WHAT a difference 12 months makes. From 2020’s understandably limited competition window, this year proved to be a bonanza in comparison. The Tokyo Olympics, European and FEI young horse championships, Longines Global Champions Tour, major Grand Prix classes, plus four of the eventing world’s five-star events at Bicton, Kentucky, Luhmühlen and Maryland all forged ahead, providing medals, prize money, breeding facts and honour and glory.

In Irish sport horse breeding, it was often the one-mare owner that made the headlines while the lines built up by Ita Brennan shone through in producing several top-ranked Irish show jumpers.

‘Small but mighty’ was the theme too amongst the studbooks. The Trakehner Verband was in the spotlight due to the phenomenal German, European and Olympic dressage champion TSF Dalera BB – and in eventing too. Lusitanos were well-represented in dressage at Tokyo and Hagen.

Belgium’s BWP and the Selle Français show jumping and eventing studbooks proved all-powerful at the Olympic and European championships.Chacco-Blue (MECKL) easily retained his leading show jumping sire title for the fourth successive year in the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH) rankings, in which Jaguar Mail (SF) and Sandro Hit (OLD) finished as the top eventing and dressage sires.

Olympic and European championship medals were won by Irish Sport Horses for Team GB: Tokyo team gold for Ballaghmor Class and individual silver for Brookfield Inocence at the rescheduled European eventing championships, hosted at Avenches.

Bonmahon Chelsea (Chellsini Z) and Cooley Snapchat (Kannan), bred by Richie Fitzgerald and Alan Wheeler, won bronze medals in the six- and seven-year-old divisions at the young event horse ‘Olympics’ at Le Lion d’Angers in the autumn.

Just one place outside a medal in the five-year-old final at Lanaken was the well-related Killossery Karma (Frank and Laura Glynn), by Livello. Lapuccino 2, another of his offspring, was the sole ISH from last year’s top six Irish Sport Horses to reappear in that group again in this year’s WBFSH rankings.

Cardento VDL had a superb year as a sire. His Kilkenny (equal seventh at Tokyo), together with another Irish-bred, Pacino Amiro were the two young talking horses at the Tokyo Olympics.

Bertram Allen and Pacino Amiro (ISH), bred by Simon Scott, at the Tokyo Olympic Games \ Tomas Holcbecher

Despite the ongoing debate about the longterm future of equestrian sports in the Olympics and an ill-conceived team format change, the dream for many breeders is to breed an Olympic horse. For event horse breeders, there’s the added pressure to now breed an ultra-sound and all-round unicorn that excels in three phases of the modern sport and can pass the final trot-up at a championships.

Numbers game

How many horses even make it to the Olympics? For Tokyo, the figure was 195, (73 – show jumping, 63 – eventing and 59 – dressage). Paul Schockemöhle’s empire provided six horses at the latest Games, while Kate Jarvey had the distinction of breeding two half-brothers at Tokyo: Balham Mist (Mill Law) and best of the Irish eventing team horses, Colorado Blue (Jaguar Mail).

One of this year’s feelgood Irish stories was that of Sambuca. To breed an Olympic horse is a milestone; Heike Holstein lived the ultimate dream by riding her own home-bred horse at Tokyo.

Comme Il Faut (Cornet Obolensky), Fine Lady 5 (Forsyth) and Quabri de l’Isle (Kannan) all retired full-time to the breeding barns this year. Marcus Ehning’s €1.6 million prize money earner was the star of a retirement ceremony at the European show jumping championships at Riesenbeck, while just last weekend Eric Lamaze and Pedro Veniss’ Rio Olympics veteran pair bowed out at Geneva CHI.

Back at the building blocks stage, 44 stallions were presented at Year 12 of the Horse Sport Ireland inspections in March, while potential Class 1 stallions were inspected in the spring and autumn for the Connemara studbook, which represents the most versatile pony breed of the competition world.

Cavalier Royale’s name cropped up frequently in a comprehensive trawl, from July through October, of this millenium’s Olympic and championship results. The Williamstown Stud sire produced such eventing medallist horses as Call Again Cavalier and Imperial Cavalier.

That championship review proved to be a fascinating look at sea changes that have taken place in the Irish sport horse breeding world. It was a recap too of household name champions, from past Lanaken and Le Lion d’Angers young horse graduates right up to Olympic medallists, and reliving some impressive Irish-bred results.

For example, from Imperial Cavalier (Cavalier Royale. Breeder: John Brennan) up to Brookfield Inocent, at least one Irish Sport Horse has featured on every British medal-winning team at the European championships in the past decade.

Piggy March and Brookfield Inocent, bred by John Mulvey, at the FEI Eventing European Championships in Avenches, Switzerland, where they won team gold and individual silver \ FEI/Richard Juilliart


On a sadder note, this year marked the passing of Clare man Edward Walsh, who bred the brilliant full-brother pair of Shear L’Eau and Shear H20 (Stan The Man), horses whose names kept cropping up in the Olympics and championships review.

Another loss was noted stallion owner and veterinary surgeon John Hughes who, together with Seamus Hughes and Max Hauri, was instrumental in bringing Cavalier Royale to Ireland. Fittingly, his late sister Ita Brennan is currently the leading show jumping breeder in the Hippomundo rankings and amongst the horsepower that helped Mikey Pender break into the top-50 ranked riders in the world rankings is another bred by her: HSS Calais.

Some 51 more Irish breeders, from throughout the Connemara, Irish Draught, pony and sport horse worlds and from grassroots to Olympics level, shared their experiences and viewpoints in this year’s popular Breeders’ 10 Q&A series.

Another View Point (Loughehoe Guy) earned his breeder Sean Jones a Gain Equine Nutrition/The Irish Field Star of the Month award after his supreme championship win at the Horse of the Year Show. John Mulvey, the second Star of the Month winner, is another breeder walking on air after Brookfield Inocence’s superb year, capped as the leading Irish Sport Horse in the WBFSH rankings. Most recently, the Carroll brothers won the November award for CHF Cooliser.

For the ISH studbook, there was a respectable third place, behind the tightly-bunched Selle Français and Holsteiner studbooks, in an increasingly competitive eventing studbook title race and a much-improved 10th place result in the show jumping section. O.B.O.S Quality 004 (Quick Star) and Shannondale Sarco (Darco) were the two Irish-based eventing sires in the WBFSH top-10 in fourth and ninth place.

2021 was the year we bade farewell to two Irish Sport Horse stalwarts of the WBFSH rankings in Ballynoecastle RM (Ramiro B. Breeder: Sylvester Cullen) and Flexible (Cruising. Catherine Doyle) that competed at world championship, Olympic and World Cup level in eventing and show jumping.

Flexible’s greatest win was his World Cup final crown in 2012 – one of his seven World Cup final appearances – and ‘the little horse that could’ also placed individual eighth at the London Olympics, all resulting in his USEF Horse of the Year title.

While the complete 2021 Hippomundo results will be featured early next year, there was more good news at the time of writing with the ISH eventing studbook set to take another title in these prize money-based rankings.

TSF Dalera has added the Hippomundo leading dressage horse title to her ever-expanding collection, while On Cue’s €86,348 win in the augural Maryland five-star sealed her place at the top of the event horses.

Just 0.1 separated the British-bred On Cue and the John Hagan-bred Cooley Master Class in the Maryland results. More top-three results at five-star level were recorded by Leamore Master Plan (Master Imp. Michael Byrne), Vanir Kamira (Camiro de Haar Z. Kate Jackson) and CHF Cooliser (Womanizer. Raymond Carroll) at Luhmühlen, Bicton (Burghley’s stand-in) and Pau.

The evergreen Ballaghmor Class won the opening five-star of the year for Oliver Townend at Kentucky before winning team gold for Britain at Tokyo. Even if we will never fully know the enigmatic grey’s full breeding, he has more than proved to be a fine five-star ambassador for Irish breeding.

Off The Record (fourth), Ballaghmor Class (fifth) and Cooley Master Class (seventh) finish 2021 in Hippomundo’s top-10 event horses group. Their results also place their respective sires – VDL Arkansas (fifth), Courage II (eighth) and Ramiro B (ninth) – in the eventing sires’ top-10.

Last but not least Paulank Symphony, the first foal of Paulank Brockagh, has big horseshoes to fill. Individual fourth at the Rio Olympics, the 2014 Badminton winner returned home as a broodmare to her Wicklow breeders Frank and Paula Cullen.

2021 WBFSH Rankings

Top ISH Eventing Horses

Fourth – Brookfield Inocent (Inocent (KWPN) – Shalies Pet (ISH), by Kings Servant (ISH) (TIH). Breeder: John Mulvey. Rider: Piggy March (GB).

Seventh - Grovine de Reve (Hermes de Reve (BWP) – Erkina Jane (ISH) (TIH). Breeder: Paddy & Maria Raggett. Rider: Jonelle Price (NZ).

11th – Ballaghmor Class (Courage II (HOLST) – Kilderry Place. Breeder: Noel Hickey. Rider: Oliver Townend (GB).

34th – Off The Record (VDL Arkansas (KWPN) – Drumagoland Bay (ISH), by Ard Ohio (KWPN). Breeder: Peter G. Brady. Rider: Will Coleman (USA).

36th – Vanir Kamira (Camiro de Haar Z (ZANG) – Fair Caledonian (WNTR), by Dixi (TB). Breeder: Kate Jackson. Rider: Piggy March (GB).

42nd – Gortfadda Diamond (Watervalley Cool Diamond (ISH) (TIH) – Panda (TB), by Glacial Storm. Breeder: Sean Lydon. Rider: Emilie Chandler (GB).

Top ISH Show Jumping Horses

61st – Pacino Amiro (Pacino (BWP) - Carnone Dancing Queen (ISH), by NC Amiro (AES). Breeder: Simon Scott. Rider: Bertram Allen (IRL)

63rd – Java’s Miss Jordan (Luidam (KWPN) – Ally Angel (ISH), by O.B.O.S Quality 004 (OLD). Breeder: Judy Murphy. Rider: Nicky Galligan (IRL).

85th – Lapuccino 2 (SIEC Livello (HOLST) – Cabaret III). Breeder: Sven Kapp. Rider: Michael G. Duffy (IRL)

95th – Kilkenny (VDL Cardento (SWB) – MHS Pembrook Lady, by Guidam. Breeder: Sinead Brennan. Rider: Cian O’Connor (IRL).

119th – HHS Calais (Cavalier Royale (HOLST) – MHS OBOS Cruise, by O.B.O.S Quality 004 (OLD). Breeder: Ita Brennan. Rider: Michael Pender (IRL).

163rd – Super Chilled (Gelvin Clover (ISH) (TIH) – Ballypatrick Codex. Breeder: Cheryl Broderick. Rider: Jonathan Corrigan (IRL).

What the breeders said in 2021

“I’m very proud to have bred, produced and ridden Sambuca at the Olympic Games. She is the first horse that I’ve bred, and thanks to my mother, Gisela, for spotting her sire Samarant, while at a show in Germany. Thank you to everyone who has helped us on our journey - roll on Paris 2024!”

Heike Holstein.

“This time last year, I could never have imagined a better 12 months for a small breeder like myself. First, there was Brookfield Inocent’s Pau result last October that brought him into contention for an Olympic team place, then he wins team gold and individual silver medals at the Europeans for Piggy March. And now, a year later, he’s the leading Irish-bred event horse in the WBFSH rankings.”

John Mulvey.

“He was just born a lucky, lucky horse. Everything fell into place with Pacino Amiro when he went to Bertram [Allen]. That is such an achievement [top WBFSH Irish breeder]. It’s just that wee bit of satisfaction that you’re doing the right thing, even though there’s days when you think you’re not! I would owe it as much to my mother Jean and late father Harry, he would be chuffed about this. My mother has such a passion for horses all her life and is still working in the yard every day. It’s great for her to see something like this happen once in a lifetime. You keep going and you keep going with horses, it’s only when you meet a problem you ask the generation behind you for advice. I’d like as much credit for her and the whole team involved. For a small breeder coming from Donegal, this gives everybody a bit of heart.”

Simon Scott.

“He [Kilkenny] showed himself to be a very good horse, Cian [O’Connor] minded the horse and looked ahead to bigger days. Kilkenny jumped with panache, he jumped with flair. The nosebleed came against him and slowed him down but he wasn’t short of scope. We were thrilled with him.

“He’d never have beaten Explosion W anyhow after the first day, all the stars were aligned for Explosion W to win his gold and he deserved it. Ben [Maher] did a fantastic job.

“Pacino Amiro showed unbelievable scope, how he came out of that double! I think the [Games] format was flawed and they were lucky they got the result they did. The only saving grace was Explosion W was a wonder horse. Explosion W and All In deserved the gold and silver medals and won the day for the organisers because it turned out into a glorified Grand Prix and not a true Olympics.”

Tom Brennan.

“If Flexible was anything, he was a winner and this was borne out all through his magnificent career. Although small in stature, he had the heart of a lion. In nautical terms he was like a pocket battleship, often outsmarting larger craft. A class was never decided until Flexible had jumped. He was the epitome of courage and consistency.

“As a representative of the Irish Sport Horse he was outstanding, carrying the flag for many years at the very top level and advertising the best qualities of the breed throughout the world.”

Dermot Forde.

“Our dream continues with the amazing ‘Brocks’ returning home and rewards us with a filly foal by Centennial. We couldn’t ask for more... Brocks the Wonder Mum!”

Paula Cullen.