19 wins over the following six years.


In the capable hands of event rider Gina Miles, McKinlaigh competed at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, in 2002, where he finished in the top 25 individual placings.

He competed at the Rolex CCI4* at Kentucky on several occasions and was 15th at Badminton CCI4* last year.

He has won several World Cup qualifiers since 2003 and has been highly placed in many more. In 2007 McKinlaigh was a member of the American team that won the gold medal at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. At the same event, Miles and McKinlaigh also took home individual bronze.

In May, another Irish horse, Connaught, took first place at the prestigious Rolex three-day event in Lexington, Kentucky.

Under the guidance of US rider Philip Dutton, Connaught was bred by Michael Kelly, from Kilrush, Co Clare, and is by the Irish sport horse stallion Ballysimon out of a Royal Rogue (TB) mare.

However, international success is not confined to just eventing, as Irish-bred Flexible proved at the Rolex FEI World Cup showjumping final in Goteborg, Sweden.

Under US rider Rich Fellers, the chestnut stallion finished in second place.

Coincidentally, Flexible's sire Cruising also took second place at the World Cup in 1999 under Irish rider Trevor Coyle.

Flexible is out of a mare by Safari (TB) and bred by Catherine Doyle of Naas, Co Kildare.


Back on the eventing circuit, Irish sport horses dominated the placings at Badminton, with eight of the top 20 bred here.

Ballincoola (ISH) and Britain's William Fox-Pitt were the highest-placed, taking third in the prestigious CCI4*.

Ballincoola is by Highland King (ISH) and out of a Kildalton Gold (RID) mare. He was bred in Myshall, Co Carlow, by Pat Keogh.

June saw Captain Geoff Curran and the Minister for Defence's Irish sport horse Kilkishen storm to victory in the World Cup qualifier at Tattersalls, leaving Olympic and European medallists behind them on the scoreboard.

Of the 32 horses that finished the competition, 19 were Irish sport horses.

One of the longest-campaigning Irish-bred horses has to be the 17-year-old Ringwood Cockatoo.

The highest-ranked horse in the WBFSH rankings in 2005/06, Ringwood Cockatoo and German rider Bettina Hoy, won the CIC 3* at Luhmuhlen, Germany.

During the same weekend, at Burgie International Horse Trials, best of the Irish were Huckleberry Friend and Caroline Bjoerk (Ireland), who finished fifth in the CCI 2*, and Cruise Control and Mark Kyle (Ireland), who finished fourth in the CCI*.

Ireland's Sam Watson and his homebred Irish sport horse Ballybolger Bushman finished fourth in the CCI3* at Bramham and second in the CIC3* at Tyrella.


While the Olympics may have been spoiled for some by Denis Lynch's disqualification, they were a huge achievement for Irish horses who scooped no less than seven eventing medals.

In the individual results, Miles and McKinlaigh finished in second place to take silver for the USA.

In the team competition, six Irish sport horses took home medals. Mr Medicott and Frank Osholt were part of the winning German team that claimed Olympic gold, while Clayton Fredericks and Ben Along Time took silver for Australia.

The team from Great Britain had four Irish horses on the team of five. Sharon Hunt and Tankers Town, Daisy Dick and Spring Along, Fox-Pitt and Parkmore Ed and Mary King on Call Again Cavalier claimed bronze medals.

Here at home, the grand finals of the Irish Sport Horse Studbook showjumping series 2008 took place at Barnadown last month.

In the five-year-old grand final, Mervyn Clarke Jnr and Lady Latt took the top prize with their fourth win in the series.

However, John Floody's performance in the final with Coppindell was enough to leave him one point ahead of Mervyn to take the five-year-old title.

Floody scored again in the six/seven-year-old grand finals with Michael Smith's gelding, Larkhill Cruiser (ISH). However, it was Conor Drain and Loughview Lou-Lou (ISH) who were victorious in the league.


The FEI World Breeding Jumping Championships for young horses took place at Lanaken, Belgium, late last month and the Irish Sport Horse Studbook sent a team of 16 horses to compete at the event.

In the five-year-old section, Coppindell and John Floody were victorious in the consolation class, finishing almost four seconds clear of the field.

In the six-year-old final, Roundthorn Madios and Catherine Thornton finished in 14th place with Loughview Lou-Lou and Conor Drain claiming 16th in the same class.

Larkhill Cruiser and John Floody won the seven-year-old second qualification class.