Irish Horse Breeds: Common Connemara Facts, History & Characteristics 2022

The term Connemara is applied to the breed of pony which is found in that part of Connaught in Ireland lying to the west of Loughs Corrib and Mask, bounded on the west by the Atlantic and on the south by Galway Bay. This area, which is larger than the actual district of Connemara, has been the home for centuries of an indigenous primitive pony type, which until comparatively recent years was left to fend for itself in an almost feral state in wild and hard conditions.

In 1900 a commission on Horse Breeding in Ireland was set up, and Professor J. Cossor Ewart, M.D., F.R.S., made a report after a very thorough survey of the conditions and possibilities of the Connemara pony. In 1928 the present Connemara Pony Breeder’s Society was formed for the preservation and improvement of the Connemara pony.

At its first meeting, the Society decided on the policy of maintaining the breed intact by careful breeding from selected Connemara mares and stallions, so as to form a solid foundation stock. The original practice of crossing Connemara mares with stallions of other breeds was discontinued.

This policy has been adhered to, and its results are to be found in the increasing uniformity with recognized standards, the better quality generally of mares – owing to the greater attention paid to this by breeders – and a decrease in the number of unlicensed stallions at large on mountain commonages. Consequently, there is less uncontrolled breeding, while the stamina of the breed, for which it has always been renowned, has not been affected.

Like all these representatives of the various primitive pony breeds of Europe, The origin of the Connemara is lost in the mists of history. It has been said that they owe their origin to horses saved from the wreck of the Spanish Armada in 1588, but it is more probable that the stock was present before that date.

It has been suggested that with the Highland, the Shetland, Iceland, and the Norwegian ponies, it forms a Celtic pony type, with the addition of oriental strains at various times. The breed together with its primitive characteristics certainly show signs of the admixture of Spanish and Arab blood, and might well have received the former in the times when the merchants of Galway traded regularly with Spain. However that may be, there seems no doubt that the Connemara pony is among the oldest inhabitants of the British Isles, and is a link with a very remote past.

The points and characteristics of the Connemara pony as defined in the Studbook are as follows: hardiness of constitution, staying power, docility, intelligence, and soundness. Height, 13 to 14 hands. Colour, grey, black, brown, and dun, with occasional roans and chestnuts. Body compact, deep, standing on short legs and covering a lot of ground. Riding shoulders (i.e. well sloped and not thick and heavy). Well-balanced head and neck, and a free, easy action and true movement. Bone, clean, hard and flat, measuring 7 to 8 inches below the knee.

The predominant color is grey, comprising more than half the total number of ponies registered. Blacks are a little more numerous than browns and bays. Dun, the typical and original color of the Connemara, is now very scarce.

As has been shown, the breed of Connemara pony is without question an ancient one, and there can be little doubt that the pony as found in Connemara itself is a tough, wiry, and altogether typical native pony. Like all such, it thrives on poor keep and, as with other native breeds, seems to do better and retain its type better this way than if stable-fed. It is to be hoped that the true Connemara type will be jealously guarded and retained.

The English Connemara Pony Society now recognizes a height limit of 14.2 hands. This recognition curbs the natural tendency of breeders to increase the size, which generally means loss of character. It is indeed essential to retain the true characteristics that are exemplified in the Irish-bred pony.

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