- HEIGHT: 13–14.2 hands
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: Western Ireland
- SPECIAL QUALITIES: Hardiness, stamina, great jumping talent
- BEST SUITED FOR: Jumping, hunting, dressage, eventing, driving, and even light draft work; are also well suited for trail riding and make ideal children’s mounts
There have been free-ranging ponies on the rugged western coast of Ireland since ancient times. When the Celts, who were fine horsemen, came through the area in the fourth century BCE, they almost certainly brought horses with them. The early wild Connemaras were typically dun colored, much like other ancient types of horses and similar to the horses the Celts used.
Many centuries after the Celts, wealthy merchants of Galway City imported Andalusians and Spanish Barbs, then considered the best horses that money could buy. Some of these Spanish horses probably found their way to Connemara and were crossed with the native ponies. One legend claims that horses came to shore when the Spanish Armada sank in the late 1500s. Other breeds that might have crossed with the ponies include imports from Spain, Morocco, and Arabia. As late as the 1850s, Arabian horses were being imported into the district of Connemara.
Under British rule, the Congested Districts Board was established in 1891 to try to encourage the very poor people of the area to find ways to improve their lives. As part of these efforts, Welsh and other breeds of stallions were crossed on the local mares. Some of these lines produced good results, but many were unsatisfactory.
This foal may keep its baby coloring or it may turn gray as it grows older.
The harsh climate and rocky terrain of the Irish coast shaped the Connemara into a hardy and agile breed.
The Department of Agriculture commissioned a study in 1900 to explore development of the local Connemaras into a top-quality breed. To perpetuate the best qualities of the ponies, the study concluded, breeders needed to develop excellent broodmares as well as to keep top stallions at local stud farms. The objectives were to increase bone and to improve the makeup of the breed without destroying its temperament, hardiness, stamina, and vigor.
Interest was sparked, eventually leading to the formation of the Connemara Pony Breeders Society in 1923. This group felt that although there had been a good bit of outside breed influence, especially since the British had brought in Welsh stallions, there was enough of the old Connemara still to be found, and that the best results would come from crosses among carefully selected native stock. The first Connemara studbook was published in 1926, at which time the ponies became a recognized breed. Breed society goals were to gather the best of the native mares and to improve the breed by selecting only the very best stallions from the area. Members also felt it was essential to persuade local farmers to breed their mares only to these stallions.
The western coast of Ireland is either rock-strewn and mountainous or boggy. Waves hit the shore with spectacular force and storms are common, but because of the Gulf Stream, which brings warm air, the average temperature is about 42 degrees F. This unique environment has shaped the animals that live there. To survive the ferocious storms, Connemaras developed a peculiarly waterproof coat, which allows them to withstand weeks of unending rain. Their winter coat is not long, but it is extremely dense, and rain simply does not penetrate.
The Connemara’s dense coat keeps the ponies warm even in heavy rain.
Connemaras are hardy, agile, and intelligent, all traits necessary to survive on Ireland’s western coast. To find scarce food in arduous terrain, they had to make huge leaps from rock to rock without slipping, because a fall meant almost certain death. They are also noted for being sensible and cool-headed, a trait historians note is common in primitive-type breeds that have survived on their own. They move with little knee action but with surprisingly long strides, considering their height.
Excellent mounts for children, Connemaras are used for dressage, eventing, and hunting; as driving animals; and even as light draft ponies. Connemaras are also well suited for trail riding and would certainly excel in North America’s Western sports, but they are best known for their outstanding jumping ability. One of many famous Connemara jumpers, The Nugget, cleared a 7’2” wall and subsequently won more than three hundred international jumping prizes—at the age of twenty-two.
The typical Connemara is 13 to 14.2 hands, although some may be up to 15 hands. It has a well-shaped head with a straight profile, small ears, large eyes, and flared nostrils. The neck is long and well formed, with a full mane. The withers are pronounced. The back is long and straight, the croup muscular and slightly sloped. The chest is wide and deep, with long, sloping shoulders.
The legs are short and sturdy, with clean joints, short cannons, clearly defined tendons, and well-formed hooves.
The most common colors are gray and dun, but there are blacks, bays, browns, palominos, chestnuts, and an occasional roan or dark-eyed cream. The registry does not accept pintos. Many foals are dun when born but turn gray within seven years.
BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES
According to the American Connemara Pony Society (ACPS) (founded in 1955):
- About 4,000 ponies are currently registered in North America.
- One hundred purebred and 100 half-bred foals are registered each year.
- Horses registered with the American Connemara Pony Society are not automatically registered with the Connemara Society in Ireland, or in its studbook.