The Irish Sports Horse, also known as the Irish Hunter was created by crossing the Irish draught horse for its ample bone and strength with the more athletic and faster thoroughbred to create a horse strong and fast enough to carry a Hunter over difficult terrain. Today they are known as champions in both the showjumping and eventing arenas.
Their history can be traced back over 2000 years were in the first century CE the Irish draught horse was used as a chariot horse. In the 12th century Ireland saw the introduction of more heavy horses as the Anglo Normans invaded. As trade between Southern Ireland and Europe opened up the lady forces were crossed with the Iberian horses of southern Europe to create a hardy strong and durable warhorse that was used in many different armies throughout the middle ages. Less than a century ago they were used in the First World War as drafted cavalry mounts.
As with all the medium heavy and heavy breeds the introduction of the combustion engine saw a decline in their numbers. Because of their strengths has a utility horse capable of working the fields as well is being used as a carthorse or riding horse the Irish Hunter fared better than many. With the increasing popularity of horse sports in the 19th century there are already existing strength as a tall ample boned hunting horse made it an ideal candidate the development into a showjumping and eventing horse. In the 1850s and onwards the breed was further refined with the introduction of high quality thoroughbred stallions to the breed pool resulting in the Irish sports horse as we know it today.
Today they are known as one of the champion performers in the arena being powerful jumpers an exceptionally brave and capable eventing horses.
Movement, Gate and Appearance
Their movement is free and flowing without unnecessary high lifting or exaggeration yet neither is it heavy or ponderous as seen in the heavy horses. That may be any solid colour including grey. Feet may be white on white above the knees or hocks is not desirable. They sound bodied well muscled and strong boned. They are not the tallest of the sporting horses averaging only 15.3 16.3 hands high(155 to 165cm) with stallions tending to be taught the mares. Some stallions of 17 hand high(172cm) do exist.
They have an attractive head often displaying a convex profile known as a Roman nose which enhances their appearance as a powerful horse. The neck is muscular and slightly arched with long slope shoulders, the deep chested though not overly broad. The back is short and compact they have a muscular croup and wonderfully powerful hindquarters. Croup is usually sloping and long a trait they have likely inherited from the Irish draught in which is likely another contributor to the excellent jumping ability. Many individuals also exhibit high Withers which are typical of horses that have been created by crossbreeding with thoroughbreds
As showjumping and Eventing Horses
The success as showjumpers and eventing horses is likely because of the “perfect storm” of desirable traits they have acquired from the Irish draught in the thoroughbred. They are kept the honesty, calm temperament and the strength of the Irish draught. They are unflappable in competition whereas flightier horse whilst blessed with similar physical prowess may be spooked in a large noisy arena. There are lively and tough with a high terms speed and excellent jumping ability is from the powerful hindquarters indicative of the athleticism garnered from the thoroughbred.
Unsurprisingly such a wonderful breed has made its way to Australia especially with our strong historical ties with Ireland. Australia has its own Irish sports horse Association you can visit their website here
the website contains information about the breed the society as well is horses for sale and stallions at stud.