Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Alfred University's Equine Industry in Ireland: Kings of the Turf

By Kristen

Today we continued touring the equine sites near Naas in County Kildare, spending the morning at the Irish National Stud. The Irish government actually owns this operation and sits in on the board of directors, demonstrating how closely linked are the people of this country and their amazing animals. We met with the lovely Sally who worked as the student coordinator for the internship program at the Stud, a fantastic opportunity for international and Irish students interested in the breeding industry to get unparalleled hands-on experience at one of the top Thoroughbred farms in Ireland.

The immaculately-kept facility managed to capture the laid-back atmosphere of Ireland while maintaining an air of regality, housing not only several of the nation’s top breeding stallions, a dozen broodmares and up to three hundred boarded broodmares in a season, but also some of Ireland’s top retired geldings who are viewed as national treasures and live in state at the Stud. These included Moscow Flyer with over 1.4 million Euros in earnings and Vintage Crop, the first horse from Europe to ever travel to Australia for the Melbourne Cup (which, to make the story even sweeter, he won.) We viewed some of these old gentleman happily grazing away in a paddock, looking just like any other happy retired horse despite their long list of achievements and celebrity status.

We wandered on down the lane to oogle the mares and foals turned in a large pasture, some of the braver foals coming up to the fence to allow us to say hello. As we watched them scamper about, I had to wonder if we might unknowingly—to anyone—be looking at one of the next top racehorses or steeplechasers in the country. It was hard to imagine these long-legged little guys growing up to be the powerful kings of the turf as they cantered along at their mothers’ sides.

We were lucky enough to observe three live covers in the breeding shed—it’s not the peak of the season in which National Stud stallions might cover up to three or four mares a day, but the season has not yet completely tapered off for the summer. The stallions of the Irish National Stud are beautifully built with heart-stopping presence, clearly demonstrating why they are in high demand internationally for turf flat racers as well as hunt race horses. We admired their conformation, possessing heavier bone than their American Thoroughbred cousins, making for more durable longer-lasting horses that actually looked as though they had substance and heart. While many of our own country’s top riders and trainers praise the American Thoroughbred as the ultimate athlete, I believe our racing industry has moved in the wrong direction in breeding, creating a type of horse lacking the kind of solid bone that can support its weight at a full gallop. I could soapbox about this all day.

After touring the Japanese Gardens—a fascinating juxtaposition of two things we never imagined to see so close to each other—we moved on to Punchestown Racecourse, owned by the Kildare Hunt Club. The property also hosts showjumping and eventing in addition to its race meet; no races were going on while we toured which meant we could walk right out onto the course to examine the size of the fences. When our group lined up on the far side of a hedge fence, all we could see were their shoulders and heads—all of these massive jumps are taken at a full gallop in fields up to twenty-eight. Our tour guide Shauna gave us some insight into the lifestyle of a jumps jockey as we drove around the rest of the course; it’s said that these riders can expect to have a major fall in one race out of nine. They are in a remarkably tough sport and I have immense respect for those riders!

Tomorrow we visit Victor Stud in County Tipperary and then move on to sightsee at the Rock of Cashel. While we will not be examining the equine industry as intently in the next few days, I am getting the impression from our various hosts that Ireland holds the horse quite dear in all aspects.

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