A YOUNG horse breeder from Belstone has triumphed at a recent breeding competition and now holds the title of Young Breeder of the Year.

Sophie Williams (25) beat young breeders from across England and Ireland in the competition organised by Showing Live, a news page dedicated to horse showing, gaining the top spot to her surprise and delight.

She said: “I’m shocked. It’s such a strong competition and I admire all the breeders as it’s so hard to breed perfect animals with no health issues.

“I was nominated for it. It was a shock and then I got a message through Facebook saying ‘please can you send us a write up [about your breeding]’. Two weeks later I got a message saying ‘please check the results’ so I did. I was on the phone to my friend and I screamed down the phone.”

A horse enthusiast who has spent most of her life around the animals, Sophie’s breeding career kicked off in 2016 when she and her family bought their first Irish Draught horse, The Diadem of Mourne, commonly known as Lady, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

“She’s the one who set me on the map,” said Sophie.

Having raised her from a foal, Sophie added that Lady proved herself to be a fantastic success in the show ring, winning countless county draught and hunter classes and even earning eighth place in the Royal International Horse Show in the amateur medium weight hunter class.

Since 2016, Sophie has bred several Irish Draught horses including the daughter of the first foal she ever bred herself - a filly (young female horse) called Ruby.

The key to breeding a healthy horse, Sophie said, is to take into account the temperament, body, appearance and movement of potential mares and sires and choose characteristics that complement one another well.

“It depends what breed you would like to go for. The first foal from a mare is always the best, I find, if you have picked the right stallion,” added Sophie.

“I have always looked at the temperament in sires and mares (you don’t want a difficult horse) and then looked at the body, movement and appearance. Everyone wants a nice-looking horse.”

In 2020, Sophie acquired her first ever colt (young male horse), who arrived at the family farm as a six-month-old foal.

To Sophie’s delight, he is following in the footsteps of his sister Lady, having won every outing across the country so far and was even the reserve supreme Irish Draught at the breed show.

She plans on taking him to a public stud next year with the possibility of finding him a mare with which to mate.

The Irish Draught horse was the traditional farm horse in Ireland. It was bred not only for farm work such as pulling carts and tilling fields but also as a hunting horse and saddle horse.

In order to achieve this, the horse was bred to be docile, strong and economical to keep. As a result, people have described the breed as lighter than the traditional heavy draught horses.

Today, the breed is mostly sought after for its breeding qualities.