Name of breed: Irish Sport Horse (also known as the Irish Hunter)
Country of origin: Ireland
Breed origin: The Irish Sport Horse is the result of a cross between an Irish Draught and – typically – a Thoroughbred, although European warmblood infusions are increasingly common. Now recognised as a separate breed rather than a crossbreed, the Irish Sport Horse is flourishing as its athleticism and temperament see it frequent the winner’s circle in many equestrian sports. It is now commonly bred from registered Irish Sport Horse parents, rather than just sires and dams with Irish Draught, Thoroughbred and/or warmblood bloodlines.
Originally, Irish Sport Horses were used for hunting, agriculture and transport, which resulted in a strong, athletic, people-oriented, smart, gentle and brave breed. These qualities lent themselves to sports such as showjumping, cross country and eventing, and thus allowed the breed to survive into the 21st century. Irish Sport Horses have won more than 15 Olympic medals in eventing.
As well as being successful on the international equestrian sport circuits, the breed’s levelheadedness and courage makes it a popular mount for the novice or pleasure rider, who will find no safer or more steadfast horse to carry them across the hunting field, in lower-level competitions, or out along the trails.
Distinguishing features: Irish Sport Horses have the sense and honesty of the Irish Draught and the athleticism, speed and endurance of the Thoroughbred. They can be any colour and stand around 15.3 to 17 hands high. They have good temperaments – calm and sensible, yet lively and courageous when required, with intelligence to boot. Irish Sport Horses are athletic and strong, with soundness that puts many other sport horse breeds to shame. They have good bone structure, a long, slightly arched neck, sloping shoulders, a deep chest and a short, strong back. Their muscular croup and powerful hindquarters – traits from the Irish Draught – are said to improve their jumping ability.
Modern day Irish Sport Horse: The Irish Sport Horse’s natural athletic ability and exceptional jumping talent see it excel in the show jumping arena, as well as at the highest levels of eventing. Irish Sport Horses are frequently shortlisted for Olympic and FEI eventing teams around the world. The breed is also still a popular hunting mount, and is often used for police work in Britain and Ireland.
Image credits: Bell Tower Stud, the Irish Draught and Sport Horse Society of Australia, Phyllis Dawson/Windchase Stud.