The Kerry Bog Pony is a moorland breed that comes from Ireland. It may be a descendent of the Irish Hobby breed, forming semi-feral herds within the peat bogs of what would become County Kerry.
Because of their unique environment, these ponies developed some unique physical characteristics over time to deal with the bogs. Compared to other horses, they have a low weight ratio compared to their height, an unusual pattern for their footfall, and a hardiness that is superior to most other breeds.
In the late 1980s, it was believed that this breed was near extinction. Through genetic testing, a breeder took 20 confirmed ponies as foundation stock and began to rebuild the Kerry Bog Pony population. Since 2000, the breed has been recognized as equine passports have been issued. About 300 ponies are currently registered with the Irish and American breed associations that are working to preserve this unique horse.
What Is the History of the Kerry Bog Pony?
How the Kerry Bog Pony came to live in the peat bogs is unknown. There have been semi-feral herds living in County Kerry since the 17th century and they could have been there for centuries before. The first documentation of this breed comes from an illustration made in 1617, comparing the morphology of the Kerry Bog and the Irish Hobby breeds.
When fully domesticated, farmers in the area would use this breed as a pack horse. They would transport kelp and peat to the markets for sale. Because their build and hoof structure allows them to move quickly through soft areas, rocks, and bogs in extreme conditions, fewer delays in bring products to market occurred when this pony breed was used for transportation.
Generations ago, the Kerry Bog Pony could be found working with pull carts and in harness.
What makes this breed so unique is that the ponies were usually turned loose back into the bogs when farmers and agricultural workers in the area didn’t need the horse. They’d simply be caught again later when there was a need to work again. Because of this, breeding programs didn’t exist for several centuries.
Beginning in the 19th century, cavalry forces from Britain became aware of the Kerry Bog Pony and its unique physical characteristics. They began to serve as pack animals during times of war and this decimated the local population. The Irish Famine in the mid-19th century further reduced the population. Some farms brought in donkeys to work, especially when the market for peat declined.
By 1850 in Ireland, farms were consolidating. Machinery was being used more often. Larger draft horse breeds were being used. This left the remaining ponies to live in their feral state.
Over the next century, population numbers would continue to dwindle until it was thought that the breed was extinct. One man, named John Mulvihill, had encountered the Kerry Bog Pony as a child and wanted to see if it still existed. He would find one stallion, which he would name Flashy Fox, and 19 mares that, after DNA typing, were proven to be this breed.
Flashy Fox would sire over 100 foals, putting this pony breed onto the road for recovery.
What Are the Characteristics to Expect with the Kerry Bog Pony?
A typical Kerry Bog Pony will stand up to 12 hands high. Adults should stand at least 10 hands high. Mares are typically about 1 hand smaller than stallions and geldings.
This breed is quite athletic. They have a keen intelligence and formidable strength, making them an excellent driving breed. They’re also excellent companion animals and a good choice for families looking for a first pony to own. Because of their semi-feral existence in the peat bogs, living on low-nutrient foods like kelp and moss, the Kerry Bog Pony is thought to be an easy keeper.
Their weight ration makes it possible for these ponies to navigate wet ground with ease. They have their hind feet track outside of their front feet, which gives them a better weight distribution when traveling on softer ground or soil. When combined with an upright pastern and steep hoof angle, they are able to move through difficult wetlands with relative ease – even while carrying a rider or working as a pack pony.
The body shape of the Kerry Bog Pony should appear muscular and have good visual definition. They have a concave profile at the head, with eyes that are noticeably large and ears that are noticeably smaller than average. There is a visual similarity to Arabian and Morgan horses with this pony breed, though size is obviously excluded from that comparison.
These ponies should have a neck that is medium in length, with shoulders that are strong, muscular, and rounded. The pony should look powerful and compact, with hindquarters that are well-formed and a chest that is deep. This structure helps to support the stamina of the horse, providing room for an above-average heart and lungs.
The forelegs of the Kerry Bog Pony should also be muscular and strong. The cannon bone is hard, flat, and a good size. The pasterns are below average in length and the hooves are noticeably upright and with a steep angle.
As for temperament, most ponies within this breed are confident, sensible, and kind. They are loyal to a fault, but with a curiosity that can sometimes lead them toward trouble. Because they are so well-mannered as a breed, many Kerry Bog ponies put in some work as an experiential therapy horse.
Any solid coat color is listed as permissible by the breed registries for this pony. Dilute colors or breed coloration, such as Palomino, is found with the Kerry Bog Pony as well. White markings are common throughout the coat, mane, and tail. Multi-colored coats, such as the Pinto, are not accepted on the Irish registry for the breed. Their winter coat is noticeably dense.
Most Kerry Bog ponies tend to be chestnut, black, bay, or gray.
In Conclusion About the Kerry Bog Pony
With no breed-specific health issues, the Kerry Bog Pony is an attractive, rare breed with a distinctive face that has been saved from the brink of extinction. Mr. Mulvihill, who serves as the president of the Irish breed association, has worked since 1989 to preserve this breed so it can continue to be part of the equine world.
Some people still think of this breed like it is some kind of joke, but it is a distinctive Irish pony breed that is strong, with a great temperament, and should continue down the road to full recovery over the coming generations.
Since 2006, it has been given official status as an Irish rare breed. The next step is going to be to remove that “rare” label.