Study calls for separate studbook for eventing horses

A STUDY published this week says there is an “urgent need” for a separate studbook for Irish eventing horses as it highlights “a number of unfavourable conformation traits”.

The study, undertaken by University of Limerick equestrian lecturer Soraya Morscher, also noted the importance of temperament in an event horse.

Morscher’s research included in-depth interviews with four-star riders in the World Cup qualifier at the 2008 Tattersalls, combined with evaluation of the conformation of 422 potential event horses. The latter showed cause for worry.

“Of the 422 horses that I profiled, of real concern is the weak loin area. Also, a quarter of horses have a long back, which is a high figure for what is a very undesirable trait. More than a third of horses were in a rectangular shape, while most riders would prefer a square shape. Also, the stride length at the trot was weak, as was impulsion. The shoulder is very influential in technique and jumping, but more than a quarter had a straight shoulder. Longevity is crucial in eventing for a horse to reach the highest level, so traits that contribute to early breakdown need to be monitored and selection for desirable traits needs to be included in breeding objectives,” said Morscher yesterday

Unsurprisingly, considering the nature of this demanding and stressful sport, the riders focussed on temperament as the most important trait in an event horse.

“As much as 90% of the 24 riders I interviewed at Tattersalls said temperament and attitude were the most important trait and they said the horses they selected for purchase in the past had a ‘look at me factor’ in terms of their behaviour,” said Austrian-born Morscher, who first came to Ireland in 2000.

“I also asked them what type of conformation they would prefer not to see in a horse and they pointed to leg abnormalities, such as back at the knee and bad feet, though we have good feet in our population of horses. They also said that long sloping or extremely upright pasterns were a concern for them.”

Her study is timely, considering that the Irish Sport Horse studbook for event horses this year relinquished its world number-one spot after 15 years to the Hannovarians and Morscher said: “I firmly believe that a separate studbook would allow for greater availability of information. It is commonly stated that event horses are failed show jumpers, but their conformation traits differ distinctly and a separate studbook is required along with distinct breeding objectives if the studbook is to stay at the top.”

Her study — titled An Analysis of Conformation and Performance Variables in Potential Three-Day Event Horses in Ireland and was conducted on behalf of the RDS Committee of Agriculture and Rural Affairs — also found that over 56% of riders felt the best event horse was a thoroughbred crossed with an Irish Sport Horse. Another 17.4% of competitors believed the thoroughbred was the most suitable, followed by Irish Sport Horse (13.0%), while 8.7% thought breeds other than the ones mentioned were the most suitable and 4.3% indicated German-bred horses. None of the competitors selected Selle Francais or Dutch warmblood as most suitable for eventing.

Asked how much money they would spend on a three-year-old horse they considered suitable for eventing, 26% of the riders interviewed said they would spend up to €5,000, while 30.4% said they would not spend more than €10,000 and almost 22% would spend no more than €15,000.

Morscher’s study also praised the Future Event Horse League, which attempts to identify young horses with potential. Results from the league in 2004-2009, involving 725 horses, were analysed. She found the lowest suitability and potential scores for conformation and jumping were recorded in 2008 and “low scores should be monitored throughout the years to identify developing trends and to take early action”.

- THE Irish Long Distance Riding Association (ILDRA) had, as of yesterday, not received any communication from Horse Sport Ireland, following its decision to terminate its affiliation with the governing body.

ILDRA vice-chairman and treasurer Kevin Croke said yesterday: “I have heard nothing and, to the best of my knowledge, neither have the other officers of ILDRA. I am puzzled, to say the least.”

ILDRA members voted last Saturday night to withdraw their affiliation, with association secretary Kathy Conly citing members’ dissatisfaction with the level of service provided by HSI and the “high” affiliation fee.

Croke “officially informed” HSI of the ILDRA decision on Monday.

Yesterday, however, he admitted ILDRA was only in the process of “finalising” its 2009 affiliation fee and would not now be paying its 2010 fee to HSI.

He countered by saying “we did not draw down a core grant this year, which would be worth €2,000”.

The affiliation fees for 2009 and 2010 were €4,500 per year, while the projected figure for 2011 would have been €4,000, he said.

An EGM must be called by ILDRA for a reversal of its decision to opt out of HSI.

- BILLY TWOMEY’S third place with Tinka’s Serenade in last week’s World Cup qualifier in Stuttgart, Germany, has elevated him to equal 10th in the Western European League.

The Corkman this weekend lines out in the five-star Audi Masters show in Brussels, Belgium, where he is again joined by Jessica Kürten and Denis Lynch.

The feature will be Sunday’s €150,000 Masters, which also boasts an Audi car for the winner.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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