They came as Horse Sport Ireland said it is imperative we are in a position to capitalise on a belief there will be a dearth of good horses in a few years.
“We reckon the number of registrations this year has fallen back 14% on last year. There was over-production in previous years, and we are probably going back to a more realistic situation for the size of the country,” says HSI director of breeding Alison Corbally. “That 14%, however, is a lot less than some studbooks on the continent, with some experiencing a fall of up to 30%. In fact, there is increasing speculation that there will be a shortage of good horses. We are breeding more competitive horses, and this could provide an opportunity for us.”
Irish breeders can point to the recent achievements of animals like Fenyas Elegance and Arraghbeg Clover.
Owner-breeder of the former, PJ Hegarty, is glad his attempt to sell the mare proved unsuccessful. The nine-year-old chestnut won the feature class at Blenheim Castle in the hands of Aoife Clark, having put down a marker when second at Chatsworth earlier this year.
Clark, who only picked up the ride in February, said: “To win here means a huge amount. This mare is just at the right stage to be looking at the  World Equestrian Games and then Rio [Olympics].”
England is the epicentre of eventing, and a feature win there is a rare feat for an Irish rider, despite Ireland being the number one studbook in eventing. Victory at Blenheim is the hallmark of a good event horse, yet Fenyas Elegance, by Ricardo Z out of Fenya, which is by the thoroughbred Good Thyne, failed to change hands at Tattersalls as a six-year-old.
“We weren’t getting the value, so we did not sell her, and thank God,” said Hegarty, from Bandon, Co Cork. “She has class and style in all three disciplines, and there is more improvement in this mare, and I would be very surprised if she did not make it to the top. Of course, luck is a requirement too. At the moment, we are holding onto her. It is the most exciting thing that has hit us in a long time, and exciting times lie ahead.”
The win for Fenyas Elegance came a week before Tipperary’s Greg Broderick claimed gold aboard Arraghbeg Clover in the final for five-year-old horses at the World Breeding Jumping Championships for Young Horses at Lanaken, Belgium. The mare was bred by Agata Leonard and is by Captain Clover, out of Blidworths Lion Queen, who is by the thoroughbred Bonnie Prince.
Unsurprisingly, Broderick and fellow owner Declan Orpen have succumbed to the big offers, and have sold Arraghbeg Clover — who also won the €50,000 Breeders Classic final at Barnadown Stud in Co Wexford recently.
Can major international wins like these bring back the good times for Irish sport horse breeders?
Despite the achievement of Fenyas Elegance, a three-year-old full brother went unsold at the Goresbridge sales recently.
“There were half a dozen bids on him, but they came nowhere near his value,” said Hegarty. “He is a seriously good horse too. He has great potential,” said Hegarty.
He believes, despite the financial storm that hit the country, that there should be greater support for owners.
“We are flying the flag for the nation and the industry, and there should be a contribution from the governing bodies, as there is huge cost involved in bringing a horse to the top level,” he said.
He laments that there are few enough buyers — and too many stallions.
“Breeders cannot continue without making a return on their investment. It is a business, no longer a hobby. Stallion owners are trying their best. There is plenty of selection, and AI opens up the world to the mare owner, but even in Ireland, I believe there are too many approved stallions, and many will never breed anything of note. Once they are recognised as not being capable of producing a performance horse, they need to be removed from the registry.”
As for breeding a potential superstar?
“You need a good mare and you need to do your homework. It is choice not chance. I would say, you have to have performance on both sides. I have been aiming at producing a performance horse for a long time and have left the showing scene. In showing, the young horses are over produced and the proof of this is in the question: Where do all the champions go as they grew older?”
PJ’s mare Fenya has also produced a four-year-old half-brother to Elegance.
“Fenyas Guiding Star is by Kris Kin a thoroughbred stallion. He’s a promising horse and he will further endorse Fenya as a top-class mare. She is probably one of the few mares to have proven herself in showing and also gone on to perform to Grade B level in show jumping and then as a successful brood mare.”
Hegarty added: “We are starting to see the benefit of performance mares, which is obvious with Greg Broderick’s mare.
“I perfectly understand why Arraghbeg Clover was sold, but if you don’t keep the best, how can you expect to breed the best. A system needs to be put in place to retain the top breeding genetics as the foundation for a national programme.”
Corbally, too, highlighted Broderick’s win with Arraghbeg Clover in the world breeding championship.
“This year’s competition had 242 starters, which was up 26% on last year. This meant that there were more through to the final, 63, so what Greg achieved is even greater than on face value.”
She revealed that Agata Leonard has now got more money back in prizes as the breeder of the mare than when she sold it as a foal.
“Breeders’ prizes are a genuine incentive and are helpful in these difficult times. For example, the inaugural broodmare championships which will be held at the Equus showcase in Punchestown in November will have €2,000 to the winner, from a prize fund of €5,500. The 10 best mares aged three and four from the HSI Irish Sport Horse inspections this year will vie for the prize. Aside from the incentive, this contest will show what is required in a potential brood mare,” said Corbally.
There are some decent cheques changing hands at sales too. A recent week-long sale at Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny, saw 1,900 horses presented, with the highest price of €14,500 paid by Michael Condon, Wexford, for a three-year-old by OBOS Quality out of a Cruising mare.
Goresbridge proprietor Martin Donohoe said: “The quality was up and down, but there were lots of customers for the ones that they wanted. There were customers for good show jumpers, eventers, hunters, show horses. Plenty of money for all the disciplines, but people are getting selective, more discerning. They are not willing to spend it on anything, as with everything in life these days.”
Nov 11-13 will see the fourth staging of the elite Goresbridge Go for Gold sale of eventing horses.
“Seventy-five lots have been selected from 350 applicants, based on pedigree, performance and potential. They are aged three to six, with one seven-year-old, a two star horse, on offer,” said Donohoe.
“We have interested parties from US and Canada, Germany, Italy, Sweden and some Russians may be coming, but the UK would probably bring the biggest number of customers.”