Ray Ryan reports on why Irish sport horse industry leaders attending Dublin Horse Show will be keenly aware of the Brexit challenges ahead

THE unique challenges that Brexit poses for the Irish sport horse industry will be examined at the five-day Dublin Horse Show which begins on Wednesday.

First held on the grounds of Leinster House in 1864 to foster the equine industry in Ireland, it remains true to this founding mission.

Some 1,600 horses and ponies will compete this week at the Royal Dublin Society’s iconic Ballsbridge complex in 132 classes and competitions, which will have close to €1m in prize money.

Dublin is hailed as one of the top three equestrian shows in the world and has one of the largest prize funds of any international equestrian event.

The show is estimated to inject €45m to the city’s economy and is a prestigious shop window for the country’s €700m sport horse industry, which embraces show jumping and associated equestrian disciplines. Employing more than 12,000 people full-time, the sport horse sector is only part of the overall equine industry which makes an important contribution to the country’s economy and to the role that horses continue to play in Irish life.

The other significant part of that equine industry is the highly successful and globally competitive thoroughbred sector, which caters for horse racing and bloodstock breeding.

It directly employs some 17,000 individuals and thousands more indirectly and makes a direct contribution to the national economy of some €1.3bn.

Protecting the entire industry from the potential impact of Brexit is therefore a matter of concern and priority for all stakeholders. Free movement of horses between Ireland, Britain, and France is seen as crucially important to that aim.

Some of the challenges specifically facing the sport horse sector will be examined at this week’s Dublin Horse Show, which always attracts entries from the North and from Britain.

Additionally, buyers from across the Irish Sea account for about half of the sport horses purchased at public auctions in Ireland every year, with several thousand more changing hands in private transactions.

Michael Duffy, RDS chief executive, said the primary goal of the Dublin Horse Show is to benefit the Irish sport horse industry.

He said: “Brexit will create challenges particular to this industry, which has very strong cross-border business relationships, as well as a specific export relationship with Britain.

“We are taking the opportunity at the show to examine how the industry can best prepare for the various Brexit scenarios,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, stated in a recent reply to a Dáil question from Bernard Durkan that his department is playing its part in efforts to ensure an agreement with the UK upon its exit from the EU does not disrupt trade or regulation in the equine sector.

In this context, he said his department has been in regular contact over the last year with counterpart administrations in London and Belfast. He has also hosted an all-Ireland sectorial dialogue — which included all of the leading representatives of the sport horse industry on the island of Ireland.

Speaking at that event in Portlaoise, Mr Creed said people are all familiar with the very important economic, social, as well as cultural roles the equine and greyhound sectors play in Ireland — to the great benefit of rural communities in particular.

“It is also true to say that they are among the most highly integrated sectors with their UK counterparts, from both a north-south and east-west perspective.

“It is vitally important, therefore, that we ensure that we have a full understanding of all of the issues at play for these sectors as we respond to the Brexit challenge,” he said.

Mr Creed said that he was very heartened by the degree of engagement evident during the Portlaoise discussions, which benefited hugely from the strong attendance of equine industry representatives from Northern Ireland.

Issues like the need to maintain a Tripartite Agreement governing future movement of horses between Ireland, the UK, and France, as well as all-island administrative and other key aspects of the industry’s day-to-day operations, were teased out in some detail.

“This is of great assistance to my own and my department’s efforts to ensure that these issues adequately inform our approach to the Brexit negotiations,” he said.

Elaine Hatton, Horse Sport Ireland director of international marketing, speaking after the event, said it was a very productive session where the sector came together to highlight the issues Brexit will have on the equine industry.

Meanwhile, strong advance ticket sales, sold-out corporate hospitality, a waiting list for trade stands, and a 6% increase in entries all point to another successful Dublin Horse Show.

Keelin Fagan, Fáilte Ireland, which is supporting the show, said it is one of the longest running features in the capital’s festival calendar.

“It is one of the events that makes Dublin a truly unique place to visit, adding to the city’s colour and character,” she said.

The show will also have over 300 trade stands, a craft awards exhibition, entertainment, dining, pageantry and, of course, fashion.

Ladies Day on Thursday will have a €10,000 Dundrum Town Centre shopping voucher prize for the best dressed. There will also be prize for the best-dressed man and other categories.

But Irish sport horses will remain at the heart of all the activities with showing, performance, and jumping classes. The national competitions are expected to be some of the strongest in recent years, as qualifiers around the country were inundated during the summer with quality entries. Some of the top show jumpers in the world will compete on Friday in the FEI Nations Cup, otherwise known as the Aga Khan Trophy.

The new Chef d’Equipe for the Irish show jumping team, Rodrigo Pessoa, will take charge of the home challenge for the prestigious trophy, which was first presented in 1926.

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