Wednesday last was a red-letter day for the sport horse industry as officials from Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) made their case for increased funding to ministers, TDs, senators and county councillors from the main political parties. The day began with an hour-long discussion with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue; Minister of State at the Department Martin Heydon; and assistant secretary-general Kevin Smyth. It continued throughout the afternoon with presentations to over 40 elected politicians who made their way to Buswells Hotel in Dublin.

“There was a magnificent response and a wonderful atmosphere in the room throughout the afternoon,” noted Clare man Michael Slattery, who was present along with James Tarrant of Kerry, as members of the Irish sport horse industry’s economic forum. HSI’s acting CEO Joe Reynolds echoed this assessment as he said: “The response was very encouraging.”

The bottom line of their submissions was a call for a €1.2m increase in the Government’s funding for the sport horse industry in the upcoming budget. Even in the present COVID-19 squeeze, this is not a huge ask since it was emphasised at the meetings that the sport horse industry annually contributes close to €1bn to the Irish economy and is responsible for over 14,000 jobs.

As stated in HSI marketing team representative Leanne O’Sullivan’s press release at the day’s end: “This contribution is the equivalent of five Facebooks.”

Responding to the day of consultation, chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill praised the professional manner in which it was undertaken and invited the industry to come before his committee to make their case there.

Huge potential

So far, so good, but now words have to be translated into action by the Government and HSI itself. The sport horse industry has huge potential, but it also has a mountain to climb to stand equal with our main continental competitors.

As Helen Sharp recorded here last week in her report on the Zangersheide foal auction in Lanaken, €160,000 was realised for a sport horse colt foal, and €135,000 was the top price for a filly. The overall average at this quality sale came to €45,000. That is the mountain top our equine farmers have to aim for.

And they can do it; with the right tools at their disposal – things like select mares, the best stallion genes and upgraded farm facilities to prepare progeny for the market. After all, it happened for our beef industry back in the 1960s. Both HSI and the Government now have to help make it happen for the sport horse industry.