Positive and practical initiatives were on the agenda at the annual general meeting of the Traditional Irish Horse Association, held in the Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone where chairman Hugh Leonard called on sport horse breeders to unite.

Noting that six ‘jamboree meetings’ had been held to resolve problems in the horse sector, since an inaugural forum held in 1760 by the Royal Dublin Society, he believed that factions within organisations had led to degrees of self-destruction in the past.

Leonard suggested that the greatest tribute to pay the late Michael Osbourne was to support his concept of an umbrella body for the sport horse world - Horse Sport Ireland. “The alternative is another 250 years of bickering and mismanagement” he cautioned.

He also noted how the association had grown from a handful of traditional breeding fans sitting around a kitchen table two years ago to just under 500 substantiated members, as accounted for during treasurer Jim Cooke’s presentation.

With the association run on a shoestring budget of just over €10,000, Cooke predicted that the recent successful stallion auction, organised by Kevin Noone and membership fees, would boost a modest end-of-year balance of €655. “If we get the funds in, there is no limit to what we can do” he predicted and confirmed that “not one penny is paid out in committee member expenses, such as phonecalls or mileage”.

Thought-provoking correspondence from producers Martin Walsh, Tom Jones and Jenni Lamminen was also read out. They Lowhill Horses producers appealed for respect between warmblood and traditional breeders saying: “We respect what warmblood supporters are trying to do with top continental sires. Warmblood supporters have to recognise that the traditional Irish horse is still flying the flag on the world stage.

‘There is no other nation in the world that would disown Flexible or call him a freak, just because he is a traditional Irish-bred horse at the very top of the sport. We should build mutual respect between the two groups”.

Kilkenny breeder Seamus Davis also echoed the Lowhill Horses team’s concern that traditional bloodlines were being lost, particularly in the south-east, where he felt they were particularly scarce. Highlighting the lonely gap between breeding and selling the desired traditional-bred at the ridden stage, he said: “A lot of our breeders are breeders only, not producers. So they can be forced to sell at a loss [as foals] but traditional-breds will make money in three to four years time”.

On the marketing front, Chris Ryan commented on how businesses earmarked 30% of their budget for marketing. “Not even 10% of HSI and the Irish Horse Board’s €5 million budget goes on marketing and promotion” he remarked, before suggesting a small levy on registrations and sales, similar to the thoroughbred industry, for sporthorse marketing.

In the absence of a major promotional campaign, he felt that the traditional horse often did its own promotion by its results, including five out the six top Irish-bred eventers in the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses rankings being traditional-bred.

Ryan also acknowledged the input of IFA horse chairman James Murphy. “He is passionate about the traditional-bred and the co-operation between the IFA and TIHA is mutually beneficial”.

The inaugural Hunter Show & Go event, hosted at Ryan’s Scarteen base, was praised by Horse Board member David McCann. “It was a huge success and the whole hunting community is talking about the quality of horses that came out of that sale” he said.

When the horse welfare topic was brought up by several speakers, McCann suggested that the local District Veterinary Office should be the first port of call in suspected welfare cases. A further practical suggestion from the Kells veterinary surgeon was to develop the concept of the much-vaunted discussion groups.

Training the next generation was another important topic and methods of tapping into decades of knowledge through a mentoring scheme were discussed. Mary McCann also felt that the basics of good horse care were sometime overlooked, citing examples of cross-tied horses, wearing ill-fitting tack and boots, left standing around in stabling areas before ridden work.

Plans were already underway for the Festival of Traditional Breeding in August and secretary Joan Bateman said, that as a result of the recent successful thinktank in Kilkenny, the Limerick Lady final would now be open to Irish Draught and thoroughbred fillies.

The National Council was unanimously re elected.

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