If thoroughbred racing was an Olympic sport, Ireland would bring home a haul of gold medals every four years. If it was the World Cup, we would be finalists in every competition.
It is a sport in which we are recognised as international leaders, our reputation for excellence is built and maintained on racecourses at home and abroad every year.
But it is more than a sport. It is an industry based on generations of expertise, employing more than 14,000 people in rural locations and contributing more than €1bn to the Irish economy.
Racing and breeding are intrinsically linked. The talented fillies of today are tomorrow’s brood mares. The exceptional colts are the future stallions.
This cachet of excellence has been earned through decades of effort and now the question has to be asked: do we want to lose it by shooting ourselves in the hoof?
Proposals to build industrial-scale wind turbines across the midlands threaten the environments that have been conducive to nurturing our thoroughbred horses for generations. The size and density of the turbines are incompatible with rearing and training thoroughbreds.
When guidelines and regulations for wind turbine construction are being drawn up, they must take the thoroughbred industry into account to ensure our pre-eminence in this global industry is not threatened.
The thoroughbred industry is primarily based in the countryside and depends heavily on our natural resources – soil, grass and water – for its sustainability and success.
The representative associations for thoroughbred owners, breeders, trainers and jockeys are united in their concerns. Not one of them is saying “no” to wind energy, not one is saying “no” to turbine construction, but our collective stance is that turbines need to be an appropriate distance from studs and stables.
This is not a case of ‘Not In My Back Stable Yard’; it is a genuine fear for the safety of horses and those working with them – a fear endorsed by our leading trainers and jockeys. Thoroughbreds are genetically predisposed towards flight from perceived threats. A 600-foot rotating turbine with shadows and flicker is liable to spook thoroughbreds if it is too close to them.
There are more than 7,500 thoroughbred foals born in Ireland every year: a new crop of youngsters that must be raised and trained. Their value ranges from thousands to millions of euro. They are a valuable and, at times, delicate export commodity which must be expertly cared for every day of their lives.
HANDLING thoroughbreds has inherent risks. Riders risk life and limb, as do those who groom and lead. Hazards are assessed and risks minimised to make work systems as safe as possible.
It is a consistent challenge educating these pure-bred youngsters, balancing control with exposure to the unfamiliar. Why add to the dangers by exposing them to wind turbines?
Ireland’s thoroughbred industry is supported by strong inward investment by overseas owners, who have chosen our country as the base for their bloodstock. They were initially attracted here by our results, our facilities, the skill of our people and by the tranquil, unspoiled Irish countryside.
Their financial contribution generates employment and diverse benefits to a wide range of ancillary services. We cannot take this investment for granted.
There are alternative locations, such as Newmarket in England, Normandy in France, the Bluegrass region of Kentucky in America.
Complacency alone would threaten the loss of this and future investment. What kind of signal would we send if we allowed thousands of wind turbines to be built in the heart of Ireland’s bloodstock cradle?
Aesthetic appeal is important. For many investors, their bloodstock is a hobby to be enjoyed in peaceful and unblemished surroundings. We need to keep the investors we have and encourage the next generations to come here, too.
Thoroughbred breeding and racing are intensely competitive. That competition has made us better at what we do. We don’t have a God-given right to have the best thoroughbreds in the world based here in Ireland. They are here now, but they don’t have to be.
If thoroughbred racing was an Olympic sport, we would embrace the Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ – faster, higher, stronger – to describe our never-ending pursuit of excellence.
That pursuit is now threatened by a number of massive wind turbine projects, which may prove to be beneficial to Ireland but should be kept safely away from studs and stables.
Joe Osborne is managing director of Kildangan Stud, Co Kildare, and chairman of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association
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