WHY do I choose Irish horses for foxhunting, here in America?

The Irish people themselves are a big reason that I shop for horses in Ireland. From the backyard horse owner to the savvy professional, everyone I speak with in Ireland is happy to talk back and forth about their breeding programme and their horse’s pedigree. And unlike in America, when we ask the question: “If your horse is so nice, why are you selling him?”, to the Irish horse(wo)man, the answer is obvious. Because there’s a new one or two coming along and the most educated is the most salable.

Cultivating relationships

For me, buying horses in Ireland is more than merely purchasing a commodity. I enjoy forging relationships with enthusiastic horse breeders, owners and professionals, people that I can learn to trust. I’ve made my mistakes and I’m likely to make a few more along the way, however, I enjoy cultivating relationships that sometimes turn into friendships with people I can talk to and listen to - people who care about their horse and where he winds up.

Relationship building also occurs back here in America, when I work alongside the eventual customer for the prospect I may have recently procured - sometimes with a particular potential customer in mind. Since it’s my money invested, I must truly like the horse and I must truly trust the seller overseas. The horse that suits my clientele is the same horse that I would choose to ride myself, as an older rider who only rides as well as the horse that I’m sitting on.

Slow rhythm

The horse that I look forward to sitting on in the hunt field is attractive and above all safe and sensible. He has a big stride and a slow rhythm, is built uphill, and he is comfortable. He needs to be brave but not too forward going, patient and calm under adversity, with good jumping technique up to a metre.

At my age and stage of life, this is a typically a Draught or Cob or a horse that is primarily one or the other rather than a blood horse with continental breeding. And he can be a mare, although mares cost substantially more to import.

The best of these candidates has typically grown up in a family setting and has been handled and fussed with regularly. He’s been started patiently and hopefully he hasn’t been in a demanding training programme. Protecting the body and brain is important but I do need proof that the horse has the makings of a proper foxhunter. And that’s the rub. Enough work and training to show me that he’s up to the job but not enough to be to his detriment. Typically the horse I consider hasn’t done more on his outings than a few charity rides and some hound exercises, assuming he’s a three or a four-year-old.

Chasing coyote

Preserving the brain and the body is worth returning to. In America, we queue the entire time we’re hunting and checks can be long and trying, involving more than one reverse of field. The horse who’s at all sharp or has too much of a preconceived idea of foxhunting may not accept the ‘hurry up and wait’ that can accompany foxhunting over here. If his previous rider has put the horse up front he probably won’t suit over here where decorum is the name of the game.

When we’re not at a long check, the hunt day can be extremely fast, especially if we’re chasing coyote. At those times we’re galloping up and down steep, sometimes rocky hills, and round hairpin turns, jumping low fly jumps and coops. But even at those times the activity is orderly.

Another reason that less can sometimes be more in terms of mileage for the Irish hunt prospect has to do with the pre-purchase exam. As an equine veterinarian, it can be discouraging viewing radiographs of perfectly lovely and suitable Irish hunt prospects who have been out proving themselves at three and four years of age. Often these youngsters have x-rays typical of an eight or a 10-year-old because, as youngsters, their bones and joints aren’t mature and strong enough to handle the regular hunting they’ve been doing.

These horses are sound clinically but their radiographs warn of possible problems to come and so I have to pass them by.

In summary, the horse that serves the American weekend foxhunting rider best is a Draught or Cob type from four to twelve years, who is attractive, patient, reasonably athletic with good jumping technique and safe, without being a dull or a boring ride. Additionally, he needs to arrive with a clean pre-purchase exam including x-rays.

The seller needs to be patient with the investigation process and a pleasure to work with for me to want to do business with them. After all, if you’re producing and providing my kind of horse, it’s likely that I’m going to want to return and see what else you’ve got trotting around your yard!

If you think you might have a horse that fills the bill you can contact Ian at ianequinoxvet@gmail.com