24 Sept 2022

Kilkenny - the Sport Horse Capital of the World

Kilkenny - the Sport Horse Capital of the World

(L-R) Ronan Murphy, CEO of Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), Comdt John Ledingham, Chef d’Equipe, Seamus Hughes-Kennedy, Jason Foley, Mikey Pender & Alison Corbally, Director of Breeding & Programmes at HSI

Winning World Championships, Nations Cups and now a team for the Olympics, the Irish sport horse world certainly has cause for celebration. Let me take you through one of the recent victories and the incredible performance by three teenagers from Kilkenny, Carlow and Kildare who brought home 4 of the 9 medals on offer at the World Show Jumping Championship in Belgium last month. The Jumping World Breeding Championship for Young Horses were held in the famous show grounds of Zangersheide, in Lanaken, Belgium and include the best young horses from 36 different studbooks worldwide. For a small country like Ireland to take home so many medals was a huge achievement, and we must acknowledge and applaud the breeders and riders who hailed from Kilkenny.

Kilkenny based Jason Foley (18) from Carlow and The Irish Sport Horse Rockwell RC, bred by Ronan Byrne of Graiguenamanagh and owned by Sean Cubitt, claimed Ireland’s first medal of the day when they struck Gold in the final for 5-year-old horses. Kildare’s Mikey Pender (19) and Chacco Bay collected the Silver, owned by Her Highness Sheikha Fatima from the Al Shiraa Stables in Abu Dhabi.

The 6-year-old final saw Mikey Pender add to his tally, when he collected another Silver medal with MHS Cardenta, produced by Marion Hughes and bred by Tom Brennan of Mill House Stud in Gowran. Mikey finished just a tenth of a second off the winner’s time.

Kilkenny’s Seamus Hughes-Kennedy, who is just 17-years-old, and Cuffesgrange Cavadora (ISH), bred by Eamonn Sheehan, of Cuffesgrange Sport Horses, taking the winner’s prize when last to go in an eight way jump-off of the 7 year old Final to complete a brilliant World Championships for Irish Sport Horse breeding.

What is more remarkable is that all three riders are based in yards within 10 kms of each other in Kilkenny. Jason works for and is trained by Ger O Neill of Castlefield Sport Horses in Bennettsbridge, Michael Pender works for and is trained by Miguel Bravo and Marion Hughes of Hughes Horse Stud (HHS) in Cuffesgrange and Seamie is based on his parent’s farm in Danesfort and is also trained by Ger O Neill.

No wonder Kilkenny is deemed as the sport horse capital of the world! We currently have 537 breeders and 2,279 riders with a total of 5,613 entries each year across the various equestrian disciplines from County Kilkenny. Both MHS Cardenta and Cuffesgrange Cavadora are in fact related, their grandmothers being sisters and hailing originally for Hughes /Brennan breeding program before been bought at Goresbridge by Sheehans of Cuffesgrange (their neighbours). According to the late Seamus Hughes Snr, founder of HHS (Seamie’s grandfather) “not all well bred horses are good horses, but all good horses are well bred horses” and that’s what we have a lot of in Kilkenny.

Last week’s world championships in Lanaken, with increased sponsorship, attracted some of the best riders in the world, along with the best young horses and proved that both Irish riders and Irish Sport Horses are more than capable of competing and succeeding on a World Stage. Ronan Murphy CEO of Horse Sport Ireland believes “we urgently need more investment in this sector. Horse Sport Ireland receives just over €4.5 million in funding from the exchequer and the Irish Sport Horse Sector contributes almost €900 million through direct expenditure annually to the economy. The Sport Horse sectors contribution to direct expenditure and employment is on a par with the Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding industry, however, we operate on a tiny fraction of the budget available to the horse and greyhound racing industries.”

While the Irish Sport Horse sector does not generate revenues from the betting tax levy, they continue to make a hugely important economic contribution and is vitally important to the social and cultural fabric of rural Ireland. Murphy added “we are consistently delivering at the very highest levels, our Eventing and Dressage teams have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games and our High Performance programmes are regularly delivering medals at all levels. Our world renowned breeding industry is the backbone of our industry and our successes are not reflected in the funding we receive. This needs to change. Currently, there is no legislative protection for funding our industry and we urgently require a sustainable, multi-annual funding model to allow our industry to develop and to realise its true potential. We are working hard with the Departments of Agriculture and Sport to address this.”

Alison Corbally, Director of Breeding and Programmes at Horse Sport Ireland, said that “the current economic value of the Irish Sport Horse sector has a greater potential to grow than other agricultural sectors, this is due to the fact that other sectors have already received significant EU and government investment over the years.” She added “we currently employ 14,000 people in every county of rural Ireland. The results at Lanaken demonstrate, that top level sport horses can be bred in Ireland. The sector however, needs further investment to enable the farmer/breeders to have the opportunity to produce these horses and add value to them here, in Ireland, prior to sale. The Lanaken medal winners have demonstrated it can be done, with further targeted investment, it can be done on a wider scale, providing wider employment opportunities to all of rural Ireland.” She also sincerely congratulated all the breeders, riders, owners and the whole background support team that made the unprecedented success in Lanaken 2019 happen.

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