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My latest judging appointment was at the Irish Draught Horse Society annual breed show, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The show attracted big numbers and I was encouraged to see so much enthusiasm and passion for the breed. It was a real showcase, particularly for breeders and producers to show their stallions, mares and youngstock. There was something for everyone, with in-hand, showing, dressage, side-saddle and working hunter classes. It really shows just how versatile and trainable the breed is.

I judged the workers, where I think entry numbers could be higher, but it certainly wasn’t lacking in quality. In fact, the only two clears in the open were from two stallions. The winner, Brian Murphy on Gortfree Lakeside Lad, was fresh from a big win in the performance class at Dublin. For a big horse, he was so light on his feet and showed real scope over a fence. He’s an impressive stallion, but, most of all, he had such a lovely, easy temperament and rode well. It was good to see an Irish producer support an English Irish draught breed show and I’m sure it’s a welcome addition to his CV.

The prestigious £2,000 Blue Chip and Irish draught challenge class attracted 36 hopefuls and these were whittled down to a final 12 for the evening performance, which drew big crowds and the after-party caused some sore heads the next day.

Popularity is rising

It seems that the popularity of the Irish draught now is such that people are actively looking for one to compete in these breed classes. The Irish draught class was a secondary bonus class, but now, with the expansion of this show, its fabulous prize money and evening performances makes this a real accolade to win. It’s the equivalent of Horse of the Year Show for the Irish draught.

Breed shows and classes are important and I am a great advocate for the preservation of the breed. You’ve only got to look back through the history books to see how influential Irish draught breeding has been in the building of the horse industry.

In the 1990s, one of my all-time favourite showjumpers was Capt John Ledingham’s Kilbaha, by Tudor Rocket out of an Irish draught mare, Scarlett O’Hara. Kilbaha won the Hickstead Derby three times. We always joked what a fabulous working hunter he would be — if a little overqualified.

Other stand-outs were Vin Toulson’s great Seabrook, who was also draught-bred and, of course, Robert Oliver’s outstanding heavyweight show hunter Hobo was full Irish draught.

There was a trend some years ago in which the draught was heavily diluted with European breeding, but I prefer to see tradition upheld. I like a thoroughbred onto a draught mare. However, there are many pure-bred draughts which have plenty of quality as they are. My old cob Hallmark was a great example of this.

Ref Horse & Hound; 31 August 2017