IRISH people have a great affinity with horses and a great desire to breed good horses and ponies. It is imbued in them from all ages and backgrounds.

Now with the help of organisations such as Teasagc, we are witnessing a new generation of breeders rising through the ranks. One such young breeder making huge strides is Mayo’s Shane Donohoe.

Through the ISH Young Breeders programme, jointly operated by Teagasc and Horse Sport Ireland, Shane formed part of the team that won the World Championships last year. He also placed third in the overall individual World Championships and won the ‘in-hand’ section of the competition. The desire to breed horses started before he was accepted on the course, but he credits the course with giving him both opportunities and perspective.

Based in Killala, the Leaving Certificate student is the first to say that he didn’t come from a family who bred horses, but he always had a great love of horses.

“I have no family background in horses other than my grandfather having worked in Mount Coote Stud for the Lillingstons, where he handled the stallions in his youth. But aside from that neither of my parents’ families ever owned or kept horses. My interest in horses grew from unusual beginnings. It started when a lady who my dad knew through work, asked if we might be able to provide a new home for an emotionally broken pony called Toby.”

Before long with the help of his parents Donal and Maria, and with the guidance of Ita McDermott and Shane Quinn, he progressed to a 12.2hh jumping pony named D’at I’ll Do (aka Polly), which went on to a very impressive career.

Shane and his brother Brian also became involved in the Sligo Pony Club, where he competed in minimus and the Robbie Bailey show jumping competitions, progressing through the IPC exams and achieving his B Test.

Starting the breeding dream

With horses firmly part of his life at this point, Shane convinced his grandfather that his land could be used for breeding ponies rather than beef farming.

“I convinced him that farming would be easier if we got a Connemara mare in foal and that he could qualify for his annual farm entitlements under the traditional breeds scheme in the REPs scheme."

Not long after, the Connemara mare Abbeycura Lady arrived on the farm in foal and it is this he believes really nurtured his interest in the breeding of ponies. This mare went on to breed four foals, one of which, Acrehill Rosie, qualified for RDS last year with Cavalot Sport Ponies, under the command of Jack Hannigan.

“I was always hopeful that Abbey, our Connemara broodmare, would breed me a pony that I could ride but time was against me, so we bought our first high quality Connemara mare and added to the herd. This lovely mare, who was bred by the famous Connemara breeder and judge Mrs Elizabeth Petch, is Coosheen Halley. This mare went on to a successful career in the showing ring, working hunter competitions as well as in show jumping.”

Shane would later opt to put Coosheen Halley in foal and chose the Grand Prix Connemara jumping pony Ice and Fire D’albain, owned by Diamonds of Renvyle, for the first covering. This mare produced three foals before he decided to sell her on.

Learning the ropes of horse breeding and loving it is Mayo's Shane Donohoe

Moved into horses

It was only a matter of time before he would look into buying horses.

“After selling Halley and under the guidance of Mark Hester, I invested in a well-bred Holstein broodmare, Chanel, and last year she produced a lovely colt foal by Ger O’Neill’s Castlefield Kingston. She is now in in foal to Diarado.

“During Covid, I was fortunate enough to come across a lovely young well-bred, traditional Irish mare by a thoroughbred stallion called Spirit House. I spent a lot of time producing her and aiming her towards the eventing market. I competed in some arena one-day events initially and then at EI 100 level where we gained a huge amount of enjoyment and experience. Due to my upcoming Leaving Cert, I decided to sell her to a yard in Minnesota, USA where she is progressing well with her new owners.”

With encouragement from Mark and Patrick Hester of the Mayo Roscommon Breeders’ Group, Shane applied for a place on the ISH Young Breeders Programme and was successful.

“The course gave me clarity and perspective to every aspect of conformation and sport horse production. In particular our journey to The Netherlands for the World Championships provided a great view into different horse types between the cultures, as well as getting an opportunity to gauge opinions and meet new like-minded people from around the world,” he explains.

“I got insights into conformation and pedigree analysis from some of the most knowledgeable people in the sport. It was invaluable to me both from a learning and networking point of view.”

Great connections

“There was excellent access to some of the top breeding and producing yards in Ireland, people like Andrew and Marion Hughes, Belmont House Stud, Cooley Farm, Boleybawn Stud and many more, in particular Andrew Hughes has been very helpful with advice. I have one of my mares in foal to his gorgeous young stallion Bravour VDL.”

With college looming, Shane decided to concentrate on breeding and has invested in some really lovely well-bred mares who have jumped successfully and come from proven bloodlines.

Shane has five broodmares in his programme. They include Chanel, a Holstein mare by Connor, in foal to Diarado; Verona B jumped successfully at 1.40m level as a seven-year-old and is in foal to Zangersheide stallion Utamaro D’Ecuassines.;Arola is a Dutch mare from the dam line of Olympic jumper Dubai; and Jardonnay VDL, who jumped international six-year-old classes with Shane Breen and David Simpson.

“This mare is in foal to Zapatero VDL who stands at Drumhowan Stud with Eamon and Gladys McArdle, who have been very helpful and encouraging to my breeding endeavours,” said Shane.

He also has U Casalina, a former 1.45m international show jumper by Casall, in foal to Tangelo VD Zuuthoeve and Creggaun Abbey, by Ricardo Z, out of Lady (Zoraja), in foal to Bravour VDL.