The shackles are off Irish sport horse breeding and Ireland is now on a level playing field with all of the top continental studbooks.

This is the only conclusion one can draw from viewing details of the latest available foal statistics. No longer can experts like Paul Schockemohle look at us and say “Irish breeding is a joke”.

We are seriously in the game and some recent results such as Bertram Allen’s Grand Prix wins in Florida on the Irish-bred Castlefield Vegas and also with Pacino Amiro are an indication of what is to come.

With understandable reluctance, Irish breeders have moved slowly away from the comfortable thoroughbred/Irish draught crosses. Instead, they have been forced to embrace the continental revolution of bespoke warmblood production that is demanded by the evolution of international show jumping and eventing during the past half century.

There is no top stallion or mare line that is not now available at the end of a text message to any Irish breeder. Not at all joyfully they have succumbed and the results are just beginning to emerge.

One evening back in the late-1990s, during a live Aga Khan broadcast on RTÉ, I was asked by an evening news presenter to explain why all of the Irish riders were mounted on “foreign bred” horses.

On the spot, the only answer I could give was “this is an international sport and these are international horses”.

And that is still the answer, we have had to evolve or be termed a “joke”.

Foal statistics

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic or some other unknown reason, the statistics I present only go back to 2018, but they tell the tale.

Just 25 years ago at the time of that on air conversation at the RDS, the number of Irish foals being born by foreign sires was at less than 10% of the 4,806 total. In the latest figures available to me it now stands at almost 40%. On top of that, the number of foreign-bred dams being used here has reached nearly 500.

So whether we like it or not we are “doing the continental”.

Do we like it? No!

Have we a real choice? No!

So along with all the advantages we have in terms of soil, climate and care we have to get on and make the best of it.

Now that does not mean that Irish breeders have altogether abandoned the good old thoroughbred/Irish Draught cross. Over 100 Irish draught mares had foals by a thoroughbred stallion that could be classified as Traditional Irish Horse (TIH) amongst the most recent figures.

Let’s hope that another Cruising or Mullacrew will come from that group that can add extra Irish spice to our breeding mix.