Wednesday, July 15, 2015

University of Louisville Equine Industry Ireland Trip (Jamie Humphries)

I recently came back from a ten-day trip to Ireland with the Equine Industry Program at the University of Louisville. It was a fantastic experience because we were able to get a taste of both the racing and sport horse sides of the Ireland equine industry.

150th Irish Derby at the Curragh Racetrack
       On the racing side, we visited the Curragh racetrack to witness the amazing Thoroughbred, Jack Hobbs, make history by winning the 150th Irish Derby. While there, we met with trainer Dermot Weld. He discussed the differences between how racing is run and operated in Ireland versus in the United States. The main aspect that struck me was how personalized the training procedures are. Each horse is assigned a stable hand that personally oversees his or her daily care. The horses are all hand walked and grazed; there are no mechanical hot walkers on the property. The time spent per horse averages one and a half hours versus the typical half hour in the United States. Also, during a race, a jockey on a horse with no chance of winning is not allowed to whip his horse. Horses that are in the running to win must be given recovery time between each use of the whip. Weld meant it when he told us “personalization is key.”

        Coolmore Stud - Australia                     Greatest Sire in the World - Galileo                      Living Legends Horses
           Before Thoroughbreds start their racing career, they have to go through training and prep work. In the United States, a lot of racehorses are trained on a racetrack facility; however, in Ireland, racehorses are trained at private farms. We had the chance to visit Coolmore Stud and the Irish National Stud to witness the breeding and training side of Irish Thoroughbred racing. At Coolmore, we were able to meet the famous stallions So You Think, Australia, and the striking Galileo, who is universally acknowledged as the current greatest sire in the world.  At the Irish National Stud, we had the pleasure of viewing their Living Legends, past equine superstars who are living out their retirement in a life of luxury on the facility. At both facilities, the care of the stallions was remarkable. The personalized operation system is seen through the stallions’ calm temperaments; they are clearly handled and pampered often.

Demonstration given at the Gisela Holstein
confirmation master class
On the sport horse side of the Ireland equine industry, we met a few amiable individuals. If you have been riding for a while, there is no doubt that you have met one or two quirky trainers. Gisela Holstein fit that description, and she was definitely entertaining to learn from. We attended her sport horse master class in conformation and she showed us her creatively-drawn diagrams and compared those pictures to her horses. She had an interesting perspective and I learned a lot about the differences between Irish and German body types. I also learned a lot of curious conformation vocabulary (“hanging/canopy bridge” refers to the muscular structure of the topline of a horse, “banana left/right” refers to which side of the horse is stronger).
           We also got to meet Elaine Hatton, director of International Marketing at Horse Sport Ireland. This is basically Ireland’s version of USEF; they are the umbrella that covers each discipline of the sport horse industry. The most interesting aspect that I learned from this visit was that Horse Sport Ireland will pay part of the flight cost to fly you out to Ireland if you are searching for an Irish equine prospect. This is good news for those of us interested in purchasing an Irish Sport Horse! Anyone want to take a trip with me?

The beautiful Connemara pony mare
that I rode through Phoenix Park
Hatton was very generous and gave us all tickets to see the “Jumping in the City” show-jumping competition in Dublin. We watched Jason Higgins and Liam O’Meara pull off the amazing feat of jumping the 6’7” wall in the Puissance class. After this excitement, our group decided it was time for us to personally experience the Irish equestrian world. We went on two rides in Phoenix Park and Galway. We adventured through the city streets, saw amazing views of the valley and mountain scenery, and jumped cross country obstacles while galloping through sheep fields (even almost jumped sheep that were hiding behind a coop). It was such a fun experience that even our one rider who took a spill was laughing through it!

                                              View of Galway fields and                        Pretty Lady - The ISH mare 
                                                 the Connemara Ponies                                I rode through Galway                                   
Overall, this trip was an unforgettable experience. I loved every minute of it and am looking forward to the day when I will be able to return to this beautiful country. I would recommend visiting Ireland to any avid horse person who wants to travel or learn more about the equine cultures of other countries. And if you go there for the purpose of looking for an Irish-bred horse, you can get some of the cost covered! Can’t get any better than that! Go hop on a plane, you won’t regret it!

Jamie Humphries
University of Louisville
Intern with Mythic Landing Enterprises LLC

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