The Connemara Pony is Ireland’s only native breed of horse. And it is becoming known as the most intriguing breed of horse in the world.
The horse is named after Connemara, the area between the Atlantic Ocean and Galway Bay. The region is known for its rocky landscape, bogland, and wind-blown mountain ranges. The area is constantly attacked by rain and gales. And it is because the Connemara pony has lived in this environment for so many centuries it has become a horse of excellent hardiness. Even on boggy or rough ground, the Connemara pony is surefooted because of its hardy hooves and it general toughness from the terrain it lives in.
Throughout Irish history, this toughness made the Connemara Pony an excellent workhorse. After the need for workhorses faded out, it then successfully made the transition to family pony which both adults and kids could ride happily.
The horse’s journey here wasn’t an easy one, despite how valued it is today. The Connemara Pony as it is known today is a product of breeding over the centuries. In the early days, around the 5th Century BC, the horse looked more like a Shetland Pony, it was much smaller and stockier. But as the Celtic groups clashed and land-grabbed, the horses that they each brought with them interbred.
It is thought that the Connemara Pony was brought to Connemara by the Ancient Celts, who were skilled horsemen. Historians can surmise this because most of the mythological tales had the stars of the story mounted on horses.
The original Connemara pony was bred with the Spanish Jennet horse as invaders from Spain arrived. Legend says that galleons from the Spanish Armada ran aground in 1588, and the Andalusian horses on board were set loose. The Spanish horses bred with the native stock, refining the local ponies. Some believe that the Connemara Pony developed from Scandinavian ponies that the Vikings first brought to Ireland. The Irish Hobby Horse, now extinct, is an ancestor to the modern-day Connemara Pony. But there are other bloodlines coursing through the Connemara Pony: Welsh Cob, Arabian, Thoroughbred and Irish Draught horse.
As life became more agricultural in Ireland, the horses were needed for use on the farm. Farmers of the area required a lot from their farm horse. Life was tough and most farmers could only afford one horse. So they made sure it was a mare, so they could sell any foals on to another family to make it through the winter. Usually this one mare was caught off the mountains and tamed.
The job of stallion was a good one. They were led through the roads that linked the villages, crossing miles of land every day. But for them, the rewards were mighty: they were asked to inseminate multiple mares in one day.
The mare however had it tougher. She was fitted with baskets each side, called creels. And because they are a hardy breed anyway, they became used to carrying heavy loads, often of stones as land needed to be cleared and dry stone walls needed to be built. Seaweed was also collected from the coastlines and put in the creels. It was an excellent farm fertiliser, and the mares would carry the wet seaweed back to the farm. They also carried turf from the bogs. And then on Sunday, when every human was having a rest, the work horse was pulling the family to church with a buggy strapped on her. She was on duty 24/7.
It was the mares with the best dispositions that were kept for breeding. This way, the breed became known for their special kindness. Many breeders insist that the horses have a huge heart and have an ability to bond with owners that is unique to the Connemara Pony.
Around 100 years ago, too much crossbreeding began to dilute the pony bloodlines. So the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society, founded in 1923, worked to preserve the breed type. The stud book was established in 1926.
Today, Connemara Ponies are bred in Ireland and Britain, as well as on the European continent, North America, Australasia and South Africa. The Connemara Pony is thought of as a sport pony. Its hardiness has also made it a great jumper. Many breeders mate them with thoroughbreds. This gives rise to a horse that has speed but that can also jump.
Connemara Pony shows are held worldwide, however the most famous of all being the Annual Clifden Connemara Pony Show which takes place every August at the Showgrounds, Clifden, Co. Galway.
Perhaps it is time for you to check out the show. Click here for more details…