RSE Equestrian Blog

The search for Ireland's Finest Hunt Horse

  • By RSE Guest Blogger

The search for Ireland's Finest Hunt Horse

The Kildare Performance Hunter Show takes place at Punchestown Racecourse, in County Kildare, Ireland on October 21st next. Organised by the Kildare Hunt Club, the show’s purpose was to find Ireland’s finest hunting horse. The idea is credited with the Kildare Hunt Staff.

“hold up, I want my wife see this!”

The Huntsman recalls the eureka moment, “It was on a poor days hunting, as we cast the last draw, a number of members began to jump hedges to entertain themselves,” but the entertainment was short lived as an old farmer approached waving a stick over his head shouting “hold-up! hold-up!” Francis thought he was going to get an ear full, but to his surprise, the farmer continued “hold up, I want my wife see this!”  As the team hacked back to the meet, they began to bounce ideas off one another. To their knowledge, there was no real competition in Ireland to test hunters over natural obstacles. Soon they found their course on the hunts home ground, some unused land within the racecourse itself. 

Mrs. Esther Stace riding sidesaddle and clearing a record 6'6" at the Sydney Royal Show in 1915. 


Located 30 miles west of Dublin, Punchestown racecourse is considered the home of Irish steeplechasing. In his book Memoirs of a fox hunting gentleman, World War 1 poet Seigfried Sassoon describes an army friends  “visionary contemplations of being stationed at the Curragh and riding at Punchestown Races”. The racecourse itself was founded in 1854 by the hunt club and still remains within the member’s ownership. The performance hunter course is located adjacent to the only racing cross country course in Ireland; the La Touche. On this ground were found the natural ditches, banks, and hedges required to run the show.

Side Saddle has grown its reach across the world, still holding competitions internationally to date!  Here is a woman from a Side Saddle competition at Devon in Pennsylvania. 


The organizing committee’s objective at the outset was that the show would be about the hunting élan of the Irish hunt horse itself and to showcase its ability to perform on the hunting field. With interest from the four corners of Ireland, the show consists of three classes; Hunter, Side Saddle, and Huntsmans.

The huntsman’s class was designed for horses with exceptional ability with a minimum jumping effort of 130cm. The hunter and side saddle class had a guiding effort of 100cm, although some hedges were higher than this. Wire obstacles were also added to the course along with bullfinch, drains, stud rails and gates. With riders entering and paying online, it was possible to issue start times to riders, enabling a smoother running of the show.

The organizing committee was formed in January 2016. Short of time and with only 10 weeks to spare to the first show, a committee member promoted the show on social media with a series of homemade promotional videos. These included telling old traditional hunting stories from the locality, which included tales of fox hunters jumping empty canal locks, fairies interfering with hunts and even the Duke of Wellington got a mention.


Ultimately, the objective was to remember the hunting tradition in Ireland. Which reflected on a time in the 1700’s when religious divisions prevented some Irish from owning valuable horses. The effect of this was to force races to be run away from the control of the authorities, deep in the countryside. These races gradually developed into the steeplechase we know today.  

Today, the snap of birch seemed only the preserve of the thoroughbred racecourse, but now hunters are clearing it. As one spectator reported, “the crowds of spectators clambered onto any high ground they could find. As the riders cleared the obstacles, the crowd would whoop and cheer.” It became clear to the committee that they had created something special on that first show in March 2016.

Some of the Side Saddles ladies enjoying a refreshing beverage before their ride!



Ronan Wilson is currently residing in Blessington, Ireland.  Happily married to Louise with a little girl and their big girl, a 176lb Irish Wolfhound named "Piglet"! Ronan works full time on his own food business, while Louise looks after their daughter and the horses. Most of the riding is one-to-one normally when I get back from work in the long summer evenings. Louise is a qualified riding instructor and gives lessons, while he takes out the more experienced riders on a trek to the hill behind their lovely stable in the country!

Interested in traveling to Ireland?  Think about staying with Ronan and his family at Buttercup Stables!


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