The Young Breeders’ Programme is supported by Teagasc and Horse Sport Ireland, and funded by the Department of Agriculture Food and Marine (DAFM) under ‘national breeding services’. The focus is primarily on developing knowledge and skills in assessing conformation and athleticism traits. Other aspects of learning include theory across husbandry topics and sport/breeding results, and practical in-hand presentation skills. Providing networking opportunities with peers and industry professionals is another key aspect valued by participants.

The programme is open to all aged 14-30 years of age, the only prerequisites to attend are interest and enthusiasm to learn. Attendees are not required to be active breeders, given the age profile, although some are.

The programme has established itself as a mechanism for young people with aspirations to learn more about traits, which are both successful in competition and valued by the marketplace, by harnessing the input of expert breeders, riders and producers while accessing high quality demonstration farms and equines nationally.

Benchmarking Learnings

Platforms to demonstrate learnings and benchmark against peers at home and abroad are provided through both the national and international competition elements. National Championships (NC) 2024 took place recently on Saturday, 23 March at Kildalton Agricultural College, with World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses International Young Breeders World Championships (WC) planned from 4-7 July, at Stutteri Ask Denmark.

The events merge both competition and education. At National Championships though, participants’ knowledge and skill are assessed. There is also lots of support provided throughout and therefore, remains inclusive and accessible irrespective of previous training participation.

Highly respected and experienced industry professionals share their insights and knowledge on the topics of conformation and athleticism assessment, relating to potential for sport, breeding and market. World Championships also manage to include reflections on the horses assessed for conformation and athleticism by the judges, once score sheets are submitted.

World Championship Opportunities

The results of the 2024 NC are used to identify a panel from which the team to represent the Irish Sport Horse Studbook at the next WC is selected. Prizes are awarded for the overall first, second and third in all three age groups, all discipline scores combined and across the individual disciplines within each age group. Thanks to DAFM and The Equine Warehouse for their support. Congratulations to all the winners at National Championships both across the individual disciplines, and overall.

Two juniors (Katie O’Donnell and Ella Tighe) and two seniors (Maria Cairns and Luke McAvinue) have been invited to selection training following training/competition events in October 2023. Joining these in the quest to represent the Irish Sport Horse studbook in Denmark are Sarah Kavanagh and Eimear Coleman.

The journey continues at Kilconnell Stud, Derryglen Stud and Hughes Horse Stud over the next few weeks with each of these sessions providing valuable learning opportunities to all involved. A team of eight, four in both age categories, will travel to Denmark following the selection training days to defend the World Championship title won two years ago in the Netherlands.

Young Breeder National Championships 2024 competitors, and officials.

The experiences of participants who have attended training in recent months Ella Tighe (17)

Ella has been involved in the programme since September 2022, having met the 2022 World Champion team at the RDS Dublin Horse Show. “Since joining the programme and attending training all over the country, my interest in breeding and production has increased massively. I hope to study Veterinary Medicine at university next year, and later perhaps, specialise in equine surgery.

“I also have ambitions to breed sport horses myself using the knowledge I have gained from ‘Young Breeders’. The programme is extremely beneficial for anyone who would like to connect with industry experts and can lead to fantastic opportunities. Following a ‘Young Breeder’ visit to Fethard Equine Hospital, I secured a work experience opportunity in the hospital, which provided a unique inside perspective on life as an equine vet. This confirmed that this is the route I would like to take after school.

“I purchased my own horse in December 2022. Not coming from an equestrian background, it has been very helpful to have a group of knowledgeable people who can give me advice on how to navigate different situations with my horse.

“There is a wonderful, inclusive atmosphere at all ‘Young Breeder’ events. Questions are encouraged and everyone is welcome to join, whether or not they have competitive aspirations. The programme has connected me with others with similar interests to myself and I have made some wonderful friends. Give it a go, even if you don’t intend to compete, the knowledge and connections gained through the training sessions is invaluable.”

Robert Deegan (20) Clondee Sport Horses

“The stud’s aim is to breed sport horses to compete in either show jumping or eventing. My brother John, along with my active assistance and support, manages the stud. The breeding programme comprises 15 mares and our own resident thoroughbred stallion, Pacmandee. The broodmare herd is a mixture of RID, TIH and continental warmblood mares. The goal is to sell as weanlings, either at home or at public auction. We are constantly trying to improve our broodmare herd to introduce more prolific and exciting genes.

“I am in my second year studying Animal Science at UCD, focusing on the study of applied sciences such as genetics, animal physiology, animal nutrition, health and welfare.

“My plan is to combine the knowledge and skills learned in the degree with my lifetime experience of working with horses, and ‘Young Breeder’ training to further my career choices and work within the equine business sector.

Over the past two years, both John and I have attended ‘Young Breeder’ training. I have learned a lot about linear scoring, conformation and movement assessment, allowing me to better understand the characteristics each young horse must possess to perform at a high level.

“When choosing stallions, I also now have a better insight into the physical attributes that will compliment individual mares. I appreciate the training days because they are a great opportunity to learn from the opinions and practices of experienced equine professionals. I believe we can apply the valuable skills and knowledge learned to our own efforts at home to hopefully produce a higher-quality foal each year.”

Eimear Coleman (26) Breeder of Connemara ponies

“I have found the programme a fantastic opportunity to meet other young breeders and see a wide variety of sport horses. The yard owners are always incredibly welcoming and generous when sharing their knowledge and experience. “As a Connemara pony breeder, I have found that the skills learned in the programme are applicable to all breeds and my confidence in assessing conformation and athleticism has grown.”

Juniors: Overall (all disciplines combined) First Place - Sarah Kavanagh, Co. Wexford

Juniors: Overall (all disciplines combined) Second Place - Aimee Walsh, Co. Meath

Juniors: Overall (all disciplines combined) Third Place - Lillian Lynch, Co. Tipperary

Seniors: Overall (all disciplines combined) First Place - Eimear Coleman, Co. Limerick

Seniors: Overall (all disciplines combined) Second Place - Edward Hennessy, Co. Cork

Seniors: Overall (all disciplines combined) Third Place - Gillian Burke, Co. Waterford