When you think of Ireland, more than likely one animal in particular jumps to mind – the horse!
Ireland has a world-famous reputation for the breeding and production of exceptional racing, sporting and leisure horses and ponies and its title as ‘the land of the horse’ is well earned. Irish horses are sought after the world over, thanks to a long tradition of skilled horsemanship and the fact that Ireland’s limestone soils provide ideal grazing for healthy equine bone growth.
And so, on the eve of St Patrick’s Day – that most famous of Irish celebrations – what better topic to explore than that of the wonderful Irish Horse.
Why we love Irish Horses
Irish horses are extremely versatile. From the sure-footed Connemara Pony to the athletic Irish Sport Horse, there are few jobs that an Irish horse cannot do!
Ireland is home to traditional Irish horses such as the Connemara Pony, Kerry Bog Pony and the Irish Draught, and has also welcomed bloodlines from continental warmbloods, creating an extremely diverse equine population.
Did you know that Horses born in Ireland can be registered as Traditional Irish Horses if their breeding consists solely of Irish pedigree, that is, traditional Irish breeds including Irish Draughts, Irish Sport Horses and Irish Thoroughbreds?
All breeds of Irish horse are renowned for having excellent temperaments, with a willing and positive attitude to work and training.
They’re also famous for their strength and soundness.
Irish horses are superbly talented! Not only can they turn their hooves to most jobs, many Irish horses compete to the very highest level internationally, across a range of disciplines. See below to see just how high Irish horses go.
Irish Horse Breeds
Connemara Ponies are most renowned for their ability to turn a hoof to anything for adults and children alike, while Irish Cobs are known for being incredibly strong, but kind and gentle.
Kerry Bog Ponies are an extremely rare breed – their very small numbers in Ireland and further afield highlight the importance of conserving and protecting Irish native breeds. They are recognisable by their small stature and sweet nature.
Irish Sport Horses are athletic, willing and trainable, and Irish Draughts are perhaps the most versatile and “user-friendly” breed of all – an intelligent horse for every season and steeped in history.
The Irish Thoroughbred has a well-earned reputation as tough, durable and sound horses that go on to perform at the highest level all over the world.
Despite Ireland’s small size and population of just over 4.5 million, it currently stands as the largest producer of thoroughbreds in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. In fact, Ireland produces 42% of the thoroughbred foals in Europe and the gross value of the racing industry to the Irish economy is in excess of €1.1 billion per annum! Similarly, the Irish sport horse industry is hugely important to the national economy, contributing in excess of €708m annually and employing over 12,000 people.
The sporting results
Regarding performance, Irish Sport Horses perform at the top of Equestrian sport on the world stage. In Eventing in 2018, at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event over 30% of entries were Irish-bred horses, and over 40 Irish-bred horses entered for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials. Cooley Master Class (ISH) won the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event, and over 30% of the horses competing in the Luhmühlen CCI4* (now CCI5*-L) were Irish-bred.
Twenty-five Irish-bred horses competed at the FEI WBFSH World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses at Le Lion D’Angers, claiming three individual medals of a possible six, and the Irish Sport Horse Studbook won the overall title. At the World Equestrian Games in Eventing, the top three team placings included five Irish-bred horses; two on the Gold Medal winning of Team Great Britain, and three on the Silver Medal winning of Team Ireland – Quarrycrest Echo (ISH), Arctic Soul (TB)(IRE), Horseware Stellor Rebound (ISH), Horseware Ardagh Highlight (ISH) and Rioghan Rua (ISH). Also competing for Ireland as an individual was Dunrath Eclipse (ISH), alongside others competing for other nations.
In Show Jumping in 2018, Irish-bred horses claimed the top international placings at the Dublin Horse Show, and Irish-bred Suma’s Zorro claimed two huge wins last year – the Paris CSI5* Global Champions Tour Grand Prix, and claimed first prize of $1 million in the $3 Million Rolex Grand Prix, the richest prize in Show Jumping. At the FEI WBFSH World Breeding Jumping Championships for Young Horses, the five-year-old class was dominated by the Irish – all three places on the podium were taken by Irish riders campaigning their incredibly athletic and skilled Irish Sport Horses.
So, all in all, if you’re lucky enough to have a horse in your life, we think you’re extra lucky if it’s an Irish horse.
Happy St Patrick’s Day!
Many thanks to Irish Horse Gateway for the information and images for this post.