The Breeders behind the Irish Army horse (Part 1)

  • 26 April 2020, 10:21

The Army Equitation school primary mission is to promote the Irish horse, support Irish breeders and to advertise the Irish bred sport horse through participation in international events in both eventing and show jumping at the highest level. Since its establishment in 1926, army riders have competed at top international events from Nations Cups to the Olympics, all while riding and promoting Irish Sport Horses.

Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Freyne said:

“Our mission in the Army Equitation School is to promote the Irish bred Sport horse through competition at the highest level. We are very fortunate to have such competitive horses as Drumiller Lough in the School. His soundness and temperament have allowed him to be a consistent winner over the last decade. With Kilrue and the other young horses, we believe they are ideally suited to modern show jumping. These young horses are developing into scopey, athletic and intelligent horses that are promoting the modern and traditionally bred top class Irish Sport Horse on behalf of those breeders and producers.”

Drumiller Lough (ISH) is a 2003 bay gelding by Heartbreaker (KWPN) out of Pearl Diver (ISH) by Mountain Pearl (RID). This gelding was bred by Paul Dillon In County Armagh. This 17-year-old gelding has been a loyal and reliable servant for the equitation school. He has partnered many successful riders in his career in the Army Equitation School. He began his career in the army in 2007 when he was ridden nationally and schooled by Comdt Gerry Flynn whose skills in producing young horses are second to none. He then progressed to international level where he was instantly effective coming second in the 6-year-old World Breeding Championships for young horses in Lanaken with Captain David O’Brien on board for this success. In 2013 Captain Michael Kelly rode Drumiller Lough to multiple international victories. For Michael, he won and was placed in numerous 1.40m / 1.50m classes in CSI3* Vejer de la Frontera, CSI2* Odense, CSI2* Fontainebleau and CSI4* Harthill, Bolesworth. This partnership lasted until 2015 and in 2016 Captain David Power took up the ride and gained great success with this accomplished horse. He had wins and placings in both CSI3* Arezzo and CSI2* Mullingar.  In 2017 Captain Geoff Curran took the reins and experienced success with first, second and third placings at the combinations first international show together in Mijas CSI3*. Their victories continued on both the international and national stages with wins in CSI3*Carmona, CSI3* Lier and CSI2* Millstreet. Their success continues today.

Capt. Geoff Curran and Drumiller Lough (ISH) competing in the Irish Breeders Classics 2018. Picture Laurence Dunne

Captain Geoff Curran says,

“Drumiller Lough has always been extremely competitive. His technique, carefulness and his overall willingness to win have always been his greatest attributes. At home he can be extremely lazy but when its competition time he turns into the winner that he is and has always been for the army.”

Breeders of Drumiller Lough (ISH) Paul and Louise Dillon are located in Scarva, Co. Armagh. Just 10 minutes off the main Belfast to Dublin road they run a busy beef cattle, sheep and equine breeding farm. Paul tells us how he first came across Drumiller Loughs dam.

“I bought this mare as a three-year-old when I had her in for breaking.  Pearl Diver, his dam, is traditionally bred by Mountain Pearl (RID) out of out of a Salluceva (TB) mare. She showed exceptional jumping ability and potential. I think that in order to breed from any mare they must have the ability to jump. In this case I think that Heartbreaker was a perfect cross for Pearl Diver to produce Drumiller Lough. This mare had six other offspring. The following year we went back to Heartbreaker and this foal Jacks Here (ISH) went on to compete in the UK. I personally like the traditional Irish mare crossed with a warmblood stallion. Our aim every year is to breed about 10 mares and sell the progeny as young stock. We have around 30 young stock at present all of which we aim to sell. The sires of these animals are Balou du Rouet (OLD), Glasgow Vant Merelsnest (BWP), Emerald Van’t Ruytershof (BWP), Vigo D’Arsouilles (BWP), Catoki (HOLST), Cicero Z Van Paemal (BWP), Zirroco Blue VDL (SF), Cardento (HOLST) and Flexible (ISH)(TIH). I take time to match a performance sire to the particular type of mare, it’s very important.”

The Irish Army Equitation school  continue to support breeders year after year as they purchase young horses to produce and show on the world stage. Paul sold Drumiller Lough to the army as a young horse, but he also co-owned another Army Equitation School horse ‘Armagh’. This mare was broken and produced by Paul. They competed in the RDS 4-year-old class before going to the army. This mare then competed to 1.40m national Grand Prix level with Captain Michael Kelly. She is by Cavalier Royal (HOLST) and out of Skehanore (ID) by Clover Hill (RID). When the army had finished competing this mare she returned to Paul in Armagh. As this mare is co-owned, they rotate the breeding of this mare each year. This mare has had 10 foals so far some of which are produced by Paul and then sold. One of her progenies is Drumiller True Blue (ISH) by Plot Blue (KWPN) and is competing successfully in international young horse classes with Polish rider Aleksandra Dabkowska.


Paul says

“I am extremely excited about her 2019 colt by Emerald Van’t Ruytershof (BWP). He should be one to watch as he is a super type. So much so that I have even put him in my 2-year-old sons name in hope he will be lucky.”

Paul has mares of all ages but one of his eldest mares is Never (ISH). This is a 20-year-old mare who is still breeding. She is by Ballinvella (TB) and out of Aubane Clover (ID) by Clover Hill (RID). This is the dam of Ms Clinton aka Drumiller Houdini (ISH) which was placed ninth in the six-year-old World Breeding Championships in Lanaken in 2015 while ridden by Francis Connors. In 2016 this horse changed hands to Madeline Gervais where she has numerous placings on the international stage. At the end of 2019 Anthony Condon took the reins and Paul stated he is ‘looking forward to seeing what’s next with this horse.’

Paul finished by saying,

“The army equitation school are a great supporter of the of the Irish breeder. The army have been ambassadors of the Irish sport horse for generations, and they have showed our produce to the highest international level on the world stage. We as breeders aim to breed a horse that can mirror the success of Drumiller Lough, we will continue to try.”


Kilrue (ISH) is a 2013 gelding by Balou du Rouet (OLD) out of SVS Springball (ISH) by Beach Ball (ISH). This gelding was bred by Stacey Babes in Wrenwood Stables, Dublin where Stacey and her partner Dan Walsh run a busy breeding, production and competition yard.


Young Stock enjoying the April sunshine in Wrenwood Stables – picture Stacey Babes

Wrenwood stables is located just 5 minutes away from the busy Ashbourne to Ratoath road and is central to top thoroughbred and racing yards. Over the past 10 years while competing Stacey and Dan turned their attention to breeding to accommodate their passion for competing while trying to meet the ever-demanding market requirements.

Stacey adds “Breeding started as a hobby for us. We had a few well-bred mares, that through injury in competition we turned our sights to breeding them. One such mare is SVS Springball (ISH). She is by Beach Ball (ISH) and out of a Porsch (BWP) mare. We loved this mare so much. As we began to compete her as a four-year-old, she looked extremely promising. She had the sweetest temperament and a great attitude to work with while also showing incredible scope and ability. This mare was our pride and joy. We went to Balmoral with her as a four-year-old and she won the class by over 10 points. Which was a huge achievement because it was quiet stiff competition.

“The offers began to come in and we needed to decide. We knew this mare was worth keeping as she showed so much potential. We then decided to put her out to grass for a little break and to avoid the temptation of sale. She needed company in the field so we put a pony with her thinking this would help, however the pony kicked her in the stifle, and this unfortunately ended her competition career early. We were devastated but knew she still had her purpose. We put her in foal to Balou du Rouet (OLD) and her first offspring is Kilrue (ISH). He is now seven and we look forward to seeing him progress in the hands of Captain Geoff Curran. Her next foal was Wrenwood Toy Soldier (ISH) by VDL Harley. We sold him and he went to Italy where he is now competing successfully too. The following year we had a Kannan (KWPN) filly who is now four. At this point we decided she was breeding such good quality foals that we would invest time and money flushing her in the hope we could maximise her progeny while taking care of her. We now have four 3-year-old embryos out of her by Luidam (KWPN), Cazador LS (SBS) and twins by Diamant de Semilly (SF). In 2018 we had a filly foal by Malito de Reve (SF). We are aiming to keep a filly and a colt foal from our breeding lines in the hope to constantly continue to improve our breeding lines and competition horses. At the end of last year we decided to invest in our breeding plan and we turned to ICSI (Equine Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). We now have 3 frozen Cornet Obolensky (BWP) embryos and 2 frozen Darco (BWP) Embryos’.

Stacey Babes and SVS Springball (ISH) – photo Stacey Babes


Stacey has competed successfully on many well bread mares and now she has now turned her interest to taking embryos from these mares to continue to breed for the sport and to continue with top proven pedigree mares. ‘We bought Belle Epoque (KWPN) who is by Diamant de Semilly (SF) and out of a Royal Feu (SF) mare. Our intention in buying this mare was for me to compete. We soon realised that she was quite special, and we liked her and her pedigree so much that we went back and did a bit of investigating so find her dam. We then bought her. She is now 26 and we have 3 four-year-old full brothers on the ground. They are all stallions and we are excited to see them perform. We also have a two-year-old out of Belle Epoque. So, we are happy to have three generations of this line here with us.’

Stacey finished by explaining how their whole outlook has changed and progressed in Wrenwood Stables over the last ten years ‘it is becoming more and more difficult to buy top class performance horses and pedigrees that we feel it is now in our best interests to breed some of our own. Competition was always the main goal with our yard and horses but now, while I love the sport the mares just mean so much more, even the recipients. We are truly excited to see how our breeding plan progresses and unfolds.’

Captain Geoff Curran riding Kilrue (ISH) in RDS Simmons court 2019. Picture Laurence Dunne

Last year as a six-year-old one of Stacey and Dans first home breeds ‘Kilrue’ began his international career with Captain Geoff Curran in Carmona CSI1* finishing with 3rd and 4th placings in 1.30m competitions. Geoff elaborates about this particular horse ‘Kilrue is a big rangy and scopey horse. He displays so much athleticism and has a really big, powerful canter to go with it. He has excellent conformation and so far, he has demonstrated that he will stand the test of time and will have a long successful career. Over the winter months I have been taking my time and working on his rideability. We are very excited to see what his future holds for this horse’

Next week we catch up with more of the Irish Sport Horse breeders that have helped built the success of the army equitation school horse in part 2 of our breeders’ feature.