Interview: Bill Levett looks ahead to Badminton


“Event rider Bill Levett grew up riding in the wide-open spaces of Australia. He moved to the UK in 1994, and competed at his first Badminton soon after. We caught up with him ahead of this year’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.”

To find out more, go to Horse and Country TV (article mistakenly attributed to Victoria Spicer)…

High on Horses at the Traditionally Bred Irish Horse Sale, Scarteen House, County Limerick

In 1673, Sir William Temple traveled round a grassy green Ireland of fields and forests that would still be recognisable today. There was hunting on the hills, horse racing on the strand, and farming done by native working horses, the embodiment of patience. Beside himself with excitement, Sir William wrote home to King Charles II, “Horses in Ireland are a drug”.

He wasn’t the only one talking to his monarch about Irish horses. In the 17th-century Irish horses – and in particular the Irish Hobby Horse, an ancestor of the modern Irish Sport Horse – were imported by most of the crown heads of Europe, becoming foundation bloodstock for many European breeds. Even the modern Thoroughbred is most closely related to the Irish Draught and Connemara Pony (foundation breeds for the Irish Sport Horse), according to DNA testing.

These precious bloodlines are now under threat. I spent the day at the Traditionally Bred Irish Horse Society’s Sale at the historic Scarteen House to find out more… and published the tale in Eventing Nation.



Badminton 2.0 – An Eventful Day at Haras du Pin


I know a lot of people who were looking forward to the World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy. They booked their tickets for the cross-country at Haras du Pin months in advance and flew thousands of miles to be there. Many of them were disappointed. Some were much more than that; they were raging. The logistical nightmare that some people experienced overshadowed the pleasure of seeing the best horses and riders in the world tackle a universally admired cross-country course. I was there, and it WAS a tough day – even though I was among the lucky ones – and an eventful one. I wrote about it for Eventing Nation. 



Letter to the Editor of The Irish Field, published 19 April 2014


Dear Madam:

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.