DISMAY and anger predictably greeted the recent decision by Horse Sport Ireland, in Christmas week, to significantly increase many of its fees for breeders but what are the possible future implications of this course of action?

The size of the increases for breeders, coupled with the ending of the HSI discounts for Irish Horse Board members - taken without consultation with HSI’s own Advisory Council - are set to have considerable knock-on effects on Irish breeding, the ISH Studbook, and possibly even equine welfare.

The price increases, the first for 17 years, were only targeted at Irish Sport Horse and Irish Draught horse breeders - Irish Cob and Kerry Bog Ponies were unaffected according to HSI’s press release.

The fundamental basis which underpins Horse Sport Ireland’s mandate from its inception was to act to develop the economic growth of breeders, not burden them with charges that are, on average, over 60% more than another Irish Studbook.

When Horse Sport Ireland recently won the tenders, advertised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, did they do so on the basis of these price increases? (See fees comparison table below for Horse Sport Ireland and Leisure Horse Ireland).

Undoubtedly, these hefty price increases will lead to an increase in the number of horses registered without pedigree, carrying identification documents only (‘white books’) at a fraction of the cost, €50 versus €98-€148. Alternatively, some breeders will opt to avail of the considerably cheaper option of registering with HSI’s main competitor studbook, Leisure Horse Ireland, for €30 for an ID document or €65 for a pedigree passport.

The upshot will surely be that a certain amount of pedigree information will be lost for genetic evaluation and accordingly, for breed improvement for future generations of Irish-bred horses in the ISH Studbook.

Reaching New Heights Report

One of the key recommendations of the Reaching New Heights (2015-2025) Report, launched amid fanfare by the then Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney TD (FG), at McKee Barracks, was a focus on improving Ireland’s sport horse herd quality, putting in place breeding structures to allow Ireland produce horses recognised in future top WBFSH rankings.

Report Recommendation 1.9 clearly set this out - ‘Increase the number of horses registered with verified pedigree, facilitated by an incentivised registration fee structure for breeders’.

Reaching New Heights represented the culmination of some 650 official submissions gathered during a series of regional meetings organised by Horse Sport Ireland in conjunction with Teagasc and the RDS.

Overall, there was some 41 recommendations in the Report, mainly centred on six core recommendations (see panel top right), and it was rightly hailed as a ‘game-changer’ by the then chairman of Horse Sport Ireland Prof. Paddy Wall.

The Report said that should animals with non-pedigree ID documents be breed, that their progeny may not be eligible for studbook passports either and this information is lost to the studbook for genetic evaluation, breed improvement and other purposes. These pedigree links are also lost for subsequent generations bred from such animals.

Suffice to say that if any of these ‘white book’ horses turns out to be a good one, then the potential added value to that family’s bloodline is also lost.

Reaching New Heights detailed that in 2013, 5,160 foals received a studbook passport with 1,219 issued with non-pedigree ID documents (white passports). Meanwhile 1,287 adult horses received a studbook passport but 5,318 received white passports. Overall, a higher percentage (50.3% of foals and adults) received white passports which were cheaper than studbook passports at the time the Report was launched.

The Report strongly recommended making it cheaper to register horses with pedigree than without recorded pedigree and also to require DNA samples to be taken for all white book-passported animals.

Equine welfare cracks

Reaching New Heights also pointed out that the value of young stock in the sport horse sector is more strongly linked to its pedigree to a greater extent than animals from other farm enterprises.

Public auction prices illustrate that studbook-registered horses can make some 33% more than those with white books. The immediate impact of loss of pedigree information would be to diminish the economic contribution of the sport horse sector to Ireland’s rural economy.

The question also now has to be asked in light of the HSI price hikes, coming amid rising inflation, will white book horses unfortunately be on the frontline of future welfare concerns?

If you need the answer to that question - try asking those organisations daily working in the area of animal and equine welfare, they will readily attest that it is always the low value horses that are the first to be disgarded, neglected and abused in recessionary times.

The six key recommendations contained in the Reaching New Heights Report (2015-2025):

1. Improving herd quality: improve breeding structures to allow Ireland produce horses which are recognised at the top of the WBFSH rankings.

2. Deliver an education and training structure to achieve the strategy’s goals.

3. Improve the sales capacity across the entire industry.

4. Increase participation and improve the experience of participants in the sector.

5. Develop and enhance the structures to improve the welfare of the horse.

6. Deepen institutional capacity to effectively deliver the strategy’s goals.