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Striving for excellence on the international stage

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The 2017 GAIN Equine Nutrition and Alltech Equine Summit, supported by Grant Thornton and The Irish Field, brought together the thoroughbred and sport horse sectors of the industry in a day-long series of presentations and discussions.

An impressive line-up of speakers and panellists from the racing, bloodstock and sport horse worlds attended, and with the theme of ‘Striving for Global Excellence’, the event discussed upcoming issues with the 400 attendees.

Henry Cobally, Chairman of Glanbia Ireland and Planbia Plc, welcomed the visitors by highlighting the excellent offering Ireland already possess – namely the rich and abundant grazing of the “limestone land”.

Aidan Connolly, Chief Innovation Officer and Vice President at Alltech, led the keynote address that spoke of the threats facing the industry – including the dependency on betting, explaining that solutions and alternative sources of funding must be found in order to create a world-class experience.

View of the crowd attending the 2017 Alltech/Gain Equine Summit in the Keadeen Hotel, Newbridge, Co Kildare, Ireland, photo credit Caroline Norris

Togetherness was the take home message provided by Sasha Kerins, partner and Head of Agri Food at Grant Thornton. She put much emphasis on the relationship between the sport horse and thoroughbred industries, praising each for their merits but ultimately explaining the two must converge in order to retain Ireland’s formidable position in the equestrian world.

The plenary discussion looked at Ireland on the global platform, concentrating on how the country can evolve, compete and lead the equine industry. The panel of Brian Kavanagh, Ronan Murphy, Noel Cawley and Meta Osbourne, were questioned by The Irish Field Editor Leo Powell about ways the racing and sporthorse industries can collaborate to overcome challenges. Brexit provided heated debate, with all hoping but not expecting a clear trade deal, while the lack of career paths, especially in racing, was examined.

Entitled ‘How can the Irish Sport horse sector position itself in a changing market?’, the sport horse breakout session focused on encouraging participation from the top down. Tackling the topics of creating jobs, improving the pay scale and encouraging young people into the sport, the panel found Ireland to be falling behind the rest of Europe regarding training. Michael Creed, Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, acknowledged the importance of the sport horse sector in the economy and confirmed the Government’s continuing commitment to maximising its potential.

Aidan Connolly, chief innovation officer and vice president, Alltech, photo credit Caroline Norris

Education and career prospects were topics highlighted again during the thoroughbred breakout session, with racehorse trainer Jim Bolger pointing out the importance of good staff behind any business. With a concerning number of people going through the 17 different equine courses Ireland has to offer, there is worry that not enough is being done to present the Irish bloodstock industry as a viable career path. Richard Aston, of Goldford Stud, echoed these thoughts as he has experienced much the same in Britain. The success of the Godolphin Stud and Stable Awards was highlighted as a particularly positive move, and there is much hope these will encourage similar schemes to become utilised across the equestrian industry.

Echoing the thoughts of many, Aidan Connolly said: “We are competing with other businesses, retaining talent and attracting talent is important. We need to think about re-inventing the job and your career path. We need to show a career path when they come to join us, a 10-year path- way, not just an 18-month programme. If you want the best people you have to train them.”

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