About Connemara Pony Horses
The Connemara Pony is Ireland’s native pony originally from Irelands
west coast Galway; its popularity is extensive worldwide. An historic breed that
is considered to be “sure footed and hardy” the Connemara has exceptional characteristics
which include calm temperament, staying power, intelligence, soundness and athleticism.
These characteristics mean the pony is considered a wonderful modern riding mount for child and adult alike. Crossed
with the Thoroughbred the Connemara produces an exceptional and versatile sports
The exact origins
of the Connemara Pony are difficult to decipher and are immersed in myth and fable. The general consensus is that the history of the
breed commences with the arrival of the Celts in Ireland. The Celts traveled across Northern Europe, through
England, Scotland and Wales, arriving eventually on the West Coast of Ireland over
2,500 years ago. Battle was a fundamental
component of Celtic custom and in this they relied heavily on their hardy ponies,
using them in pairs to draw battle chariots.
When the Celts arrived in Ireland they brought with them herds of these dun
ponies, taking up residence in the district known today as Connemara. It was here that their ponies crossed, in due
course, with the indigenous breed and found a sanctuary of their continuance and
development, which remained uninterrupted for sixteen centuries.
years herds of ponies roamed the hills of West Connaught. The harsh conditions gave
rise to an active, sure-footed and clever breed. In such an environment weaklings fail and only
the toughest survive to reproduce. Evolving
in such a climate bestowed on the breed attributes of extreme hardiness, strength
and endurance. Accounts exist of Spanish blood being introduced into the breed,
though the particulars of how and when this transpired are uncertain.
A popular legend
recounts that when the ships of the Spanish Armada were wrecked off the West Coast
of Ireland in 1588, Andalusian stallions scrambled ashore and mixed with herds of
Connemara Ponies running wild in the hills. It is believed that Spanish Barb and
Andalusian horses were also imported at this time and several of these horses were
said to have found their way to Connemara and crossed with the native pony breed.
in the 18th and 19th century, Connemara Ponies increasingly began to resemble the
Arab breed. It is understood that several
estate owners in Connemara imported Arab horses, which in due course crossed with
the native ponies. In the 1820’s and 1830’s Connemara was a densely populated region
with farmers endeavoring to eke out an existence on small pieces of land. Farming
the land of the West Coast of Ireland was a difficult undertaking and was almost
impossible without the assistance of a good work pony. The work of the ponies varied throughout the year. They were often seen scouring the hillside laden
with seaweed, seed corn, potatoes, turf, oats or barley. They conveyed produce to the market and returning
from the market each pony generally carried at least two men.
Mares were required
to produce a foal annually, which would be sold at six to eight months, providing
much needed income for a household, sustaining them through the bleak winter months. In the summer and autumn the ponies were often
seen trudging along, all but buried in a huge pile of hay or oats, each with a puzzled
foal bringing up the rear. It was apparent
that the ponies of the West of Ireland were obliged to do the work of pack horses
and to be strong, agile and tireless. When
a pony was incapable of carrying out the chores demanded of it, it was replaced
by one that could. Given the nature of the work the Connemara Pony was expected
to perform and the ‘wild’ conditions in which they developed, the breed evolved
to be both strong and resilient in constitution.
In the middle
of the 19th century both the number of ponies and the quality of the breed were
greatly diminished. Many ponies had been
exported to England for use in coal pits; however the main reason for the decline
in the breed was the condition to which the country was reduced in the time of the
great famine. The onset of the famine in Ireland in 1845 had a massive effect on
the pony population, changing the state of the breed drastically within a few short
years. Farmers were impoverished by the failure
of the potato crop and were forced to sell their mares. Oppression, starvation and disease gripped the
country. Many of the small farmers that owned
ponies were evicted from their farms, fled the country, or died. Famine and emigration devastated the population
of Connemara. It was said that in the 1860’s
there was ‘scarcely an ass in Connemara’.
When times improved,
towards the end of the century, farmers did not have the means to buy new ponies
and replaced them with asses. Over the years
a number of people endeavored to make the plight of the Connemara Pony known to
both the breeders and the general public.
Amidst growing concern for the deterioration of the breed a meeting was held
in Oughterard, Co. Galway in December 1923, which ultimately lead to the formation
of the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society.
The newly formed breed society made quick progress, securing funding and
setting up inspections. By 1939 the foundation stock had been secured, breeders
had become more mindful about the animals from which they bred and the quality of
Connemara Ponies being produced had improved markedly. Concern began to grow that
the Connemara Pony’s gene pool was becoming too narrow and that fresh blood should
be introduced. Between 1940 and 1960 a limited
number of half-breeds sired by Thoroughbred, Irish Draught and Arab stallions were
registered as Connemara Ponies. In 1964 the
Connemara Pony Stud Book was closed and subsequently only ponies with both a sire
and a dam registered as Connemara Ponies can enter the Studbook. Towards the middle
of the 20th century farming became increasingly mechanized and the role that the
Connemara Pony had secured for centuries as a working pony began to disappear. Fortunately the demise of the Connemara Pony as
a working animal did not pre-empt a massive reduction in population size.
An export market
developed for the breed in the 1940’s with buyers from England and the United States
becoming increasingly interested in the native breed. In the 1980’s the number of people taking up riding
as a leisure sport increased, and a new market opened up for the Connemara Pony. Within a few decades the role of the Connemara
Pony quickly changed from that of the working animal on a small farm to that of
the versatile sporting pony. The breed is
infamous for its great stamina and versatility, Connemara’s are capable of carrying
an adult in the hunt field, yet gentle enough for a young child, fearless as a show jumper,
yet suitable and steady as a driving pony.
These attributes make the Connemara Pony an ideal riding, hunting and performance
animal and have enabled the breed to establish a secure position in the riding industry.
Today there are approximately 2,000 foals born per year in Ireland and the breed
is now recognized throughout the world as a top class performance pony. At present there are 17 different countries which
have established their own Connemara Pony Breeders’ Societies.
Horse Gateway (www.irishhorsegateway.ie)