Sport horse breeders plan to invest €342m over three years

Irish sport horse breeders say they plan to pump at least €342 million into their farms and infrastructure over the next three years regardless of whether they are included in a European grant scheme.

Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), the national governing body for all equestrian sports in Ireland, has lobbied intensively for the broad inclusion of equine sector in the next round of funding under the European Union’s Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS), part of the Common Agricultural Policy budget which offers grants to farmers to improve their facilities.

Previously, horse breeders could only apply for TAMS funding specifically for equine handling stocks, used to restrain horses when they are being treated by a vet.

With the current iteration of TAMS due to wind down in 2023 and be replaced with a new scheme, the Government indicated that it will seek approval from the European Commission for the sector to be made eligible for funding under the successor scheme, backing long-standing calls from the sector.

But a large-scale survey of sport horse breeders, conducted on behalf of HSI by accountants from the Irish Farm Accounts Co-operative Society, indicates farmers plan to invest €342 million in infrastructure including fencing, all weather turnout areas and stables over the next three years even without TAMS.

Based on responses from more than 1,000 breeders, the report, titled the Business of Breeding, is the first to take the pulse of the sport horse sector in Ireland. The industry is worth an estimated €800 million to the economy and supports roughly 14,000 jobs, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Speaking at the launch of the report, which coincided with the opening of the Dublin Horse Show on Wednesday, HSI chief executive Denis Duggan said there are more than 9,000 active sport horse breeders in Ireland “dotted all over the country”. HSI is a 32-county body.

The report highlights that 38 per cent of Irish sport horse breeders are based in Leinster, just 2 per cent of whom operate in Dublin. Some 27 per cent are Munster based, with 22 per cent operating in Connacht and 13 per cent in Ulster.

The vast majority of breeders are small farmers, the report shows, with 83 per cent of respondents saying they have fewer than three horses and 52 per cent indicating that they have no other farming enterprise.

Mr Duggan said breeders support “local farriers, local vets, local agri-merchants, local farm contractors and feed merchants” and invest “a significant quantum of money” into rural communities.

He said that despite rising construction costs, breeders are still making “a significant commitment” to invest in sector over the next three years to upgrade their own premises.

“Many of the upgrades will involve environmental and welfare benefits or farm safety benefits, which are also to be welcomed,” he said.

Also speaking at the event, Minister for State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett described the report as “timely and useful”, adding that her department is working out the details of the new scheme.

“We do require approval from the European Commission over the coming months on this but rest assured, we are doing everything we can on that”, the Green Party senator said.

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