The Connemara Pony is an amazing and well loved little equine specimen. This breed can be found all over the world, winning hearts with its ability to do almost anything with a kind and loving disposition. They not only please the eye but have a nice, balanced conformation. They have an amazing ability to jump as well. Their inherent hardiness allows them thrive in many different climates and terrains. They are willing partners for almost any use imaginable and can compete up to the standard of many of today’s best sport horse breeds.
The Connemara pony is the only breed native to Ireland. It developed in the western part of Ireland known as Connaught. The terrain is harsh, rocky, and mountainous with very little vegetation. There are many moors and bogs, and hazards that the ponies had to be wary of and learn to navigate.
While the actual history of the breed is not fully known, it is thought that the ancient Celts brought the ponies to the area. These tribes were great horsemen and used the ponies for many years. The story goes that in the 16th century, when the Spanish Armada sank off the coast of Connemara, the horses swam ashore and bred with the native ponies, thus infusing them with Spanish blood. This new cross adapted to the environment and learned to survive the harsh conditions. Though harsh, there is an abundance of phosphate in the low growing plants of this region. This foliage contributed significantly to the bone and muscle strength found in these ponies.
As time went on, people began to farm the Connemara area. These area farmers were extremely poor and could only afford to keep one pony or horse. This animal had to be exceptionally versatile. Usually the farmers would go capture a mare from the wild bands that roamed near them. Stallions would then travel from village to village covering many mares, making it possible for the farmers to breed more ponies at no expense to them.
The pony had to meet many needs such as pulling a plow or a cart and yet be suitable for riding. These ponies had to carry extremely heavy loads like rocks and pounds of seaweed while navigating the moors and bogs of the area. They proved to have good speed and would compete in match races, holding their own against the much larger Irish Hunters and Thoroughbreds. The ponies never had a day off, as they were even used on Sundays to take the family to Mass.
These horses had to be extremely hardy and dependable with a fantastic and willing disposition, so continued attention to breeding made sure that these traits were carried on. This practice has kept the great qualities of the Connemara passing from generation to generation to the present day.
The Connemara Breeders Society formed in 1923 with a mission to preserve and promote breed standards. The first stud entered in the studbook in 1926 was “Cannon Ball.”
Connemara ponies range in height form 13 hands to 14.2 hands. They are usually grey or buckskin, though they can be bay or brown as well. They used to be exclusively buckskin but years of breeding have introduced these alternate color options. Pinto coloring is not acceptable in the breed standard.
They are a very attractive pony with a nice refined head on a muscular and arched neck. They have well formed, muscular shoulders, a broad and deep chest and powerful hindquarters. Their body is rectangular and compact. This composition allows for a stride that can cover great amounts of ground. They have good bones, short cannons and excellent feet. Their movement is fluid and graceful, and combined with a willingness of temperament, makes them a pleasure to watch as well as ride.
The Connemara is an extremely economical keeper who does not require an extensive and rich diet. They have the ability to bond with people; a characteristic that is unique to their breed. They are popular as children’s ponies but they are also extremely popular with adults. In fact, middle-aged women are one of the main Connemara aficionados. They excel in equine sports such as Western pleasure, endurance, dressage and driving. They can be found at the highest levels of these sports due to their athleticism and excellent temperament.
There are individuals who are dedicated to the breed and still produce Connemara ponies on a small scale. However, there are no large commercial breeding farms to be found. This ensures top quality ponies will be available for many generations to come.