The Connemara Pony

(Based on Maureen Loughman Abel's article in the October 1995 issue of The Western Horse.)

The area of Western Ireland known as Connemara lends its name to its indigenous pony breed. This area is known for endless desolate moors and bogs, rocky, barren, mountainous terrain; pounded by the tide and storms of the Atlantic. Over the centuries in the ruggedness of their western Irish environment, the Connemara developed its prized qualities of hardiness, agility and extraordinary jumping ability.

The Connemara Pony's origins go back approximately 2,500 years to the time when Celtic warriors brought their dun colored ponies onto the island of Ireland and used them to draw war chariots and carts along the beaches and river plains of their new found home. The history is obscure, yet the Connemara Pony is considered Ireland's only native breed. Mythology tells us that the tribes of western Ireland were mounted. Legend has it that when the Spanish Armada sank off the Connemara coast in the 16th Century, the horses swam to shore and bred with the native ponies running wild in the mountains. They learned to live on the tough vegetation and survive the hardships of their habitat, as a misplaced step could send a pony crashing to its death.

It was a desperate and arduous life for the farmers of the area. With large families to support, they could only afford one good pony - often captured off the mountain and tamed. This had to be a mare who could give him a foal each year, to sell for their subsistence through the long, dark winter. She would pull a plow, a cart, work from dawn to dusk at whatever task was needed under extremely harsh conditions.

Fitted with baskets called creels, they carried a heavy load. They moved tons of rocks, to claim the land. Seaweed used to fertilize the barren fields was dragged from the shore by the ponies. They carried turf cut from the bogs, used for cooking and heat. Strong, sturdy legs could maneuver through the muck, which might swallow a different type of horse. Never a day of rest, she also carted the family to Mass on Sunday. She had to have the hardiness, stamina and disposition needed, or she was replaced with a mare who could. In this manner, the good mares were kept in Connemara reproducing these qualities in their foals.

Stallions would travel the primitive roads between villages, covering many mares and many miles in one day. Local racing was popular and the Connemaras competed equally with the larger Irish Hunters and Thoroughbreds.

The local breeders for the purpose of conserving and developing the breed formed the Connemara Pony Breeders Society in 1923 in Clifden. Centuries of natural selection, some interference needed for human survival, followed by the past 72 years of selective breeding has given us the quality Connemara we have today.

Like the Irish people, the Connemara has been exported to all over the world. The popularity of the breed has extended worldwide and Connemara Pony Societies have been established in 17 countries - England, America, Australia, New Zealand, France, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Switzerland, Holland, Austria and Canada. Adapting to extremes of climate, they have made useful working partners with those who own them, and have competed with the best of the sport horse breeds.

Breed Characteristics

The Connemara "Stands on short legs, covering a lot of ground". The cannon bone is short, dense, flat and clean, measuring 7 to 9 inches below the knee. The body is deep and compact, well-balanced with depth, substance and good heart room. The Connemara has a good sloping shoulder, length of rein, and moves freely with little knee action in surprisingly large strides for its height. On this strong, sturdy body sets a handsome pony head, with a well-defined jaw and good width between large kindly eyes. Easy keepers, they do not require a rich diet to stay healthy and fit.

The most common colors are grey and dun, but there are blacks, bays, browns, chestnuts, palominos, and an occasional roan. Black points are common, but paints are not acceptable.

The Connemara is the largest of the pony breeds, ranging in height from 13 to 15 hands, with 14 to 14.2 hands as the average. Full maturity is at five years of age, sometimes older, and they can live well into their 30's.

The Connemara has a natural jumping ability, and its rectangular build lends it suitable for dressage. They often beat horses 16 hands and over with staying power, intelligence and heart. As a show jumper, working hunter, eventing, western pleasure, endurance, driving - Connemaras can do it all, and can be your best friend!

Connemaras are the product of their original environment, the rugged mountain coast of West Ireland. Sure-footed, hardy and agile, they possess powers of great stamina, staying power and adaptability. They are renowned for their versatility and their gentle, tractable, sensible and willing dispositions.

Information supplied by the American Connemara Pony Society and the Connemara Pony Breeders Society

American Connemara Pony Society

USEA, US Eventing Association - US Eventing is nation wide association committed to the development of the sport of Eventing by providing its members with competitions that are enjoyable, educational, fair and affordable.