Connemara Horse Breed Guide
The Connemara pony takes its name from a rugged and remote part of Ireland situated on the west coast. The origins of the Connemara are not clear. Some believe that the pony derives from wild native stock crossed with Andalusians that swam ashore from shipwrecked vessels from the Armada. Other sources suggest that the pony is much older than that and dates back to the time of the Vikings and that with the Highland, the Shetland, the Iceland and the Norwegian ponies, it forms a Celtic pony with the inclusion of oriental breeds at various points in its history. Connemara as a location has certainly dictated the characteristics and traits of this pony. Connemara is very beautiful but it is also wild and remote with harsh terrain. Thus the Connemara pony is naturally tough and hardy.
The forerunner of the breed as we know it today was the Irish Hobby which was a small, hardy and agile pony quite prevalent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the nineteenth century, Arabs were imported and later on Welsh Cobs, Thoroughbreds and Hackneys were used to influence the breed. In 1900, a Commission on horse breeding in Ireland was set up and a Professor J. Cosser Ewart made a report on the Connemara pony after an indepth study of the breed. In his report he wrote “they are capable of living where all but wild ponies would starve.....they are strong and hardy as mules, fertile and free from hereditary disease, their extinction would be a national loss.” In 1923 the Connemara Pony Breeders Society was formed, for their preservation and improvement. It was at this point that the practise of crossing the Connemara with other breeds ceased. The English Connemara Society was founded in 1947.
The Connemara pony had many uses around the farm. The pony could be driven or used as a packhorse to carry seaweed or potatoes or corn, it was also an ideal hunting pony, well able to carry adult weight. Today, the Connemara is a first rate competition pony. There are numerous classes for in hand, ridden and working hunter Connemara ponies affiliated to different native pony societies such as the National Pony Society “NPS”. Competitions feature at all levels from local shows through to county level with prestigious championships at venues like Olympia in London. At most shows, native pony classes are roughly divided into large and small so the Connemara is usually in a group with the larger Welsh sections and the Highlands for instance. Each breed is judged against its own type and as an example of the breed rather than being judged directly against one another.
As a child’s pony and Pony Club pony, the Connemara has an enduring appeal and performs in all disciplines, dressage, show jumping, eventing and is a first rate hunter. As a first cross with the Thoroughbred, the Connemara/TB makes an excellent small horse with all the speed and athletic ability of the Thoroughbred combined with the toughness and agility of the Connemara. This cross is a very popular choice as a teenager’s first horse or as a mother/child ride. Most Connemara ponies are grey and around half the ponies registered are grey. They can also be dun in colour and occasionally a bay or brown coat can be found. The breed society does not accept piebald or skewbald.
There have been several famous Connemara ponies. Perhaps one of the best known is Stroller who was ridden by Marion Mould. Stroller was actually a Connemara cross Thoroughbred, although he was small, measuring in at 14.1hh. Stroller won 61 international competitions in his life including a silver medal in the show jumping at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. And in 1935, a 22 year old Connemara gelding named the Nugget famously cleared a fence measuring 7’2” (2.18 metres) at the International Horse Show at Olympia in London.
The largest display of Connemara ponies in the world takes place at the Clifden Show in County Galway on the third Thursday of every August. The show has been organised by the Connemara Breed Society since 1924 and hundreds of ponies attend, it really is a unique event. Breeders, owners and producers from all over the world gather together to indulge themselves in all things Connemara, competition classes and also buying and selling all mixed together with that unique hospitality and enthusiasm for the horse for which the Irish are so famous.