The Irish Sporting Horse, also known as the Irish Hunter, is a traditional horse breed in Ireland. This is the product of crossing Irish draft horses with thoroughbreds to highlight the best of these two popular horse breeds. Irish sport horses are known for their speed, athleticism and balanced temperament. They are well-known competitors in equestrian competitions.
weight: 1,200 to 1,500 lbs
high: 15 hands (60 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)
Body type: Well-proportioned and muscular; well-defined bone structure; long neck and ears; muzzle with convex profile
Most suitable: All owners and riders who can handle high-powered horses
Life expectancy: 30 years
History and Origins of Irish Sports Horses
Irish sports horses are the result of centuries of organized breeding between thoroughbreds and Irish draft horses, and the breed is popular in Ireland as both a farming companion and a show horse. The aim was to create a breed that had the speed and power of a thoroughbred with the intelligence, stamina and friendly demeanor of an Irish draft horse. In recent years, Irish sport horses have been further bred to include the muscular Warmblood pedigree.
The breed’s exceptional athleticism and well-mannered personality made it a popular show horse around the world, and many Irish sport horses were exported to compete on tours in Europe and North America. They have also become popular family horses because their temperament makes them suitable for riders of all ages and skill levels.
Despite their worldwide popularity, Irish sport horses are actually a very rare breed, with an estimated 2,000 thoroughbreds in existence. The Irish Draft Horse Association and the Irish Equestrian Sport maintain a register of Irish sport horses.
Irish sport horse size
Irish sport horses range in size from about 15 hands (60 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches), with an average weight of about 1,200 to 1,500 pounds. Both stallions and mares have well-defined muscular bodies. They are about the same size as the Irish draft and thoroughbred horses that created them.
Breeding and Use of Irish Sports Horses
When breeders cross docile and strong Irish draft horses with energetic and powerful thoroughbreds, they create a quality sporting horse. The Irish Sports Horse is a very versatile breed that excels in many situations. It is commonly used in event events, dressage, equestrian shows, fox hunting and recreational riding. It is also well suited to life on a farm, thanks to its Irish draft horse pedigree. This breed is energetic and eager to learn new activities, allowing it to use uses beyond its known range.
colors and markings
Irish sport horses come in a variety of solid color coats, with the exception of twills (white patches on a non-black base) and piebald (colored patches on a white base – usually black). Common coat colors include: black, white, gray, brown, buckskin, champagne, cream, palomino, perino, tan, chestnut, grit, and tan. This wide color range is due to the genetic diversity of the breed’s draft horses and thoroughbreds.
Unique Characteristics of Irish Sports Horses
The characteristics that define the Irish sport horse make it a much-loved horse in touring and equine-loving families. These horses are generally eager to please, friendly, intelligent, and brave. They tend to enjoy the company of people. Physically, Irish sports horses are known for being strong, fast and versatile. They have exceptionally powerful hindquarters, which help give them incredible balance and jumping abilities.
Diet and Nutrition
A general equine diet including hay, grass, grains, fruits and vegetables is suitable for Irish sport horses. Because they are an energetic breed, they may need a high-energy feed. But it depends on how much exercise each horse is doing.
Common Health and Behavioral Issues
Irish sport horses are generally healthy with no breed-specific health issues. This makes them fairly easy to maintain. But because they have so much energy, they need a dedicated owner to spend enough time exercising them, otherwise their overall health and well-being may decline. Although they are friendly horses, this energetic spirit may be too much for some.
Standard equine grooming is suitable for this breed. In addition to regular baths, use a curry comb and body brush to remove debris and loose hair, especially after your horse has exercised. And continuously monitor hooves for dirt, debris and injuries.
easy to train
Champion and Celebrity Irish Sports Horse
There are quite a few famous Irish sport horses in history, some of the most famous in the past few decades. They include:
- cruise: Perhaps the most famous of all Irish sport horses, Cruising is a leader in competitive events and show jumping with many successes. He is the sire of two other horses on this list: Mr. Medicott and Flexible.
- Mr. Medicott: In 2008, Mr Medicott was ridden by German equestrian Frank Osholt at the Beijing Olympics, where Germany came first. In 2012, he was ridden by American equestrian Karen O’Connor at the London Olympics, helping her to a ninth personal place. Mr. Medicott retired in 2018.
- flexible: Named the 2012 American Equestrian Federation International Horse of the Year, Nimble dominated the event until his retirement at age 21. When he was 19, Flexible and his trainer won the SmartPak Grand Prix.
- Ballino Castle RM: Nicknamed “Reggie”, Ballynoe Castle RM has been a strong leader of the tournament game since the early 2000s. Most notably, he made history as the highest-scoring horse in the history of the American Triathlon Association.
Is the Irish Sport Horse Right for You?
Because of their gentle disposition and friendly personality, Irish sport horses are considered a good breed choice for all types of owners. But Irish sports horses do require a lot of one-on-one time. Rights holders must be able to provide them with adequate exercise and attention.
How to Adopt or Buy an Irish Sports Horse
Irish sport horses can be difficult to find, depending on where you live. They usually sell for $10,000 or more. Research reputable breeders and rescue organizations to find horses that can be transported to your location. Before you decide to take it home, spend time with a horse and keep an eye out for red flags. The organization should be transparent about the horse’s history, health and temperament. If you feel your question has been ignored or not fully answered, please consider seeking out other organizations.
More horse breeds
If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:
Otherwise, you can view all of our other horse breed profiles.