Friday after a late night at work saw me heading to the Horse and Jockey hotel in Co Tipperary for what was supposed to be some rest and recuperation after a challenging week.
My husband was in charge of the yard, nine horses and four dogs. I was free to meet friends who were horse shopping, and to drift along at a leisurely pace behind them, offering the odd nod or glance to indicate approval or not for the horses being trotted out and loose jumped in front of us.
I’ve haven’t stayed at the Horse and Jockey until now but I have heard of its art collection. I spent a good bit of my time wandering its corridors and cosy lounges studying the ecclectic equestrian art collection that livens every wall. An intriguing mix of antique prints, contemporary oils and vintage photographs. Somewhat of an institution amongst horsey folks travelling up and down the country, the hotel has an in-house bakery, gift shop, spa and hairdresser – it’s a good recommendation to anyone passing through Tipp.
Saturday and Sunday were spent at Ballypatrick Stables, home of Olympic show jumper Greg Broderick, where there’s always warm homely hospitality from the family. The yard was as busy as a train station, and it was nice to just sit back in their lounge overlooking the arena and watch top riders such as Niamh McEvoy, Rhys Williams and Leah Stack come and go, working magnificent horses of all ages.
It got me thinking a lot about the power of observation, and why so many times I’ve heard from people at the top of their game in equestrianism, ‘go out and watch other people’. In the context of breeding horses, going out nationally or to France or Holland to visit studs, young horse shows, or foal auctions, really feeds the eyes and the thinking processes.
Pedigrees, which can read like poetry, are one thing. However, when added to the living, breathing, moving physicality of the animal in front of you, the sum of all a horse’s parts emerges and should feed into a breeding programme and the decisions with which one informs it.
The ISH Young Breeders programme, run by Teagasc and Horse Sport Ireland, is priceless for supporting young people with an interest in breeding, and in promoting the art of observation. This programme gets its students out and about to see what’s going on at home and abroad, visiting some of the world’s best producers and breeders. I’d imagine this is laying a very solid foundation for the future of the Irish Sport Horse.
Being more observant may help commercially too, and who knows – it may improve auction clearance rates across the board too.