Equestrians focus on road to Rio

Ray Ryan looks forward to the Dublin Horse Show, to which the imminent Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are adding extra spice.

THE road to next month’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will shorten for many equestrian competitors at the five-day Dublin Horse Show which is due to open at the RDS on Wednesday.

In order to accommodate competitors going to Brazil, the show, which will cost €4.5m to stage, has been brought forward from its traditional August dates.

It is one of the last five-star events before the Olympics and as a result a high level of competition is expected across the 14 international classes.

Teams from Britain, the reigning Olympic champions, the United States, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Czech Republic, and Ireland wlll take part in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup (Aga Khan Trophy) on Friday.

It is a pinnacle event for the Irish Horse Sport industry which is worth €700m to rural Ireland, is responsible for 13,000 jobs and reaches into communities all over the country.

The horse show itself is expected to attract 100,000 visitors and is worth over €45m for the local economy.

It acts as a focal point for many people involved professionally and socially in equestrianism in Ireland.

Some 1,500 horses will compete in 132 classes. There will be 300 trade stands and 40,000 flowers will decorate the grounds.

The show is also a shop window of pageantry, fashion, entertaining and hospitality — 35,000 glasses of wine and 110,000 cups of coffee will be served.

The RDS chief executive, Michael Duffy, said the Horse Show was originally founded to encourage and promote the Irish sport horse industry.

It is part of the Society’s philanthropic aims, and this continues to be the primary purpose, providing Irish breeders and producers with an international platform to showcase the very best of Irish sport horses, he said.

Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister Shane Ross said that after 143 years, the Dublin Horse Show continues to be Ireland’s leading equestrian event.

“This year is an Olympic year and carries with it the added excitement of witnessing up close Irish and international riders who will be bidding for gold in Rio,” he said.

Behind the appealing layout and and glamour of the venue, where the main arena is earmarked for a €20m redevelopment following the show, will be the role of the horse in the country’s economic and sporting life.

Horse Sport Ireland, the body responsible for the sector, noted in its annual report for 2014 that the number of foals registered that year had fallen to 4,548 from 5,160 in 2013. The peak number of registrations in recent years was 7,633 in 2008. Professor Patrick Wall, chairman, said the reduction in the number of foals being born was welcome, as there must be an emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

“The increase in foal numbers up to 2008 coupled with a drop in demand as a result of the economic downturn, led to a drop in the market value for horses which was not good for the industry. There are signs that the market is now picking up, which is encouraging,” he said.

Over 145,000 entries were made during 2014 in national equestrian competitions in the Olympic disciplines (showjumping, eventing, and dressage) which demonstrates the huge levels of activity there is in the sector. These figures did not reflect the huge activity levels in the leisure sector, with over 6,000 people participating in hunting, some 4,000 members in riding clubs and around another 4,000 in pony clubs.

Prof Wall said that together with lots of activity in the other smaller disciplines, the sector is booming in terms of activity.

A total of 584 different licensed international riders also competed for Ireland in 29 countries during 2014. At the end of that year, Ireland had nine showjumping riders ranked in the world’s top 100. The Irish Sport Horse Studbook once again topped the 2014 world rankings for the production of three day event horses but it finished outside the top 10 in showjumping.

Prof Wall said the lack of top Irish-bred showjumpers has been a persistent problem for the last three decades.

But there were signs of improvements with younger horses having medal success in the world championships for their age groups.

“The problem is not all about breeding, as we also need to improve production standards. A big investment has been made in this area in recent years with the Studbook classes for young horses and young horse classes at the RDS being restricted to Irish bred horses,” he said.

Prof Wall said the objective going forward is to connect breeders with the market requirements and provide Irish horse power to the top riders in the various disciplines.

“However, in addition to horses for international competitors, horses for the leisure market and for competitive amateurs also have to be fit for purpose.

“There is no place for breeding poor-quality animals. Money invested in producing such animals is wasted,” he said.

Those aims are also reflected in a report, published earlier this year with the expertise of Horse Sport Ireland, Teagasc, and the RDS.

It contains 35 key recommendations for the strategic development of the sport horse industry over the next 10 years.

Prof Cathal O’Donoghue, chairman of the strategy committee, which produced the report, said a fundamental change was necessary to initiate a renewed emphasis on quality and a developmental approach to breeding.

The sector remains an important contributor to the rural economy and the social, sporting, and cultural life of the country.

“The challenge is to improve the quality of all aspects of the sector, improve the function of the market and promote the sales of our horses and expertise, lifting incomes and employment in the industry,” he said.


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