The only native pony breed of Ireland is both ancient and legendary. No one knows for certain how it came to the northwestern coast of the Emerald Isle. Most likely Celtic tribesmen brought it sometime in the fourth century B.C. On the other hand, the Connemara might have traveled with the Vikings around 795 A.D.
However this breed ended up in Ireland, there is no question that harsh surroundings shaped the Connemara into a hardy animal. Cold weather and treacherous bogs ensured that only the toughest ponies would survive, and the survivors were often captured by humans and put to work. In short order, the sturdy pony that could till a field, pull a cart, carry a rider, and pack a heavy load became an important means of survival on the coast.
Outside influence was introduced beginning in the 1500s. Sometime in that century, the native Connemara ponies were refined with the blood of Spanish horses, either introduced by merchants or by the wreck of the Armada in 1568. Further crossbreeding came in the 1700s, when Arabians and Thoroughbreds were mingled with the Irish horses.
But the most extensive crossbreeding program began in 1891 as an effort to improve the condition of the impoverished people of the area by providing them with better horses. Some of the breeds involved in this process were:
- The Arabian.
- The Thoroughbred.
- The Clydesdale.
- The Welsh Pony.
- Some nondescript harness-type horses.
The results of this experiment were mixed at best. Some of the combinations produced useful horses, but overall the resulting ponies were no longer suited for the harsh climate and way of life of the Irish coast. Dedicated Connemara breeders responded over the next few decades by searching for and gathering pure native ponies of good quality. A dozen were turned out into the wild in the 1920s to reproduce. The result was a tough pony once again impervious to the hardships of a cold, wet climate.
Once the future of the Connemara breed became more secure, it was exported across the world and quickly achieved a measure of popularity due to its many good qualities. Although still one of the less numerous breeds in North America, it is nevertheless well established.
The Connemara is probably one of the most versatile of the pony breeds. For this reason, it is often recommended as a horse for a family with a variety of interests. It makes a great children’s mount, but it can also accommodate a lightweight adult. It can bring pleasure to its rider on a trail ride, earn its keep with basic stock work, or provide the thrill of competition in a variety of disciplines, either as a purebred or in a crossbreeding program.
But the versatile Connemara can pull a load as well as carry one. It can be harnessed for recreation or competition, and it can even perform some of the lighter farm chores.
The Connemara is known for its particularly pleasant personality. It is sweet and friendly, bonding very strongly with its owners. This relationship can make it trusting and responsive, two qualities very important for competitions requiring a horse that can keep its head under all circumstances. Other remarkable characteristics of the breed are its excellent memory and its patience with children.
Like many ponies, particularly those with feral backgrounds, the Connemara is sound and healthy overall. Many of its health problems, such as laminitis, stem from overfeeding.
Gray ponies are prone to melanomas.
Unfortunately, a new genetic defect has surfaced, in which the hoof wall starts chipping and cracking. This condition can be very painful. Hoof wall separation disease currently appears to be unique to the Connemara.
- Relatively low cost.
- Safe personality.
- Resistance to cold, wet weather.
- Low feed requirements.
- Strong foraging instinct.
- Remarkable jumping ability.
- Late maturity.