Coveney announces €2m funding for sport horse industry

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney yesterday announced €2m euro in Government funding for discussion groups for the sport horse industry.

The scheme is to be modeled on those operating in the agriculture sector and is hoped to attract 1,000 horse breeders in the next few years, with participants receiving payment for attendance.

Coveney noted the success of the scheme in the beef, dairy, and sheep sectors, which has attracted 7,000 farmers.

“For the first time ever, we are going to roll out the discussion group model for the horse sector, around better breeding programmes, better training programmes, better horse management programmes. So, horse breeders and owners will be encouraged to sign up to discussion groups that they will need to turn up to a number of times a year.

Teagasc will put in the place the structure and we will make sure there is good peer engagement as well as bringing in outside expertise.”

Coveney made his promise at the launch yesterday of ‘Reaching New Heights’, a sport horse strategy — compiled by Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), Teagasc and the Royal Dublin Society — at the Army Equitation School in McKee Barracks, Dublin.

Addressing representatives from across the industry, he said: “The Government is taking this seriously. We are putting resources into this and we are going to make these recommendations happen, with you. [This is] so we put the sport-horse sector on track with policy certainty, with some funding certainty and with a strategy for the next decade that I hope everyone can buy into.

“We are starting from a pretty good base. There are passionate people. Horse ownership in Ireland, and breeding and riding in many ways is in the blood of so many Irish families... A lot of people don’t do it for the money, they do it for the love of it and what we need is to harness that energy, that knowledge and that skill-set, that tradition to ensure we are the best that we can be, as a country producing the best sport horses in the world.”

The strategy has been over 12 months gestating and included five regional consultative meetings involving 745 participants — three of which were attended by Mr Coveney — “two export focus-group meetings” with 150 participants, along with a written consultation process that saw 645 submissions.

Its purpose is two-fold: To encourage job creation and sustainable enterprise development and to facilitate, where possible, export-led growth.

Coveney also said he would chair the committee implementing the report’s recommendations and noted that it was a 32-county strategy.

He said he hoped a recommended review of Horse Sport Ireland and its affiliates would start by the second part of the year and conclude by the end of the year.

He also made a point of highlighting the history of the Army Equitation School, with the promise of an increased role in the industry.

He said that, the document, which is comprehensive, if implemented, would make a “significance difference” to raise the reputation of the country as a horse country, noting that it is worth €700m euro annually, employed around 13,000 full-time equivalents and had about 200,000 involved in a voluntary or sporting capacity, impacting in every parish “both rural and urban... which is why the need for direction and unity of purpose and clarity is so important”.

While the Irish sport horse has held the number one spot in the eventing studbook for 19 of the last 21 years, in the show jumping arena, it has fallen away dramatically, mainly due to the traditional Irish horse not been suitable for the technical challenges posed by my modern show jumping courses.

Advances in continental breeding over the past three decades have seen the Irish studbook drop to 12th in the world rankings, with Irish-bred horses making up just 2.5% of the top-200 horses in the World Breeding Federation For Sport Horses rankings.

It is notable in his foreword to the report that Coveney says he believes the potential of the sport horse industry has been “underestimated and under-exploited”. Important, too, are his concluding lines.

“I hope that when this report is re-read a decade hence, it will be seen to have been a key turning point in the history of the sport horse sector.”

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