The Traditional Irish Horse Association
The unique characteristics of the classic Irish horse are what lure most buyers to Ireland." Richard Fellers, The Irish Field, 25/01/14
The Irish Horses have stood ‘proud’ through the ages. They are characterised by courage, brain and rideability. The genetic footprint has been enhanced over the generations of quality and versatile Irish Draught for working the land then crossed with Thoroughbred to cover the varied natural hunting country unique to Ireland. This is what has brought discerning buyers to Ireland, year on year. For 15 consecutive years, the Irish Bred topped the ‘ World Rankings in Eventing’- possibly the most versatile, demanding and arduous ‘test’ of a competition horse.
In recent times, in response to perceptions stemming from developments across all Equestrian Sports and pursuits, there has been a swing away from Thoroughbred sires towards European breeds. In the late 1980’s 68% of sport horse mares visited Thoroughbred Sires. By 2011 this has dropped to an all time low of 12%. Yet analysis of the genes of modern successful horses shows that the need for a high percentage of Thoroughbred blood still remains as important as ever. Is it any wonder then that as the percentage of Thoroughbred blood has reduced in Irish Sport Horses generally, the pre-eminence of Irish bred horses is being tested by other breeds that have tended to keep up or increase this percentage? There is no doubt that the Traditional Irish Horse still stands head-and-shoulders at the top of rankings such as the British Eventing lifetime points table. The founders of the Traditional Irish Horse Association are concerned and determined to ensure there are sufficient replacements in the pipe-line to take on this noble mantle.
We hear many of our International Clients quoting “we come to Ireland to buy Irish and go to the Continent to buy Continental.” The question that needs to be addressed is: “In the quest to breed the exceptional animal which is the modern international show jumper, have we neglected the 80% or more of our sport horse trade destined for the Eventing, Showing, Amateur, Leisure and Hunter horse markets?” The real ‘crux of the matter is that unless there is a radical rethink in our breeding policies, the traditionally bred Irish horse could become a breed of the past.
The Traditional Irish Horse Breeders Society was formed many years ago by Thady Ryan, Major Jed O’ Dwyer and a strong team. Their foresight led to some excellent schemes such as The Limerick Lady and Matron, looking to promote the indigenous breed. In 2011, The Society, under their Chairman Mike McEwan, met with a group of like minded people very much involved at the ‘coal face’ of the Irish Sport Horse Industry. We formed an executive committee under the chairman, John Watson and identified the key areas to address. We then went to the country hosting meetings in Mallow, Ballinasloe, Kilkenny, Kells and The North. The feedback from very large attendances reinforced our views. The powerful consensus coming from these meetings is that the Traditional Irish Horse has suffered from a lack of representation, promotion and marketing. The Traditional Irish Horse Association has received a strong mandate for Action As a group we can address and improve the lot of the breeder, the producer and our trade clientele.