Sport horse industry takes starring role in Irish economy

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The importance of the sport horse industry in Ireland has been revealed in a newly released government report.

It notes that the sport horse sector accounted for expenditure of €816 million and supported more than 14,000 full time job equivalents in 2016, and the industry impacts the livelihoods of residents of every county in Ireland.

Authored by Alison Corbally and Professor Alan G. Fahey, The Contribution of the Sport Horse Industry to the Irish Economy 2017, was launched late last month by Michael Creed, T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Uniquely, the industry provides significant employment and expenditure throughout the whole country. This is evidenced by the fact that over 60% of breeders are located in the west and south-western counties, where significant employment is important to the maintenance of rural communities. The breeding sector is the bedrock on which the production, competition and leisure sectors are based.

Breeding accounted for €271 million of all expenditure, or 33% last year. In this report, the breeding sector accounts for expenditure from the point of covering the mare until the progeny are four years of age, when the animal will enter one of the other sectors of competition, leisure or be exported. There were 14,830 active sport horse breeders in Ireland in 2016 and 31% of them reported that they were aiming to breed a showjumper, with 29% aiming to breed eventers, followed by 16% and 13% indicating that they wished to breed leisure and show horses respectively. The use of artificial insemination has increased in the sector from 32% in 2012 to 42% last year, and there was also a small increase (3%) in the use of frozen semen imported from abroad.

Hunting in Ireland.
Hunting in Ireland.

The competition sector accounted €168 million of expenditure. There are 10,000 registered horses competing in showjumping, eventing and dressage nationally which are produced by more than 7300 competition riders and their support staff.

Ireland has a significant track record in breeding the world’s best event horses, winning the World Breeding Federation’s studbook rankings for 22 of the past 24 years. Once again in 2017, The Irish Sport Horse studbook has retained this significant accolade.

In the sport of show jumping, Ireland has produced two world, young horse champions recently. Killossery Kaiden (ISH), bred by Laura and Frank Glynn and Columbcille Gipsy (ISH) bred by Eamonn Murphy who each won the gold medal in the six-year-old World championship in Lanaken, Belgium in 2016 and 2017 respectively, against more than 800 of the best young horses in the world.

The success of Ireland’s young horses has driven an increase in external trade since 2012. Most sport horses are sold privately, unlike thoroughbreds. This study estimated that 76% of all sport horse are sold privately, which makes estimating the net export figure more difficult. However, the total value of sport horse transactions in 2016 was in the region of €106 million, of those the value of exports was €48 million last year.

The sport horse sector also provides opportunities for the whole family to participate from Pony Club and Interschool competitions to the riding clubs, showing and hunting activities. Expenditure in this leisure sector contributed more than €100 million to the overall total, of which hunting and country shows were the most substantial contributors. The country shows alone attracted more than 286,500 spectators last year with more than 5% of those being overseas visitors. The visitors stayed in Ireland on average from 5 to 7 nights and, supported the hospitality sector during their stay.

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