The Irish Sport Horse is a unique combination of Thoroughbred and Irish Draught Horse genetics. This creates a combination of hotblooded personality traits with a coldblooded temperament.
For most of the horses in this breed, you can expect to receive an honest experience. Irish Sport Horses are willing and able to learn, but they also want to work with people who are willing and able to teach them. They tend to be willing to please, but their overall power can also make them somewhat headstrong and stubborn if they get their mind set on something.
That stubbornness can be used to the advantage of the horse and owner or trainer, making the Irish Sport Horse an excellent competition horse. It can also make a great riding horse, an excellent hunter, or whatever else may be needed. They are strong, hardy, and one of the few breeds that offers a genuine all-around experience.
Issues with the Irish Sport Horse Temperament
Although the general consensus of the Irish Sport Horse is that it is a breed that is fairly laidback, the Thoroughbred lineage within the breed does lend toward a certain aggressiveness that can be displayed at times. The horses of this breed tend to be more solitary than social, wanting to have their own personal space. If someone comes too close, whether that’s another horse or an unwanted human, then biting behaviors are somewhat common to see.
Irish Sport Horses are friendly, as long as that friendship occurs on their own terms. Sometimes this breed is described as being high-strung, but that tends to happen when the horse is asking for some extra space and is not receiving it. They have been developed as a riding horse, but don’t always like to be ridden, so bucking and kicking behaviors are also common within this breed, despite their laidback personalities.
They are bold when it comes to new experiences, skills being learned, or environments to explore. It is not unusual to have an Irish Sport Horse come back from the pasture with scrapes up and down the legs because they were inspecting something that was new or testing a fence for weaknesses. That boldness is present when they are on their own, but they do tend to get spooked in new environments fairly easily if they encounter an unknown circumstance.
Are Irish Sport Horses Predictable in Their Temperament?
Predictability is a difficult attribute to describe for a horse because each person has their own definition that they apply. Irish Sport Horses tend to prefer a certain routine to their day. Each horse tends to develop certain preferences that they want to see and will act out somewhat if their routine is disrupted in some way.
They are also a breed that has more of a sense of humor than other horses. It is not unusual for an Irish Sport Horse to cause “trouble” in an almost practical joke type of way.
For the most part, however, you will find that their predictable temperament leads to a good work ethic in most of the horses of this breed. Their cleverness and desire for fun, as well as the need to have a routine, allows them to quickly learn new skills. Their foundation genetics also helps them be tougher and stronger, but still stay fast and flexible, when called upon to do something.
Why Are There Inconsistencies in Temperament with Some Irish Sport Horses?
For all practical purposes, any horse that is bred in Ireland and does not have confirmed breed lines will generally be labeled as an Irish Sport Horse. If you apply for a passport in Ireland and have Irish lines or unknown characteristics, the horse will be automatically put into this breed classification.
Because of this characteristic, there are several Irish Sport Horses that aren’t really part of the breed. This has led some owners, who don’t necessarily realize that this process is in place, to believe that this breed tends to be temperamental, unpredictable, or not as intelligent as they were led to believe.
Or, to put it in another way, basically any horse that was born in Ireland can be an Irish Sport Horse – even though there is a specific genetic definition for the breed. This means the final determination of temperament will depend on the actual cross of the horse.
What to Expect When Owning an Irish Sport Horse
Since Irish Sport Horses can vary because of their specific genetics, it is impossible to specifically say what an ownership experience will be like. Some horses that are given this passport or breed can be very sensitive, yet want to be aggressively social. Others tend to prefer being on their own, exploring whatever world they can. Some are curious, others are laidback, and some like to plop down in the middle of a field, stick their legs up to the sky, and let the world pass them by.
In general terms, you can expect to have a horse that is quite handsome. They’ll have tons of character, and most will keep their pace on a ride all day long. They are defensive about taking care of the people who are around them on a regular basis, but will be quick to extract an individual who isn’t willing to listen to them.
Some Irish Sport Horses do experience a temperament change as they get older. A young horse that takes care of everyone, learns new skills quickly, and loves being social can become stubborn, aggressive, and refuse to take the bit. They can also be overconfident, which leads to mistakes, which can then lead to mistrust and these negative behaviors.
They tend to be good eventers and careful jumpers. Most will learn lateral moves without difficulty. If they do not receive enough attention or exercise, this does tend to make them more skittish over time compared to horses in this breed that are constantly active. Some also tend to be a little choppy in their stride, especially if the horse is a little taller than average.
So if you’re looking for a horse that is highly opinionated, will treat you with great honesty, and can be bold when needed, then an Irish Sport Horse is a good option to consider. They have a certain craftiness to their personality that can be both inviting and aggravating all at once. If you have their respect, then they will listen and work with you. If not, then you might find yourself flat on your back when you go for a ride.
Irish Sport Horses may not always be easy to handle, but that is also one of the main reasons why they are loved so much. They are one of the breeds that is genuine, good-willed, and ready to have a good time.