A FOCUS on revitalising Irish breeding, carving out an equine education pathway accessible to all, knowledge transfer groups, and the importance of grassland to the production model were all key planks of the Reaching New Heights (2015-2025) 10-year strategy blueprint for the Irish Sport Horse Industry.

Some 900 people gave their views in over 600 submissions resulting in the resulting wide-ranging report, described as ‘transformative’ at the time of its March launch in 2015.

The Irish sport horse industry is now eight years into that 10-year strategy but many of the blueprint visions seem to have remained aspirational.

However, it has to be said that the RDS subsequently incorporated the relevant report findings into its competitions at Dublin Horse Show; benchmarked the Irish mare herd; and did much of the initial legwork on the National Equestrian Education Pathway (NEEP) initiative.

In his launch speech at the time, Minister for Agriculture and Defence, Simon Coveney TD (FG) spoke of the need to ‘set benchmarks and standards for ourselves that will improve our rankings internationally in some of these areas in terms of the breeding programmes that we have’. He also pushed the case for equine tourism nationwide; supporting riding schools to teach horse riding safely; promoting the Army Equitation School; and tackling the scourge of equine and animal abuse.

Ten year timeframe

With 2025 fast looming, here’s a timely reminder of where Minister Coveney hoped the Irish sport horse industry would be at the end of the 10-year timeframe.

“There are a few recommendations here about improving the quality particularly about the breeding, we are talking about setting new benchmarks for mares, we are talking about colt retention scheme; we are talking about using and accessing new technologies and we are talking about using and incentivising the registration of horses to promote pedigree registration.

“We had long conversations about white books and green books and what we needed to do to get more information on paper to ensure that people are breeding and they have knowledge of the animals they are actually breeding to. We are talking about improving education and training.

“We are looking at single credited educational system for breeders, riders and producers. We are looking at providing better mating information for people who are looking to maintain excellence. On marketing, HSI came to me and said: `Look Minister, we are serious about this industry, we have to have a marketing arm that is a lot more effective than what we currently have’.

“So we looked at what works. So if you look at Irish Thoroughbred Marketing which is the thoroughbred marketing arm of Horse Racing Ireland, you see a structure that is probably the best in the world at what it does so we are going to replicate something similar to that in the sports horse sector to help those of you who want to sell your horses to find the right markets abroad and the right buyers to match people up and so on and we have funding necessary to get that process underway and started and we are also contributing from a prize money perspective which is also an important incentive for breeders and riders.

“In terms of increased participation, we are looking at a single registration fee for participation across all affilitates of HSI. rather than having to look at separate fees for eventing, show jumping, dressage, whatever else you are doing. We need to make it as easy as possible for people to come into this sport and feel welcome across the multiple bodies that operate across the affiliates under the HSI banner,” said Minister Coveney.

The question to be answered now is where is the Irish Sport Horse industry in terms of delivering these key aspirations?