BACK in 1983, the Clarke family first opened the doors of the Cavan Equestrian Centre and began to host their first horse and pony shows.
The facilities then consisted of a single indoor and outdoor sand ring, these days that would seem small but the shows were regularly attended by international riders Eddie Macken, Paul Darragh, James Kearan and Trevor Coyle to name but a few.
With the show’s attendance growing year on year, Mervyn saw a niche in the market for Horse and Pony sales in that part of the country. After a very large expansion in 1993 and 94, which saw the completion of a new indoor competition arena, they held their first International Performance Sale in January 1994.
A total of 200 lots made up the first catalogue. On hand that day was Auctioneer George Chandler, who had come on board as Cavan Equestrian’s main auctioneer and to advise in this field.
These days, the Clarkes are delighted to say that George is still selling in Cavan, alongside Robert Hunt most regularly, but also over the years with Nick Nugent, Andrew Nolan, Simon Kearns and Alistair Pimm, and more recently with Jim Fenlon, Darach O’Neil, Denis Barret and Richard Ryan.
Cavan host between 16 and 18 sales days per year, including six Performance Sales, one Premier three-year-old sale, two Young Stock Sales, two Registered Irish Draught Sales and an Elite Foal Sale.
Hundreds of talented horses have passed through the sales ring in Cavan over the past 25 years. Included in this elite list are; ‘Mighty Nice’, a 15-year-old Irish-bred gelding by ‘Ard Ohio’ – ‘Sarazen’, who was ridden by American Phillip Dutton to win an individual bronze medal for eventing at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Another Olympic eventer, the Irish-bred ‘Cooley Rorkes Drift’ (‘Courge II’ – ‘Rachelle Comet’) and Ireland’s Jonty Evans have recorded many fantastic international results.
‘The Duke of Cavan’, a gelding by ‘Courage’, out of ‘Dysert Girl’, was sold as a four-year-old to England. He won the two-star in Tattersalls and then went on to jump clear in Blenheim. In 2015, he was sold to Yoshiaki Oiwa and ended up representing Japan at the Rio Olympics.
Another one that passed through the sales ring in Cavan and went on to compete at the Olympics was ‘Castlewoods Jake’. A gelding by ‘Ricardo Z’, out of ‘Tara Elegance’ by ‘Senang Hati’, he was ridden to many international placings for Italy by Luca Roman and the pair also went to Rio 2016.
‘Camaron Hills Quick Dollar’, who was a Show Jumping World Cup finalist in 2010 in Geneva. Ridden for the USA by Joie Gatlin, he is by ‘Don Juan de la Bouverie’ and out of ‘Carnival Cavalier’ (‘Cavalier Royale’) bred by Leo Rice.
‘ABC Quantum Cruise’ (‘OBOS Quality’ – ‘Cruising’) went through the sales ring as a six-year-old and was sold to Peter Charles. He has since gone on to have a very successful show jumping career competing up to Longines Global Champions Tour level under his son Harry.
At the moment, there are 15 sales days per year in Cavan. In 2008, the operation expanded to include the Premier Three-year-old sale and the Elite Foal Sale. They were introduced to allow purchasers and vendors have specific days to concentrate on youngsters.
Over the years, many lots have reached big prices in the Cavan Sales ring, but the largest reached so far came in 2007 when a 168cm three-year-old grey stallion by ‘Cornet Obolensky’ was knocked down for €46,000.
As the man at the helm of operations these days, and having been there since the beginning, Mervyn’s son Stuart is in a good position to comment on how things have changed in the sales ring over the past 25 years.
“With regard to the hunters and riding horses, things have pretty much stayed the same. People are looking for the same type of product that they have always wanted; safe reliable Irish horses that will do their job.
“There have been tough times for vendors and the recession affected things badly over the years. There have been ups and downs pricewise, but on the whole, the type of animal needed for the leisure horse market has remained the same.
“Where I have seen a change is with regard to the foals. People now know how important it is to have as much information as possible available with regard to how a foal is bred.
“We run an Elite Foal sale during our September show. The selection process for this day begins at a foal viewing day at the beginning of August.
“We may have as many as 80 or 90 foals show up and we have to whittle that number down to about 25.
“Foals are selected on Conformation, Movement and Pedigree. The Sire and dam information is vital.
“I think that vendors have gotten much better about providing this information, they realise that it is now expected by purchasers.
“People are now much more informed about what they need to be looking for when going to buy a foal,” Stuart commented.
“Another of our specialist days is the Registered Irish Draught Sale. There is a very large fraternity in this country that are interested in the Irish Draught Pedigree. This is a breed that is bound into our equine history and although it, like many others had a difficult run during the recession years, it seems to have come back strong and that can be seen in the activity in the sales ring.
“Buyer confidence is hugely important to us here in Cavan and we want to be able to stand over every horse that comes through our sales ring.
“One way to ensure that this is possible, is that all horses in Cavan sales are sold with a veterinary certificate, which is completed within one week of sale.
“We also have a vendor’s warranty, which is quite a detailed form. Jointly, the vet cert and the vendors warranty gives essential information to potential purchasers.
“In addition to this, we have three vets on site each sales day should the purchaser request to have the animal re-vetted.
“Through the past 25 years, we have had, and hopefully will continue to have, buyers fly in from the UK, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, the USA, Canada, Slovenia, China and Libya.
“Our goal each day of every sale in the centre is that buyers should expect top class facilities, along with a professional and warm welcome from the sales team to help in every way possible,” he concluded.
In 2008, Cavan Equestrian began another huge expansion to its facilities and is now one of the largest competition venues in Europe, with three indoor, two sand and three grass arenas. It also can boast 500 permanent stables, as well as full restaurant and bar facilities.
Cavan Equestrian host some other events, such as The Farm Machinery Shows, Car Shows, Vintage Show, Concerts, and in 2008 the great Kenny Rogers performed at Cavan.
One of the busiest show jumping venues in Ireland, it also hosts other large equestrian events for Dressage Ireland, Irish Pony Society, Horse Sport Ireland and The Northern Ireland Festival.
To celebrate 25 years of successful sales, the Clarkes have decided that for the first sale of 2019 on March 6, as a thank you to the vendors who have supported them to give 25% off all entries.