Painting the Emerald Isle

While colorful horses aren’t new to Irish equine enthusiasts, Stephen Cox’s homebred overo Paint Horses are turning the tide and bringing riders over to the Western way of riding.

Article and photography by Kate Bradley Byars


The rain landed so lightly and quietly, whispering downward from the gray, overcast sky, that one might not recognize it was falling, at least until not until you feel the drops caress your cheeks upon stepping outdoors. The soaking rain, in stereotypical Irish fashion, lasted all day, but the moisture only enhanced the white splashed across the overo Paints trotting over the vibrant green pastures in County Kildare. A herd of Paint Horses, wet or dry, always catches one’s eye, and horseman Stephen Cox is banking on that fact.

Bull Horn Ranch, near Carbury in County Kildare, is home to a herd of loudly colored Irish-bred Paint Horses. The cowboy way of life is thriving on the Emerald Isle, though horse lovers and tourists might have to dig a little deeper to find it.

“If you put an overo Paint in a field of 20 horses, it will stand out,” Stephen said. “When you drive down the road, a pasture full of overo Paints will stop you. This country is crying out for good, loud Paints, and I am breeding them.”

With studied bloodlines, intense self-instruction on the ins and outs of Western events, and a laser-like focus on his goal, Stephen is building a Paint Horse following in Ireland and across Europe. It’s the start of a wave—the quake that begins a tsunami, he hopes—that will paint the Emerald Isle and its love of sport horses in black, white, red, tobiano and overo.

Traditionally Taboo?

Counted among the most recognizable horse breeds in Ireland are the Connemara pony, the Irish Cob and the Kerry Bog. Horse-racing enthusiasts, however, know Ireland breeds quality Thoroughbreds for both racing and jumping, and the Irish Sport Horse—a cross between an Irish Draught and a Thoroughbred—is well known for being a hardy and athletic competition horse. But soon, the Irish Paint Horse might join the ranks of these venerable breeds.

Stephen has been breeding Paint Horses in Ireland for more than 15 years. His vibrant overos attract riders, buyers and general horse lovers due to their stocky build and unique markings. The horses he’s bred are spread throughout the island, have been shipped to Poland and France, and are making a splash of color among the sorrels, chestnuts and bays. However, it was not long ago that Paint-like markings raised Irish eyebrows for a different reason.

“Colored horses were a taboo in Ireland about 30 or 40 years ago; [they were considered] Gypsy horses, traveler horses,” Stephen said. “People wouldn’t touch them. They called any colored piebald or skewbald. They were not regarded highly.”

Yet when Stephen was 7 years old, he spied a true Paint Horse—one without feathers draping over its hooves or the cob’s customary large head—and set out to learn more about these horses. As the years progressed, painted Irish Sport Horses competing at high levels have also helped pave the way for the horse-loving Irish public to appreciate horses of a different color, and Stephen’s found they have a special affinity for overo Paints.

“In the Irish Sport Horse, people saw a horse with color that could hunt and jump. Tobianos were brought in, and they began seeing tobiano horses. It became a fashion to have a colored horse,” Stephen said. “Years back, I was at a sale and you couldn’t give a colored horse away. Then, after some [Irish Sport Horses] did well, an 8-month-old foal went for 12,000 Euros and he was out of a colored horse. It was unheard of. It just took off!”

With the horse public turning tide toward appreciating a painted horse, Stephen dove into his dream of owning a facility that could breed and train Paints in Western disciplines while also cater to tourism and riding lessons.



This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2018 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.


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