Home Health and vet The genetic composition of the Traditional Irish Horse

The genetic composition of the Traditional Irish Horse


By Beatrice A. McGivneyl, Deirdre Harty, Alison Corbally, and Emmeline W. Hill
Photography/Graphics: provided by the authors

To give this article its full title: The genetic composition of the Traditional Irish Horse – towards the development of a DNA-ancestry test for the preservation of traditionally bred Irish Sport Horses .

The traditionally bred Irish Sport Horse, known as the Traditional Irish Horse, is an important cultural asset to horse genetic resources in Ireland. We tested the hypothesis that the Irish Sport Horse, which was originally developed from the Irish Hunter, may contain a genetic background distinct from European Warmblood horse populations that would be valuable to preserve. Using genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data, the results show that Traditional Irish Horses (with confirmed pedigrees) have lower levels of European Warmblood ancestry components than other Irish Sport Horses. These results indicate that measurement of the levels of European Warmblood ancestry components in the Irish Sport Horse may assist in the preservation of traditional Irish lineages.


The horse has a long history in Ireland, developing through millennia into several distinct native breeds, from small riding ponies to larger work horses (McCormick 2007). The earliest archaeological evidence for domesticated horses in Ireland dates to 2,400 BCE in the Early Bronze Age contexts of Newgrange (Bendrey et al. 2013).
The introduction of the Celtic horse into Ireland can be traced to the 7th century, with images of ridden horses contained within the Book of Kells (The Book of Kells, n.d.). The medieval Irish horse was known as the Irish Hobby, resulting from crossing horses from northern Spain with local animals (Hendricks 1995).
The Hobby was noted for speed and agility, and was mentioned in 1296 in documents relating to an Irish contingent of horses brought to Scotland by John de Wogan, Judiciar of Ireland (Lydon 1954). The Irish Hobby was likely a founder breed for the extant native breeds (McCormick 2007), the Connemara Pony and Irish Draught, and also likely contributed to the Thoroughbred (Hendricks 1995).
The Irish Draught was bred as a light, versatile farm, carriage, riding and hunting horse while the Connemara Pony was developed as a multipurpose animal for the harsher conditions of the western Irish seaboard (Hendricks 1995).
The Thoroughbred was developed in the 17th and 18th centuries when stallions from the Middle East were brought to England and crossed with the best racing mares in Britain, many of which were Irish or had been bred from Irish stock (Bower et al. 2011).
Prior to the development of the Thoroughbred, a centuries-old tradition of hunting in Ireland led to the breeding of specialist hunters originating from the Irish Draught horse (Hendricks 1995). When the Thoroughbred became established in Ireland, it was used extensively for further improvement of the Irish Hunter (Hendricks 1995).
The Irish Hunter was referred to by William Youatt who noted that the Irish bred a large, long blood-horse of considerable value (Youatt 1831). Until 1922 the Irish Hunter was registered in the Hunter Stud Book, but it was later redefined as the Irish Sport Horse and has been registered in the Irish Sport Horse Studbook since 1970.
The Irish Sport Horse became the world leader in eventing and has topped the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses eventing studbook rankings for all but two years since its inception in 1994... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber