Chances are that you know a good Irish horse. Most of us have admired an animal hailing from across the Celtic Sea, or listened to friends detailing trips to see horses for sale in Ireland.
The prestige (and premium) is not undeserved; in 2019 Irish Sport Horses won the three most prominent five- star eventing competitions (Cooley Master Class at Kentucky, Vanir Kamira at Badminton, and MGH Grafton Street at Burghley) and the breed is represented at all levels in a range of disciplines.
What is an Irish Sport Horse?
Today’s Irish Sport Horse is an all-round sport star, characterised by its athleticism, jumping ability, courage, intelligence, and soundness. The Irish Sport Horse studbook is managed by Horse Sport Ireland, and modern Irish Sport Horses often carry continental warmblood breeding, a point of contention which we will touch on later.
The Irish Sport Horse is believed to descend from the Irish Hobby, a breed that was extinct by the 1700s, but dated back to 700BC. Crossed with thoroughbreds, Irish Draughts, and Connemara ponies, the hobby lived on as the Irish Hunter, which became the Irish Sport Horse with the establishment of the studbook in 1974.
Since then purists have set up the Traditional Irish Horse Category, which excludes any animal with unknown ancestors in the first two generations, or any record of antecedents that are not Irish Sport Horse, Irish Draught, thoroughbred, or Connemara. Finding one might involve a trip to Ireland, but can be an option for any buyer with a warmblood allergy!
Why should you want an Irish Sport Horse?
Horse Sport Ireland describe Irish Sport Horse as the “ideal leisure horse”, claiming that they have the ability to look after and help their rider in any situation, and that they are a safe choice for the amateur rider.
On the other end of the scale their athletic prowess speaks for itself, with the Irish Sport Horse topping the eventing category in the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses studbook rankings every year since its inception in 1994- apart from 2010 when it was placed second, and 2011 3rd.
With a reputation as well- mannered and talented, the Irish Sport Horse crosses the divide from amateur to professional. Reasonably priced horses can be found for Riding Club homes that want to participate in everything from beach rides to dressage, whereas those with the budget and talent (and luck!) can take an Irish Sport Horse to the upper echelons of their chosen discipline.
As befitting an Irish breed (who else has bought a 12.2hh show pony from Tipperary who has apparently spent the winter jumping banks?) they also make excellent hunters, so owners can expect year- round fun.
What is the Irish Sport Horse good at?
Traditionally Irish Sport Horses have been associated with eventing and hunting, but the addition of warmblood genetics gives them an advantage for dressage and showjumping, while those with good conformation can take to the show ring as hunters and working hunters.
The Irish Sport Horse descends from horses used to the Irish weather, so expect a fairly robust horse that can withstand cold, wet days and handle boggy ground. While individual horses have their own quirks, an Irish Sport Horse should be relatively low maintenance, ideal for an owner with a busy life or a yard where horses need to be turned out for all or part of the day.
Where to source an Irish Sport Horse for sale?
Irish Sport Horses are popular, and a search on any horse sales website should bring up a range of options. Horse Sport Ireland run the Irish Horse Gateway, which offers facilitated private purchase services for both Irish Sport Horses and Traditional Irish Horse Category animals. They also have an online directory of breeders for anyone keen to buy at source.
For the confident, buying at an Irish auction can be a thrilling experience. A trip to Ireland could also be arranged around some local shows, where horses for sale can be seen competing.
Travelling to Ireland may be too much, in which case Irish Sport Horses and Traditional Irish Horse Category animals can be found at a swipe on Whickr app!
Wherever you look for your dream Irish Sport Horse, make sure that the horse meets your requirements, and is suitable for your riding ability and facilities.
Unlike some other fads, Irish Sport Horses have been popular for decades, and it’s a popularity that seems to go from strength to strength, a testament to this breed’s versatility, temperament, and talent.
If you are after a solid all-rounder (or the next Badminton winner) it’s likely that you can find an Irish Sport Horse for sale that will match your wish list. Pint of Guinness with the sale optional.
Photo credit: Nico Morgan