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The Irish Sport Horse is traditionally – as the name suggests – a horse breed that’s bred in Ireland. A true Irish Sport Horse (or ISH as they are known for short) is the product of breeding a Thoroughbred with an Irish Draught or vice versa, resulting in a horse that typically has the ideal balance of the two. Highlighted qualities include the agility and speed of the Thoroughbred, with the versatility, power and soundness of the Irish Draught.

HISTORY AND ORIGINS

The Irish Sport Horse was primarily bred for practical use, such as agriculture, transportation and fox hunting, as the inherited strength, speed, stamina and intelligence made it the perfect farming companion. In the middle of the 20th century, the Irish Sport Horse was so sought after that the Irish Draught Horse breed was in danger of becoming extinct!

MODERN USES

The Irish Sport Horse is still commonly trained for its historical uses – such as hunting – being that it is courageous enough to take on whatever may be in its way, whilst still remaining manageable and safe to handle.

The Irish Sport Horse has a variety of accolades in the competitive world, having won over 15 Olympic medals in eventing since 1996, and the breed continuously competes at the highest level in many disciplines. Irish Sport Horses are one of the most highly sought after prospects for show jumping and eventing, given the breed’s record in competing and succeeding.

The ISH must be recognised for its athleticism and success when in the hands of professionals, but also for its calm and approachable disposition. This makes it a brilliant choice for amateur riders who want to feel safe, but know that when they want to be challenged, they will be put through their paces, whilst still being supported and carried through.

BREED BACKGROUND - HEALTH AND LIFESPAN

The Irish Sport Horse is known to be a generally healthy breed of horse, without any breed specific veterinary problems or congenital issues, which can make them more manageable to care for. Regardless of this, all horses should have regular veterinary checks to ensure that they are of sound health.

Given how sturdy a breed the ISH is, they can have a lifespan of up to 30 years, allowing for decades of companionship and advanced teachings. An Irish Sport Horse requires a dedicated owner that will allow them regular exercise and outdoor time, otherwise their overall happiness and health may decline.

CHARACTERISTICS AND BEHAVIOUR

As previously mentioned, the Irish Sport Horse is the product of the Irish Draught and Thoroughbred horse breeds. It is essential to look at the lineage of the breeds that created the ISH in order to better understand its temperament.

Thoroughbred horses are driven and can be highly intelligent, however, they can also be very sensitive, easily spooked and anxious. These qualities can make the Thoroughbred an unsuitable choice for amateur horse riders, but riders with more experience will often find that they can be wonderful companions once bonded with and trained thoughtfully.

The Irish Draught is a confident, sensible and easily handled horse. They generally have a calm demeanor and are not easily startled. Being so durable and sound makes the Irish Draught a more desirable choice for use in a variety of equine activities, as well as a better pick for those with less riding experience.

As a combination of the two, the Irish Sport Horse encapsulates the best qualities of both. It has the athletic ability and drive of the Thoroughbred, and the durability, stamina and confidence of the Irish Draught. Thanks to these qualities, the Irish Sport Horse is a very easy breed to work with and is recommended as a good choice for beginner or young riders.

COLOURINGS AND MARKINGS

The Irish Sport Horse is presented in a variety of coat colours, with the more common ones including bay, chestnut and grey. However, a lot of Irish Sport Horses are cross bred again, producing a wider range of coat colours, including skewbald and piebald.

BUILD AND STRUCTURE

The body of the Irish Sport Horse should be proportionate throughout, being roughly the same size as the Irish Draught and Thoroughbred horses. Both the stallions and mares should bear a well defined and muscular form.

 The horse should have a long and slightly arched neck, round, sloping shoulders, a short back and a deep chest. They should have a wide forehead, large ears and eyes that are well set. The Irish Sport Horse can stand around 15.2 to 17 hands and on average, weighs over 600 kilograms.

DIETARY REQUIREMENTS

Being that the Irish Sport Horse is very energetic and has the metabolism of a Thoroughbred, they may require a high-energy feed, although this will depend on how much exercise each individual horse gets. Generally, a basic horse diet of hay, grass, fruit and vegetables is suitable and will be a sufficient form of energy.

For more information about feeding, please see our article ‘The Basics Of Equine Nutrition - Feed Levels, Nutrient Requirements & Diet Change’.

ATHLETIC ABILITY

The Irish Sport Horse isn’t only physically athletic and strong, but also known for high endurance levels and resilience. They exhibit themselves as having exceptional accuracy and the ability to perform with ease when it comes to jumping, schooling and hacking. Being lighter than the Irish Draught but sturdier than the Thoroughbred, the Irish Sport Horse is regarded highly amongst equestrians, and the breed is considered to be that of top athletes.

Is an Irish Sport Horse the right horse for me?

If you’re looking for an intelligent, athletic horse, with a energetic yet sensible temperament and a brave and trainable nature, the Irish Sport Horse may be for you. The breed has the ability to be challenging when not consistently trained, but remains manageable thanks to it’s driven work ethic. This makes it a good choice of breed for all types of owner, regardless of their level of experience. Being that the Irish Sport Horse breed encompasses these desirable qualities, it is regarded highly amongst equestrians and is heavily sought after.

If you’re considering buying and owning an Irish Sport Horse, it is very important that plenty of thought and research goes into the upkeep required in keeping such a horse, both in terms of financial commitments and your ability to provide it plenty of outdoor exercise and quality bonding time. You should, of course, also make sure you have a good understanding of the individual horse's temperament, health and history before going ahead with any purchase. Doing the proper research and asking the right questions is key to ensuring it is the best fit for both you and the horse.

For more information about the cross breeding of Thoroughbreds and Irish Draughts, please see our ‘Thoroughbred Cross Breed Guide’.

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Alix Burchell - Horsemart
Horsemart Content Team
Published on 29-01-2021
Alix is a member of the Horsemart content team, bringing you all the latest news and providing helpful guides and advice.