The Traditional Irish Horse Association (TIHA) was established in 2012 by a group of breeders and producers who were concerned at;
(A) The fall in the number of Traditional Irish Horses (TIH) being bred.
(B)The fall in the percentage of coverings by thoroughbred sires in Irish sport horse breeding to an all-time low of 12%.
(C) The loss of foreign buyers who were no longer able to fill orders for Traditional Irish Horses in Ireland.
(D) The failure by HSI to identify qualifying horses as Traditional Irish Horses in their passports or in the Irish Sport Horse studbook.
Following a series of nationwide meetings and 3 years voluntary work by our committee, over 600 members have joined our association and are working to conserve and develop the Traditional Irish Horse (TIH).
Our current officers are Chairman Hugh Leonard, Vice-Chairman Chris Ryan, Secretary Joan Bateman and Treasurer Jim Cooke. Our national committee is comprised of elected members from every region in Ireland.
The Traditional Irish Horse (TIH) is a unique combination of up to 3 breeds, the Irish Draught, the Connemara Pony (2 unique native breeds) and the Thoroughbred. All 3 breeds have strong links to the Irish Hobby, a long extinct ancient Irish Breed. Genetic research (Hill and Bower 2010) has shown that the breeds most closely related to the Thoroughbred are the Irish Draught and the Connemara. The Traditional Irish Horse (originally known as the Irish Hunter) was fully established as a sport horse breed centuries before most of its continental counterparts and was used as a breed improver for many of these breeds (for further information see “The enduring success of the Irish Sport Horse” by Kathleen Kirsan on Irish Horse Gateway). The Irish Hunter was later named the Irish Sport Horse and this breed gained worldwide fame in showjumping and eventing throughout the 20th century. The Strategic Plan (2015) for the Irish Sport Horse Industry, “Reaching New Heights” refers to the Golden Age of Irish breeding (1920’s to 1960’s) and states that “in the 1960’s and 70’s Ireland produced the best showjumpers in the world”. At that time our Irish Sport Horse Breed WAS the Traditional Irish Horse-nothing else.
The present Traditional Irish Horse (TIH) population is as much a breed now as the entire Irish Sport Horse population was up to 1989 when the first warmblood crosses were introduced; the fact that horses of practically all breeds and crosses of all types are now included under the ISH breed code does not alter the genetic uniqueness of the TIH or its entitlement to be conserved and developed as a separate entity. Managing the TIH as a breed rather than leaving its future to chance is essential both for its survival and for the successful development of the Irish sport horse industry. The establishment of a development programme for the TIH is a key recommendation of the 2015 Strategic Plan for the sport horse industry, “Reaching New Heights.”
TIHA achievements to date;
- Identification; All horses with 3 successive generations of recorded Irish traditional pedigree are now separately identified as Traditional Irish Horses ISH(TIH) in the Irish Sport Horse studbook and given the designation ISH(TIH). It is hoped that our proposed genetic research project will lead to the development of a test which will allow a horse to be identified as ISH(TIH) or not by its DNA.
- Passports; All foals registered in the ISH studbook from 2014 which have 3 recorded generations of traditional Irish pedigree are automatically classified as Traditional Irish Horses ISH(TIH) and have this fact stamped on their passports. Owners of older Traditional Irish Horses can have their passports updated by contacting HSI.
- Recognition by HSI; In 2015 the Traditional Irish Horse Committee was established by HSI as a sub-committee of the Breeding Sub-Board. This committee is comprised of 3 members of the HSI Breeding Sub-Board and 3 members of the TIHA national committee.
- Development Programmes; In 2015 TIHA produced breeding development plans for TIH eventers and showjumpers which address the current challenges facing TIH breeders. These plans, fully costed and aligned with the Strategic Plan, were presented to the Traditional Irish Horse Committee who approved them and forwarded them to the Sub-Breeding Board. We are awaiting HSI funding to implement these proposals. For details see tiha.ie
- Promotion; TIHA has introduced several initiatives to promote the TIH. These include the annual Festival of Traditional Irish Breeding featuring a €4,500 Hunter Equitation Class, the Hunter Show and Go, TIH presentations at the RDS and Tattersalls and a TIH stand at Peterborough Show, England. The Hunter Show and Go, now in its’ third year has generated over €700,000 of trade to date. The TIHA Facebook page has over 5,500 followers.
- Research ; TIHA have proposed a much needed genetic research project on the TIH, in association with the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association and the Midland Connemara Pony Breeders. The eminent UCD research scientist Dr Emmeline Hill will carry out this project which will provide valuable information on the origins and genetics of the TIH and complement the knowledge provided by her ground-breaking research on the thoroughbred. We await funding from HSI to carry out this important project.
- Foals; The number of TIH foals being bred has dropped to an all-time low of approximately 500 per year. Not only will this lead to a shortage of horses to fill our existing markets but the first cross of warmblood/TIH will also become scarce if this pattern continues. Rich Fellers, rider of Flexible, flagged both of these issues recently, stating that he hasn’t come to Ireland to buy horses in several years because he could no longer find what he wanted; the Traditional Irish horse. How many such buyers have we lost and how much has it cost us in trade?
- Mares; The TIH mare-herd is now in a perilous state following decades of neglect by successive governing bodies. Many of our top marelines have no traditional animal left and are lost forever to traditional breeding. Many of our best remaining marelines are related and our reduced pool of top class animals is lacking in genetic diversity. HSI have so far failed to produce the full facts on this situation despite having control of the database for several years. TIHA welcomes the RDS initiative to research the marelines and produce Thoroughbred-style pedigrees for the Irish Sport Horse sector.
- Stallions; There are only 5 approved Traditional Irish Sport Horse ISH(TIH) stallions under 20 years of age. There are NO approved proven traditional showjumping stallions that are not closely related to Cruising and/or Clover Hill. Therefore owners of showjumping mares which are related to Cruising and/or Clover Hill have no traditional stallion options. This situation is leading to a further loss of traditional marelines and is compromising our ability to produce top level traditional showjumpers.
- Showjumping; We have a few successful showjumping stallion performers including Flexible, Oldtown KC and Ardcolum Duke. We also have some very good mares. As already mentioned, there is a serious lack of genetic diversity among our best remaining stock. Without immediate funding for the TIHA breeding programmes the TIH will soon cease to be a force in top-level showjumping.
- Eventing; Irelands position as the worlds leading producer of top eventers over the last 20 years is largely due to the TIH. Recent outstanding TIH’s are Lenamore, Mr Medicott, High Kingdom, Bay My Hero, Kilronan etc. and currently Cambalda and Master Frisky are 1st and 4th respectively in the world rankings. In the USA, McKinlaigh(TIH) has been inducted into the Eventing Hall Of Fame. Only 11 horses in total have received this honour and 8 of them are TIH! Although Irish eventers have almost exclusively topped the world rankings since their inception the failure of HSI to identify and evaluate our top eventing marelines and provide eventing EBV’s for mares and stallions shows the narrowness of its’ focus, with funding and research being mainly concentrated on showjumping. TIHA believes the development of a coherent strategy for eventing is essential to ensure that we retain our position as the world leader in eventing and the world’s best source of eventers.
- Amateur Horses/Hunters/Leisure Horses; This sector, which accounts for 80% of the market and €560 million per annum has been badly neglected, misunderstood and underfunded by successive governing bodies. This is the sector where most of the horses intended for top level showjumping and eventing are eventually sold, along with the horses specifically bred for this market. The unique traits of the TIH, intelligence, trainability, genuineness, soundness and longevity make it more suitable for this market than many of its warmblood counterparts. The TIHA Show and Go Hunter sale is now firmly established and along with filling our traditional markets TIH Hunters are now being exported on an ongoing basis-to Holland, the heartland of KWPN!
- Stallion Inspections; TIHA believes that rigorous stallion inspections are an essential part of breeding policy. The sudden suspension of 2016 stallion inspections without having an alternative in place does not engender confidence in the governance of the sport horse sector. TIHA wants to ensure that the current hiatus or future approval criteria do not allow inferior stallions to gain approval. Now more than ever, soundness, quality, pedigree and performance are required and stallions need a more rigorous selection process than any other sector because of their potential effect on the studbook. All the top sport horse studbooks we have been encouraged to emulate have comprehensive stallion selection processes, many of which are more rigorous than the current HSI system.
- TIHA proposes that as well as having to meet strict veterinary and X-ray requirements stallions should be assessed in hand for conformation and movement AND assessed loose for athleticism. Otherwise badly conformed stallions and/or stallions which lack the necessary movement and athleticism could become approved for showjumper, eventer and leisure horse breeding.
We advocate a system that is tailored to the needs of each discipline and the attributes of each breed/type.
TIHA has also proposed that as TB and ISH(TIH) stallions are mainly used by traditional breeders, 2 of the 3 inspectors involved in inspecting these stallions should be suitably qualified TIHA inspectors.
The issue of unnecessary wastage of money on inspections can be addressed by a cost-effective system which concentrates on the essentials of the stallion inspection process rather than on putting on a show.
- HSI; While HSI has recognised the TIHA and established a TIH sub-committee in 2015 it has yet to provide any meaningful funding for the TIH from its €1.8m budget. Without funding none of the TIHA breeding policies can be implemented. We need to start work on these policies before the 2016 breeding season starts so immediate allocation of meaningful funding is essential.
- Irish Horse Board; The IHB members on the TIH sub-committee, Neil Henry, Barbara Hatton and David McCann have worked diligently on behalf of traditional breeders.
- Strategic Plan Implementation; TIHA welcome Minister Coveneys’ provision of funding for the review of the Irish Sport Horse industry and the development of the Strategic Plan,” Reaching New Heights”. TIHA made a detailed submission towards the Plan and some of its proposals are included in it. TIHA respectfully suggests that it be included in the Strategic Plan Implementation Committee and is willing to co-operate with all stakeholders to implement this plan for the betterment of the industry as a whole.
The commitment of Irish breeders and the work of TIHA will ensure that the Traditional Irish Horse (TIH) is conserved and developed, contributing further Irish successes in equine sports and giving pleasure to countless leisure riders. Funding is urgently required to implement TIHA’s breeding plans which are essential for the conservation and development of the TIH.
The unique selling points (USP’s) of Irish Sport Horses are contributed by their traditional genetics and without the Traditional Irish Horse (TIH) there is nothing about the Irish Sport Horse that is unique. Therefore we must work together to conserve and develop the TIH for the benefit of breeders ,producers , customers, riders and the Irish Sport Horse industry.
TIHA National Committee