The mighty Irish Draught Horse! We are celebrating them as our January Breed of the Month on YourDressage!
Dressage riders who choose Irish Draughts as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the Irish Draught Horse Society of North America is a participating organization.
Here, a lifelong lover of Irish Draughts, based in Kentucky, shares what drew her to the breed, and the three mares who are the foundation of her fledgling breeding program.
By Taylor Perugino
At 3am rolling onto an unfamiliar farm, I was confident that the horses I’d selected for this first drop-off would walk right off the trailer and into their stalls without much excitement. I knew this because the horses I chose were my Irish Draught mares, Duhonw Daisy and Penmerryls Sunday Blues. We were beginning the evacuation of our entire barn from an island off the coast of South Carolina, and were trying to get everyone (and everything) off the island before contraflow was initiated. As I had suspected, the girls unloaded in the foggy barn lights quietly, and walked into their new homes with all the nonplussed attitude I had expected. This tendency to take it all in stride, to look at the world with an “Irish brain” is one of my favorite characteristics of this breed! This barn would turn out to be their (and 7 other boarders’ horses’) home for the next 11 days, as Hurricane Mathew left a wake of destruction in its path that delayed our return home.
I originally fell in love with this breed as a child. Early exposure to the fantastic Ballad of the Irish Horse from National Geographic cemented a deep fascination with the Irish Draught and Irish Hunter (Irish Sport Horse). Throughout the documentary, the various types of Irish breeds, and the connection they had to the land and its people, were showcased in a way that made each breed, each story, so very appealing to an 11 year old horse girl. Growing up, I was fortunate to take lessons and eventually own horses, but I scoured competition packages for Irish sounding names, for breed details when available, in order to pick out the possible Irish horses at shows. Irish sounding name aside, often the Irish horse is very easy to spot; first and foremost, the beautiful, commanding head with its kind, large eye. The density of bone, and the fuller athletic lines that the lighter warmbloods and Thoroughbreds often don’t possess. They usually showcase an athleticism in their jump that is eye-catching and cat-like; and on the flat, they work obediently, and with clean, active movement.
Perhaps best known for their foxhunting prowess, the versatility of these horses is often touted. That athletic build and sensible nature gives them the ability to cross between the disciplines of many equestrian sports and excel, especially in dressage, eventing, and yes, foxhunting. This wide ranging usefulness makes them the perfect mount for the current amateur, just as they were once the perfect horse for the discerning Irish farmer. This was a horse breed famously known for being “sturdy enough to pull the plow, athletic and bold enough to go foxhunting and jump anything, and sensible but flashy enough to pull the family trap to church on Sunday.” As an adult amateur looking for a sound, sensible, athletic, and FUN horse, give me THAT horse!
My mares are wonderful representatives of this incredible breed’s kindness and athleticism. When I found myself connected to Gina Kirby, owner of Celtic Manor Farm, I was unexpectedly able to afford two of these amazing creatures. A childhood fairytale come true was Duhonw Daisy, a big grey imported Irish mare who was from a less frequently represented bloodline here in the States. When purchased, Daisy had not been ridden, and had been busy producing the next few generations of purebred Irish Draughts. While it had been my dream to breed her as well, this didn’t pan out and we pivoted to under saddle work. She very quickly became the horse I could put novice students on for fun, uncomplicated lessons, and she often jumped people out of the tack, despite her age. Her brave, kind presence, and charisma won beginners and experienced riders over and often prompted conversations regarding the breed and its abilities. Penmerryls Sunday Blues was also out of work when purchased, but with time, went on to take a student to her first cross country school, then to win that same student’s first ever three-phase competition. A cross country machine, Sunny looks most Irish when galloping strongly on to the next jump, and never bats an eye at the course. She also had the privilege of spending two seasons as the Irish Draught breed ambassador for the Kentucky Horse Park in the Breeds Barn. In March she will be 23, and while she has stepped down from jumping, she is now teaching my husband on the flat at our farm in Kentucky.
Since our move, my husband and I have purchased Bridon Glenlaurel from Dana Worcester of Epona Farm. Laurel is a commanding presence; a dark bay, 17 hand, purebred mare Dana campaigned to Third Level in dressage. We hope to kick off our boutique breeding program with a foal in 2023 out of Laurel by Gemstone Clover, and we hope to continue the tradition of producing kind, competitive horses, who always maintain the versatility of their breed origin. A horse obedient enough for the hard work, flashy enough for the fun work, and something so sensible you’d trust to load her on a trailer before a hurricane.