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6 July 2006

Marketing Irish-Bred Showjumpers

by Tom Reed
Ireland's Horse & Pony, March 2006

Each year the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH) calculates a ranking of international showjumpers. To understand the central problem Ireland faces marketing showjumpers to foreign buyers we must understand the rankings, how their are computed, and their implications.

For the year ending 30-09-2005 (the most recent annual ranking) the Irish Horse Register (IHR) earned 2726.35 points and is ranked as the 8th best studbook. The studbook ranking is based on the results of the IHR's six most successful horses. Of the six best Irish-bred horses, three were sired by Cavalier Royale, a German Holsteiner.

Let's conduct an experiment. Let's see what would happen to the rankings if foreign stallions had never sired Irish horses. We need to remove from the ranking McGuinness (the best Irish-bred showjumper), Royal Charmer (3rd best), and Two Mills Showtime (6th best) – all sired by Cavalier Royale -- and replace them with the next three Irish Sport Horses (ISH) sired by an Irish sire: Ado Annie (9th best), Church Road (10th best) and Eezy (12th best). The IHR would now have 2012.25 points and be ranked 11th in the world. So without Cavalier and Animo (the other foreign sire) the IHR would have fallen from 8th to 11th place.

Among the top 300 international showjumpers in the world how many are ISH stallions approved in Ireland or in any other studbook in the world? Not a single one. How many are foreign-bred stallions approved and standing at stud in Ireland? Only one – the Holsteiner stallion Condios, who competed with Dermott Lennon in 2005.

These facts clearly reveal that the central problem Ireland faces in marketing showjumpers to the international market is that we simply will not produce enough international-quality showjumpers if we do not incorporate the very best foreign bloodlines into our breeding programme. And since there is not a single approved Irish-owned stallion in the top 300 international showjumpers other than the German-born Condios, I believe that ten years from now we will have even fewer ISH jumping internationally and the IHR will be even lower in the rankings.

So what are we to do to build a better market for Irish-breds? Here are some suggestions:

1. Support the RDS' "Irish-Bred" Initiative.
The RDS has budgeted euro 200,000 for its campaign to support the breeding and marketing of Irish-bred horses. The RDS has wisely chosen a definition for "Irish-bred" that will permit us to make real progress in the next decade. According to Pat Hanley, Deputy Executive Director of the RDS, "The definition of Irish bred adopted by the RDS is 'an animal foaled in Ireland with appropriate documentation to
verify this fact.'" The RDS does not care what kind of passport a horse has – IHB, Dutch, Anglo European, French, etc. What it does require for the national showjumping championships is that the horse was born in Ireland and its passport proves it was born in Ireland. So breeders are free to register their foals in whatever studbook makes the most sense to them.

2. Amend the Stallion Classification System.
On the continent there is a big market for young stallions and progeny of young stallions. Stallions are inspected at the age of 2 and 3 and the best are "licensed" and must complete performance requirements under saddle to be approved.

The IHB's system of granting all sound young stallions S-1 status (and some "S-1 Performance" status with a grant) and requiring them to be completely re-inspected when they have achieved the minimum of 30 showjumping points means that our best young stallions cannot compete on a level playing field with the continental stallions: they are not "licensed", they cannot compete against other licensed or approved 4- or 5-year-old stallions in stallions shows, and their progeny receive the dreaded blue passport.

The IHB should amend the system so that young stallions are "licensed" rather than given "S-1 Performance" status. And these licensed stallions should be automatically approved once they have met a clearly defined performance standard such as a top three placing in the 4-year-old class at the Dublin Horse Show or successfully completing a 70-day stallion performance test. If this were done then young licensed stallions -- and their progeny -- could be marketed to foreign buyers and breeders would be more likely to use these young stallions in their breeding programs.

3. Require Performance from Approved Stallions.
Approved stallions should be required to compete as 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds to maintain their approval. Breeders and buyers of Irish-bred horses should be able to evaluate the athleticism, soundness, and rideability of young stallions on an ongoing basis until progeny of these stallions can be seen in sport.

4. Inspect Progeny of Approved Stallions.
All newly approved stallions should have their progeny inspected. Twenty foals, randomly selected by the IHB, should be evaluated and those foals should be re-evaluated when they are 3-, 7-, and 11 years of age. If foals are not excellent, or if the progeny are not well-developed when they are 3, or if some progeny are not jumping with a modicum of success when they are 7, or if at least some of the stallion's 11-year-old progeny are not jumping internationally or at high national level then the stallion should lose his approval.

5. Only Provide Pedigrees in Green Passports.
A few years ago about 25% of foals in Ireland were sired by S1 and S2 stallions. In the 2004 foal book published by the IHB the figure is close to 33%. We are the only breeding country anywhere in the world that has a substantial number and percentage of foals born each year to rejected stallions. (Note: Under EU law that took effect in July 2009 passports must contain certain pedigree information.)

This trend is likely to continue because of the proper and sound policy of the IHR that all foals out of blue-passport-mares will themselves get a blue passport, even if the foal is sired by an approved stallion. Since about half of all foals are fillies, about 17% of foals registered in 2004 are fillies with blue passports. Many
of these fillies will be used for breeding in the future and they can only produce foals with blue passports. And since serious foreign breeders will not buy blue passport fillies but instead will buy green passport mares or Irish-bred mares with passports from other studbooks, the proportion of blue passport mares in the IHR will likely increase over time and the international market for Irish-bred fillies will shrink.

Under EU and Irish law all horses are required to have passports; however passport issuing authorities may not be required to include pedigrees or bloodlines in passports. (
(Note: Under EU law that took effect in July 2009 passports must contain certain pedigree information.) Therefore I recommend that the IHR exclude all pedigree and bloodline information from newly issued blue passports. The foal will have a unique identification number, a marking chart, and a microchip but the sire and dam and extended breeding will not be noted in the passport. This policy would provide a very strong incentive for breeders to stop using stallions that are not good enough to be approved.