Thought-provoking seminars have been in the news recently and the latest event provided further food for thought at the Traditional Irish Horse Association’s ‘thinktank’ last Sunday. Over 40 breeders and individuals were invited to discuss both the current state and way forward for traditional breeding in morning sessions at the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny before the groups later gathered for the main workshop. TIHA chairman Hugh Leonard, who organised the event, said one of the seminar’s main tasks was to discover the optimum number of foals needed for the market and how to support breeders who choose traditional bloodlines in a wide-open sporthorse market. The proactive chairman also revealed that champion racehorse trainer Jim Bolger will renew his sponsorship towards this year’s TIHA Festival. “We have to be careful about how we talk about ourselves” advised William Micklem who, during his presentation, pointed out how Dutch newspapers had picked up on comments made at a recent seminar by Billy Twomey about young Irish horses being rushed. “Our continental rivals make hay of our problems” warned Micklem, who also noted that positive Irish news stories such as Mr Cruise Control and Master Imp topping British Eventing’s 2013 leading horse and sire rankings went unnoticed abroad. Other brief presentations were made by TIHA committee members Chris Ryan and Kevin Noone. Scarteen master and huntsman Ryan said 75% of the horses entered in their inaugural Show and Go showcase for proven hunters were subsequently sold. Noone, who organised the association’s fund-raising stallion auction, thanked the owners for their generosity in providing nominations. Also present was the Horse Sport Ireland chairman Pat Wall who felt that maintaining the status quo rather than pushing initiatives forward was a “bit frustrating” during the first year in his new role and that it had taken 12 months to secure a meeting with the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney. Emphasising the need for the sport horse industry to present a coherent plan for Department funding, he also believed there had been too much in-fighting between Irish societies, individuals and organisations in recent times, which added to the perception in some quarters that the sport horse sector was a dysfunctional one. Nor did he mince his words on indiscriminate breeding as he noted that 51% of horses held white passports and queried the advisability of breeding from such stock whose pedigrees were not worth recording. The horse welfare issue was another well-visited topic with breeders advised to have a humane exit strategy for their stock, although the possibility of regulations being relaxed for factory horses with incorrect paperwork was felt to be slight. The overall consensus afterwards was that traditional breeders were encouraged by progress made to date by the association, including the identification of traditional breeding in passports and future projects in the pipeline, such as a five-star grading scheme for traditional fillies. And there was little negative material to be seized on, for as Pat Wall remarked “We can’t promote Irish breeding by denigrating foreign horses”.
Susan Finnerty, Irish Farmer's Journal, 23rd January 2014