Use and characteristics of the Connemara
Connemara ponies are 13hh to 14.2hh (52in/133cm to 56.8in/144cm) and weigh around 630lb/285kg. As they are the descendants of ponies that have lived freely for centuries on rough ground, mainly in Connacht province in Ireland, they have inherited the hardiness, surefootedness and good sense of their ancestors. These are some of the principal benefits for those planning to buy a Connemara pony. Anyone who wants to sell a Connemara knows that this pony has a first-rate reputation for both driving and riding, especially in show jumping and hunter classes, in which the agile Connemara excels. Their stunning looks draw the eye too, with the now rare dun Connemaras probably being most representative of the original type. Since the adoption of the Connemara breeding programme in the late 19th century and early 20th century, grey has come to predominate, although there are also bay, black and brown Connemaras.
Origin and history of breeding Connemaras
As with many native pony breeds, the origins of the Connemara are obscure. Experts suggest that the original ponies may have arrived in Ireland along with Iron Age migrants from Europe, identified as Celts, though there is as yet limited archaeological and no textual evidence for this. By medieval times, references to quality dun horses (“eich duinn”) appear in Irish Gaelic manuscripts. Archaeological evidence, as well as texts, show close links between the highlands and islands of Scotland, Galloway, and Ireland in medieval times. It’s likely that the medieval ancestors of the Connemara were linked genetically to the Scottish Highland and Island ponies, and possibly also the now extinct Galloway. It also seems likely that the modern Connemara is the descendant of some of the very swift horses known as hobbies, a famous type of Irish horse that contributed to the Thoroughbred. It’s likely that the Connemara has some Spanish ancestry too. Then in the 20th century came the time of greatest change for the ponies, with the use of Welsh stallions, Thoroughbreds, Arabians and possibly Barbs to establish the modern breed as defined by the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society. Fortunately, the ponies have also retained their hardiness, particularly their special coats, which protect them from the drenching rain and wild winds of Ireland’s west coast.
Connemaras in equestrianism
Up until the 20th century, the ponies of Connacht in the west of Ireland were used for a variety of tasks, including as pack ponies, harness animals and for riding. Their conformation - in particular, the relatively long, yet strong back, deep girth and excellent shoulders and feet - resulted in a standard Connemara that was both nimble and powerful. Their long stride and agility contribute to their excellence in jumping. In the 1960s, one of Ireland’s most famous show jumpers was the 14.3hh Dundrum, by a TB stallion out of a Connemara mare. Dundrum could jump over 7 feet (2.13m)!