In our new series, ‘Showcase your Sport’, in association with the Federation of Irish Sport, we will be giving you a thorough insight into some of the most fascinating sports we have in Ireland.
With Ireland set to send three Equastrian teams to the Olympic Games in Tokyo later this year, this week our focus is on Horse Sport Ireland. Taking on our Q&A is their acting CEO Joe Reynolds.
When was Horse Sport Ireland first established and what is the organisation responsible for?
Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) is somewhat unique in that it was set up in 2006 by the Ministers’ for Agriculture and Sport to bring together the equestrian sport and breeding sectors under one National Governing Body (NGB). The Irish sport horse industry combined provides a major contribution of more than €816 million to the Irish economy each year with over 14,000 people employed in the industry.
In January 2008, HSI became the NGB for equestrian sport in Ireland (32 counties) as recognised by the International Governing Body (FEI), the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland. In July 2008, the Department of Agriculture transferred responsibility for maintaining the Irish Horse Register to HSI and in 2010 the organisation was formally recognised as the NGB for equestrian sport by Sport Northern Ireland.
Horse Sport Ireland provides supports and services for the wider equestrian industry in Ireland including:
1. Interfacing with the Government and Government agencies on behalf of the sector.
2. Licencing and regulating athletes and horses for international competition (FEI & Olympics).
3. Promoting high performance equestrian sport.
4. Managing 14 High Performance Equestrian Sport Programmes.
5. Maintaining the Irish Horse Register, which incorporates the Irish Sport Horse and Irish Draught Horse Studbooks
6. Providing support tools to breeders to facilitate them to reach their objectives for producing horses capable of competing at the highest levels in equestrian sport or providing horses for the leisure and recreation industry in Ireland and abroad.
7. HSI acts as an umbrella body for the sector with 25 recognised Affiliates (Sport & Breeding).
8. HSI devises and operates programmes to market the sport horse sector and support equestrian competitions.
9. HSI runs the National Equestrian Coaching Development Programme with Coaching Ireland.
How did you get involved with HSI?
While Chair of Dressage Ireland, a HSI affiliate, I served on the Board of HSI. In 2017, a report was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and was undertaken by Indecon International Consultants which resulted in a reorganisation of HSI and later my appointment by Minister for Agriculture and Sport as Chairman. I am currently acting CEO.
What are some of the different disciplines included?
The international body governing equestrian sport, Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI), recognises seven disciplines in both regular and para-equestrian competition, these include: Show Jumping, Dressage & Para-Equestrian Dressage, Eventing, Endurance, Driving & Para Equestrian Driving, Reigning and Vaulting.
The most popular internationally recognised disciplines amongst Irish riders would be Show Jumping followed by Eventing and Dressage/ Para-Equestrian Dressage, but Ireland is also represented internationally in the disciplines of Endurance, Driving and Reigning.
Aside from the internationally recognised disciplines Irish athletes also enjoy taking part in disciplines such as Polo, Polocrosse, Showing and Mounted Games etc. HSI’s 25-strong affiliate family cater for individual disciplines across Ireland allowing for greater participation across all levels and abilities in equestrian sports, especially in the grassroots and recreation divisions.
Do Ireland host any competitions?
The competition sector in Ireland comprises both national and international events. On average, Ireland would host 10 international competitions each year including the RDS Dublin Horse Show and Ballindenisk International Horse Trials.
The contribution to the economy of such events is significant, the RDS Dublin Horse Show for example is estimated to contribute €49.8 million to the national economy. When combined, the national and international competition sector is worth a total €167,992,075 to the Irish economy.
How well do Irish teams compete on an international stage?
Ireland has long been referred to as the land of the horse, well known for producing top riders and horses. In 2019, Ireland became one of just eight nations to qualify a team in three Olympic disciplines (eventing, show jumping and dressage) and the Irish eventing team were the first Irish sports team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Equestrian teams represent Ireland with distinctions, a total of 10 Championship medals were won by Irish Equestrian athletes in 2019 across the age groups. Five medals were won by senior athletes and a further five medals were won by athletes competing at U16 and U18. At the end of 2019, Ireland had nine senior show jumping athletes, three eventing athletes, one dressage athlete and six para-equestrian dressage athletes inside the World’s Top 100.
Will Ireland have teams competing at the Olympics in 2021?
Ireland has three equestrian teams qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in the disciplines of eventing, show jumping and dressage. This is the first time that Ireland has qualified three equestrian teams for an Olympics and Ireland is one of just eight other nations to achieve this feat. Ireland has also secured two individual places at the Para-Olympic Games.
The Irish eventing team were the first Irish sports team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, they gained qualification at the 2018 World Equestrian Games where they won team silver. The Irish Show Jumping team qualified for the Olympic Games when they claimed a magnificent victory in the 2019 FEI Nations Cup World Final in Barcelona. It was a truly historic moment for Irish dressage, at the 2019 FEI European Championships, when the teams’ performance meant that for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, Ireland had qualified a Dressage team.
How has HSI been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
It has been business as usual but with most staff working from home. Staff involved in transaction activities are in the office and are taking Covid tests on a fortnightly basis. At an industry-wide level all of those working with horses must continue to attend to the animals in their care but with appropriate precautions.
How is HSI funded?
HSI has dual funding partners in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Sport Ireland, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Sport Northern Ireland.
What is your favourite aspect of your role?
I enjoy everyday of my work. This is a big industry, worth more than €816 million to the Irish economy and which employs over 14,000 people, with lots of room for improvement and development.