Sport Horse Breeds—Irish Crossbreds

Admittedly there are Irish Crossbreds, foaled in Ireland, which don`t have a drop of RID, “Registered Irish Draught” (pronounced draft, as in draft beer), and which are touted as “Irish Sporthorses.” For example, there are lots of thoroughbred mares in Ireland with essentially “American” pedigrees. Let`s say one of these was bred to the “Irish Sporthorse”, Cavalier Royale, who is a German bred full Holsteiner. The resulting foal could be considered an Irish Sporthorse, but it wouldn`t be what most breeders and riders think of when they think “Irish Cross”.

Remember in an earlier Blog Post, I spoke of the Nasrullah/Princequillo cross as being like “ham and eggs”, an actual oft used description of that cross? The racing bred thoroughbred stallion crossed onto the RID, or RID cross mare is another classical manifestation of that analogy. Thousands of international sporthorses, especially in eventing, are mixtures of sleek racing machines crossed onto strong, steady, calm, powerful Irish Draught mares, the fillies crossed back again, and sometimes again and again, to create the horse that looks like a slightly bigger, stronger version of a thoroughbred, with a bit more bone, a bit more uphill stature, and a bit steadier temperament.

Some people think that an Irish Sporthorse and an Irish thoroughbred are basically similar, but if you study the pedigrees of the top stallions in Irish racing, you may be surprised at how many of them are either half or full American bred thoroughbreds. The leading Irish racing sire, Galileo, is by the US bred Sadlers Wells, son of Canadian bred Northern Dancer. Galileo`s dam, Urban Sea, descends from US stalwarts Mr. Prospector and Buckpasser.

The second leading sire, Montjeu, is by Sadlers Wells. Third place Distorted Humor, USA, is by a son of Mr. P. Fourth place stallion, Smart Strike, Canada, is by Mr. Prospector, and so it goes, air travel making the modern thoroughbred a mixture of international breeding lines, whether in America, Ireland or New Zealand.

How many crosses does it take to make a galloping sporthorse out of  “a plowhorse that can hunt”,  which is how Ariel Grald describes the big solid mares that do farm work during the week, or pull the milk carts, and then, on Saturday, follow hounds through briars and bogs and thickets where we Americans wouldn`t dare walk our cat?

The first cross, the halfbred, might be a sturdy fellow (or mare). A heavyweight hunter to tote around a banker from Dublin, perhaps, to the pub, through the fields, back to the pub. A three quarter bred (3/4 thoroughbred, 1/4 Draught), depending upon its type, might be a preliminary eventer, or even an advanced eventer, like David O`Connor`s Giltedge or Custom Made. Bruce Davidson`s Badminton winner, Eagle Lion, was 5/8 Tb, 3/8 Draught. Some are 7/8ths bred, some 15/16ths, by which point they are virtually big thoroughbreds.

Karen Mc Collom rode her Irish half or three quarter bred Inniscara around three Rolex long format three day events, and two Checkmates, and would often be one of a handful to get the time on steeplechase. She describes the ideal cross this way: “Highly rideable and sensible, great jumpers, good movers, brave and hardy”, as if they are foaled with a cross country “go button” already genetically installed.

It may be that as Irish breeders bring in more warmbloods from mainland Europe, the traditional thoroughbred/RID cross will begin to be blended with other lines. To some extent, that`s already happening, but there are still plenty of riders who believe in the traditional formula, and will resist being nudged away from a breeding formula which they consider totally tried and true.


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