Although the United Kingdom has a distinguished equestrian heritage, the way the UK breeds and markets its competition horses remains outdated in comparison to other European countries. Outside the racing industry, the UK fails to consistently produce top level sport horses capable of carrying British riders to success at the highest international level (Clayton, 1997).
The UK still requires a cost-effective and co-ordinated strategy for breeding sport horses; some breeding associations have observed the rise of equestrian sport very carefully, changed their breeding goals and programmes dramatically and responded early to the demands of the sport, their horses are now successful at the highest international level. There are very effective breeding programmes in the Netherlands, France, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Ireland, but unfortunately not in the UK (Haring, 1997; RASE, 1998, 1999).
The success of well-organised breeding programmes in Europe has forced out UK-bred horses in both show jumping and dressage disciplines, while Irish breeding still plays a large part in UK event horse teams (Clayton, 1997). The vast proportion of UK show jumping and dressage teams currently use top level horses of continental breeding, and breeders who want to produce horses for such competitions are forced to import genetic material from Europe (Haring, 1997)
In the UK, obtaining a realistic price for a young, untried performance horse is difficult (RASE, 1998, 1999), but it has already been proven, especially on the European continent that much higher prices can be achieved by modern recording of pedigrees and performance of ancestors (Langlois, 1997).
In order to secure the future of the British-bred sport horse in the 21st Century, objective and appropriate methods of testing performance horses, assisted by current genetic knowledge, should be applied to the breeding of horses (Clayton, 1997).
The UK Government has works in partnership with the equine industry to formulate long-term strategies for the industry, the aim of which are to set out a vision of where the industry aspires to be in the future and how the Government can help achieve this aim (DEFRA, 2004).
Improving Sport Horse Breeding in the UK
Following 18 months of consultation, a British Horse Foundation (BHF) working group produced a plan to help the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) fulfil one of its key objectives – the production of British-bred horses capable of carrying UK riders to international success (Horse and Hound, 2002).
The BEF plan identified problems within the breeding industry as:
- lack of recognition and financial reward for breeders
- absence of approved ‘guaranteed standards’ at non-racing studs and AI centres, resulting in lack of buyer confidence
- accuracy, storage and availability of breeding and performance information
- failure to celebrate success (BEF, 2003)
In response to these perceived problems the BEF plan offered several solutions.
Many of the proposals within the BEF plan were sound, achievable schemes that provide a firm basis for the production of high quality British bred sport horses. There were however, some elements that could have gone further than outlined in the BEF plan.