About Connemara Pony Horses
Connemara Ponies are Ireland’s native pony originally from Galway.
Their popularity is extensive worldwide. They are a historic breed that is considered
to be “sure footed and hardy”. Connemara ponies have a calm temperament, staying
power, intelligence, soundness, and athleticism. They are considered to be a wonderful
modern riding mount for children and adults alike.
The exact origins of Connemara Ponies are difficult to decipher
and are immersed in myth and fable.The general
consensus is that the history of the breed started 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.
Throughout the 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.
More recently, in the 18th and 19th century, Connemara Ponies
increasingly began to resemble Arab horses. 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.
When times improved, towards the end of the century, farmers
did not have the means to buy new ponies and replaced them. 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-breds 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 preempt a massive reduction in
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.
Connemara Ponies are infamous for their great stamina and versatility.
They are capable of carrying an adult in the hunt field, yet gentle enough for a
young child, fearless as a showjumper, yet suitable and steady as a driving pony.
These attributes make the Connemara Pony an ideal riding, hunting and performance
animal and have enabled them to establish a secure position in the riding industry.
Today there are approximately 2,000 foals born per year in Ireland and they are
now recognized throughout the world as a top class performance pony.
Source: Irish Horse Gateway (www.irishhorsegateway.ie)
Connemara Pony Horses Associations