Connemara Pony Origin and Characteristics

The Connemara Pony is a sports pony. It is an excellent breed for riding and is suitable for adults and children. The breed is quite versatile in its ability to pick up new skills rapidly. You’ll find this breed in show jumping events, competing in dressage, and some excel in endurance racing.

Connemara Ponies have also been known to be shown in harness. It is a global breed, but the highest level of popularity for it is still in its home country of Ireland. 

Historically, the Connemara Pony was a literal workhorse. It was a farm horse, a pack horse, and used for transportation. It was not unusual to use these ponies for carrying seaweed, a crop of potatoes, or for taking items to the market. 

The Origin of the Connemara Pony

Galway is the location of the Connemara region in Ireland. This is where the pony is first believed to have been developed. Thought to either be the descendants of the Irish Hobby Horse or Scandinavian horses that may have been brought over by the Vikings in the 10th century. 

Another legend says that the Connemara Pony came from Spanish shipwrecks near Ireland that occurred in the late 16th century. Andalusians were allegedly on those ships and they were set loose to escape the sinking vessels.

Some also believe that the Connemara Pony is the only native breed of horse to Ireland. This would date the origin of the breed to nearly 2,500 years, making it one of the world’s oldest established horse or pony breeds.

What is known about the origin of the Connemara Pony is that it has lived in an environment with harsh landscapes and difficult weather patterns. This has created a breed of pony that is hardy, strong, and sure-footed. To enhance these specific traits, breeders in the 18th century added Arabian bloodlines to the breed, along with Hackneys and Thoroughbreds.

Like many areas of Europe at the time, farmers in Ireland were in dire straits. They needed a horse to work the land, but most households could only afford one animal. That meant a horse or pony needed to be able to work the fields, be in the harness, and take care of all the work tasks that were needed on the farm. The Connemara Pony could do it all and that made it a very popular horse for several generations. 

These actions helped to create a pony breed that looks remarkably like a smaller Thoroughbred, but it also diluted the genetics of the breed to the point that its distinctiveness was fading away. Beginning in 1923, the Connemara Pony Breeder’s Society was formed and a stud book was established in 1926. The society and stud book still governs the breeding programs for this horse, although it is now globally bred on all six permanently inhabited continents.

An annual show for Connemara ponies takes place in the home region of Ireland every August. It has been held every year since 1924 and showcases 400+ ponies from within the country’s borders and around the world. There are more than 20 different classes of competition available at this event. 

Characteristics to Expect with the Connemara Pony

The Connemara Pony is usually between 12.2-14.2 hands high as an adult. It has a strong back, muscular frame, and has a broad, stout appearance. The shoulders are laid-back a little compared to other breeds, but the neck, jaw, and cheekbones are clearly defined. It is a sure-footed pony with average hooves, but a keen awareness of its environment.

In North America, Connemara ponies have been bred to be a little taller. Some individuals in the US population for this breed are as tall as 15 hands high.

Coat colors for the Connemara Pony include brown, black, bay, roan, and chestnut. The Connemara Pony Breeder’s Society permits palomino, buckskin, and cream colors as well within their registry. The buckskin ponies are often referred to as “dun,” although the dun gene is not present within this breed. Pinto coats do appear occasionally within the breed, but they are not permitted for registry.

Connemara ponies are highly intelligent, but they are also kind and loyal. They work especially well in family situations and are careful around children. This breed has a strong endurance and a solid jumping ability. They can be a little uncertain around strangers when meeting them for the first time. 

Their temperament is sensible, though a little sensitive. They prefer to work with their favorite people above anything else and enjoy a good social encounter. Although unwanted behaviors do not generally develop with this breed, there can be a level of aggressiveness added to the temperament when a Connemara isn’t given any social outlets.

If you have numerous Connemara ponies in a herd, the biggest problem that many have is that each pony wants to receive a social interaction before the others. They don’t forget, rarely forgive, and don’t share well with others, but it is difficult to find a horse or pony that will be more loyal. 

There is a common health condition associated with this breed as well. Some Connemara ponies carry an autosomal recessive disorder that is called Hoof Wall Separation Disease. This condition develops as early as 1 month of age and causes the front edge of the hoof to split and crack. Then pieces of the hoof wall begin to chip off in small pieces and can involve the entire dorsal wall. One hoof or all 4 may be affected by the condition. Foals are tested for being carriers at birth for this incredibly painful condition.

The Future of the Connemara Pony

The Connemara Pony is a breed that is on the rise. Their loving personalities and sporting ability makes them a popular pick, especially for those that prefer a smaller animal. In competition, this breed can easily beat horses that are 2-3 hands higher than them on a consistent basis.

Their expressive personalities also make this breed a member of the family. If a Connemara is unhappy, you’ll find the horse sulking around. If they are happy, you’ll hear them calling out for you when they see you.

Just watch out if they happen to be hungry. The Connemara Pony’s intelligence will get the animal in trouble in the search for food. Owners have found their animals trapped in chicken cages, roaming orchards, and stealing food from open windows when they have the opportunity.

For owners of this breed, it is difficult to stop with just one Connemara Pony. They are an expressive, fun, and loyal breed that seems to bring out the best of everyone around them. No matter how long they have been worked, their nature is always willing and that makes this breed an easy keeper.