Fair play to Horse Sport Ireland’s acting CEO Joe Reynolds for putting his hands up and apologising to breeders and owners for what he termed ‘unacceptable delays’ in the issuing of equine passports. But that is not the end of this affair since it highlighted two glaring weaknesses in focus and public relations (PR) that must be addressed within the governing body.
Firstly this saga has focused a spotlight on the fact that despite all of its activity, schemes and plans, HSI has somehow lost sight of the core reason for its existence – “to enable the equestrian sector to fulfil its potential”.
Secondly it has also flagged up the need for a much more active public relations division within HSI.
I know and appreciate that the organisation has made huge strides during the past couple of years in lobbying activity through its economic forum. But lobbying and PR are two very different engines of promotion. While lobbying focuses on elected Government representatives; PR is aimed at informing the people who elect them in the first place. Consciousness within the community of what the horse sport industry is, what it does and how it helps our country is the job of PR.
At the moment it is the weak link in HSI’s chain of activity. Public relations is not a yearly effort but rather one that is daily, hourly and by the minute as it focuses on horse sport’s image – promoting it, exulting it and at times preventing mistakes like a massive passport backlog that might tarnish it.
Back in the golden years of the 1970s and 1980s this function of presenting horse sport’s positive image was beautifully fulfilled by the riders and breeders themselves. In that time we had top riders winning abroad with Irish horses on prime time TV one week, then those same stars competing at home shows around the country the next.
Now, when our stars are shining all but anomalously in the mists of foreign venues abroad; somehow we have to find innovative ways of replicating that PR impact.
John Hughes: entrepreneur extraordinaire
To say that John Hughes of Clonee was ahead of his time is only half the story. This extraordinary entrepreneur, who very recently passed away, has to be seen as a visionary leader within the Irish sport horse breeding industry who will be all but impossible to replace. He was a major part of the Hughes dynasty that has done so much to propel the sector into the 21st century. His forward thinking, leadership, ingenuity and his star stallion Cavalier Royale’s influence will always be a part of John’s legacy.