On the harsh lunar landscape of Ireland’s Connemara coast, where a misstep would mean crashing to certain death on the rocks below, the country’s native ponies learned the sure-footed agility that would later make them superb hunters. These creatures were hardy, too, eking out a living from the bogs and desolate moorland.
It is thought that the original ponies, dun in colour, were brought by the Celts more than 2,500 years ago and used to draw war chariots and carts. The Connemara, which takes its name from that part of Ireland, is considered the island’s only native pony breed.
In the 16th century, legend has it that part of the Spanish Armada was wrecked on the brutal coast and some of the Iberian horses on board swam ashore, later breeding with the native stock. Legend it may be, but there is no denying that the Connemara is a pony of beguiling beauty.
For the Irish farmers, struggling to make a frugal living, a good pony was necessity — preferably a mare that would provide a foal to sell. The animals carried baskets called creels, moving tons of rocks to clear the land, seaweed to fertilise the fields, and turf from the bogs for cooking and heat.
The Connemara’s strong, sturdy legs carried it over the rough and varied terrain, its stamina never let it down, its hardiness ensured it was never sick nor sorry, and its kind disposition made it the perfect family horse, pulling the cart to Mass on Sundays.
These characteristics were bred into the ponies and are still much prized today, when the breed is popular in the show ring, the hunting field and increasingly, when crossed with a Thoroughbred, in three-day eventing. A success story from such humble beginnings.