As I stood ring-side at the FEI WBFSH Jumping World Breeding Championship for Young Horses in Lanaken, Belgium, cheering Ireland on as we won not one but two world championships, it seemed impossible that I would return home last week to such a disappointing Budget announcement for the sport horse sector.
276 horses started the five-year-old class at the Zangersheide event with 47 into Sunday’s final. 18 combinations jumped clear in the first round of 16 jumps (1.30m maximum height) to make it into the jump-off, two of which were Irish.
BP Goodfellas (ISH) (Stakkato Gold x OBOS Quality) was bred at Ballypatrick stables in Tipperary by Cheryl Broderick in partnership with Kevin Babington and is owned by Ballypatrick Stables. With only three left to go, Kilkenny’s Ger O’Neill and BP Goodfellas conquered every challenge of the technical course and hushed the international crowds, stealing the gold in a winning time of 40.12 seconds. A masterclass by O’Neill on a horse that had never even been against the clock before, a perfect display of Irish talent acros the board from breeder, to producer, to rider.
Ethen Ahearne and ABC Saving Grace (ISH) (Kannan x Cruising) went up against 270 combinations in the six-year-old competition. 40 made it through to Sunday’s final with only fourteen combinations conquering course designer Eugène Mathy’s tough test to go forward to the jump-off, with Ahearne and ABC Saving Grace the only Irish representatives bringing the gold medal home in 36.74 secs.
The support amongst the Irish riders, grooms and fans at Lanaken was breath-taking at times, to see the camaraderie at the pocket with what seemed like every Irish rider and groom backing whichever colleague was in the ring, would bolster anyone watching on. It’s a shame to return home to less support at Government level.
Despite the ambitious €33 million pre-Budget submission from Horse Sport Ireland, for the first time in five years the budget allotment has not been increased for the sports horse sector. The final allocation of €5.2 million only equalling last year’s total, given the current economic and inflation climate, it’s tantamount to a drop. The equine inclusion in TAMS may have been a contributing factor, perhaps Government felt there was plenty extra there? Or perhaps they needed other assurances that the industry is in healthy shape? Either way, it’s a poor result for world champion performances and for a sector that is worth €1billion to the Irish economy each year.
Things look a little brighter for the horse racing industry as Horse Racing Ireland welcomed a 3.4% (€2.4 million) increase in funding in Budget 2023. There is also the Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme which will allow equestrian businesses to lodge a claim for 40% of their monthly energy bills.