The French team galloped to second place in the Eventing Nation’s Cup at Ballindenisk last week, maintaining their FEI-series lead by a small margin. The French team rode French-bred horses, three out of four of which were by sires standing at French National Studs. “Perhaps Ireland should have a National Sporthorse Stud”, remarked the commentator at Ballindenisk as another French combination breezed across the finish of the cross-country phase.
He was echoing a suggestion made by Galway veterinary surgeons and breeders Ned and Liz O’Flynn at a recent sporthorse sector strategy meeting, as reported in The Irish Field last week. The O’Flynns proposed a National Sporthorse Stud be established on the grounds of the Irish National Stud in County Kildare, which currently only breeds Thoroughbreds. This is an idea that a small group and I have quietly been looking at, and in the course of this I’ve done a bit of research into the relative success of other European State Studs.
There are more than thirty-five State Studs in Europe. The first state studs were created in France in 1665, with the aim of making high-quality stallions available at a reduced cost to local breeders. Many European state studs today have a mission to preserve a heritage breed, like the Lippizaner at the state stud in Austria. Some state studs also contribute to their country’s breeding of modern competition sporthorses, with Germany and France being the most successful.
The breeding lines of the stallions at Germany’s ten Principal and State Studs can be documented back to the 1700s. German state sires and their offspring have featured in the highest levels of competition, including the World Championships and the Olympic Games. Numerous state sires are in the top one percent of German sires, and a state sire has for years held the highest breeding value ever given in Germany. The collection of stallions includes promising young stallions and proven sires, and stallions from all the major bloodlines are offered to breeders at affordable covering or insemination fees. The German State Studs offer a comprehensive breeder service ranging from advice regarding stallion selection, to rearing and training, through to marketing the offspring. The studs are also scientific facilities that collaborate with universities, playing an important educational and developmental role.
The 22 French National Studs also play an important educational and developmental role in the sporthorse breeding industry in France, offering seminars to breeders, developing services dedicated to key players in the local equine sector, offering their expertise to projects and maintaining a comprehensive sporthorse bloodline online database. The French national studs have a total of 2500 horses, 870 of which are stallions, and they provide 20 percent of the coverings in France at reduced, subsidised prices. They also distribute semen worldwide.
There has been a lot of dissent at the recent sporthorse sector strategy meetings, but one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the Irish Sport Horse is not as successful as it once was internationally – as a competitor and as a product. However, Ireland is still the largest producer of Thoroughbreds in Europe, and Irish-bred Thoroughbred exports continue to thrive each year. Ireland has a some huge horse breeding advantages: a temperate climate and calcium-rich soil provide ideal conditions for developing young stock, and Irish breeders have a well-earned reputation for their expertise in producing sound, durable Thoroughbreds. These advantages are as true for Sporthorses as they are for Thoroughbreds. The Irish National Stud plays a role in the success of the Thoroughbred breeding industry. Perhaps a National Sporthorse Stud could do the same for the sporthorse sector.