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Breed Organization Information

American Connemara Pony Society
2360 Hunting Ridge Road
Winchester, VA 22603
Tel: (540) 622-5953
Fax: (540) 722-2277
[email protected]

About the Breed

Rocky, barren, mountainous terrain, craggy, lunar-scaped strands, pounded by the tide and storms of the Atlantic. Endless desolate moors and bogs. This is the area of Western Ireland known as Connemara, which lends its name to its indigenous pony breed. Over the centuries in the ruggedness of their western Irish environment, the Connemara developed its prized qualities of hardiness, agility and extraordinary jumping ability.

The Connemara Pony's origins go back some 2,500 years to the time when Celtic warriors brought their dun colored ponies onto the island of Ireland and used them to draw war chariots and carts along the beaches and river plains of their new found home. The history is obscure, yet the Connemara Pony is considered Ireland's only native breed. Mythology tells us that the tribes of western Ireland were mounted. Legend has it that when the Spanish Armada sank off the Connemara coast in the 16th Century, the horses swam to shore and bred with the native ponies running wild in the mountains. They learned to live on the tough vegetation and survive the hardships of their habitat, as a misplaced step could send a pony crashing to its death.

It was a desperate and arduous life for the farmers of the area. With large families to support, they could only afford one good pony - often captured off the mountain and tamed. This had to be a mare who could give him a foal each year, to sell for their subsistence through the long, dark winter. She would pull a plow, a cart, work from dawn to dusk at whatever task was needed under extremely harsh conditions.

Fitted with baskets called creels, they carried a heavy load. They moved tons of rocks, to claim the land. Seaweed used to fertilize the barren fields was dragged from the shore by the ponies. They carried turf cut from the bogs, used for cooking and heat. Strong, sturdy legs could maneuver through the muck, which might swallow a different type of horse. Never a day of rest, she also carted the family to Mass on Sunday. She had to have the hardiness, stamina and disposition needed, or she was replaced with a mare who could. In this manner, the good mares were kept in Connemara reproducing these qualities in their foals.

Stallions would travel the primitive roads between villages, covering many mares and many miles in one day. Local racing was popular and the Connemaras competed equally with the larger Irish Hunters and Thoroughbreds.

The local breeders for the purpose of conserving and developing the breed formed the Connemara Pony Breeders Society in 1923 in Clifden. Centuries of natural selection, some interference needed for human survival, followed by the past 72 years of selective breeding has given us the quality Connemara we have today.

Like the Irish people, the Connemara has been exported all over the world. The popularity of the breed has extended worldwide and Connemara Pony Societies have been established in 17 countries - England, America, Australia, New Zealand, France, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Switzerland, Holland, Austria and Canada. Adapting to extremes of climate, they have made useful working partners with those who own them, and have competed with the best of the sport horse breeds.

Based on Maureen Loughman Abel's article in the October 1995 issue of The Western Horse.

Clifden Show

The largest display of the finest Connemara Ponies in the world takes place in Clifden, Connemara, Ireland, on the third Thursday of August every year. The Show has been organized by the Connemara Pony Breeders Society since 1924 and over 400 ponies travel from all over the country to take part in this unique event.

It is a huge gathering from home and abroad, attended by the International Societies, overseas breeders, and friends. Foreign breeders have the opportunity to meet Irish breeders and mingle in the exciting atmosphere where ponies are judged and sold. The finest specimens of the breed, including young foals, stallions, young stock, aged brood mares and of course ridden ponies compete in over 20 classes.

Breed Characteristics

The Connemara "Stands on short legs, covering a lot of ground". The cannon bone is short, dense, flat and clean, measuring 7 to 9 inches below the knee. The body is deep and compact, well-balanced with depth, substance and good heart room. The Connemara has a good sloping shoulder, length of rein, and moves freely with little knee action in surprisingly large strides for its height. On this strong, sturdy body sets a handsome pony head, with a well-defined jaw and good width between large kindly eyes. Easy keepers, they do not require a rich diet to stay healthy and fit.

The most common colors are grey and dun, but there are blacks, bays, browns, chestnuts, palominos, and an occasional roan. Black points are common, but paints are not acceptable.

The Connemara is the largest of the pony breeds, ranging in height from 13 to 15 hands, with 14 to 14.2 hands as the average. Full maturity is at five years of age, sometimes older, and they can live well into their 30's.

The Connemara has a natural jumping ability, and its rectangular build is suitable for dressage. They often beat horses 16 hands and over with staying power, intelligence and heart. As a show jumper, working hunter, eventing, western pleasure, endurance, driving - Connemaras can do it all, and can be your best friend!

Connemaras are the product of their original environment, the rugged mountain coast of West Ireland. Sure-footed, hardy and agile, they possess powers of great stamina, staying power and adaptability. They are renowned for their versatility and their gentle, tractable, sensible and willing dispositions.

Famous Horses
By Joanie Webster

In 1935 at the International Horse Show, Olympia, London, the 15 hand overgrown Connemara gelding, THE NUGGET, became a legendary show jumper. At age 22,he cleared a 7' 2" jump and subsequently won over 300 prizes internationally, earning over 4,500 pounds sterling in prize money.

At Madison Square Garden, New York, in 1939, the 13.2 hand Connemara, LITTLESQUIRE, won the Open Championship by clearing fences of seven feet. The American Press dubbed him "the littlest horse with the biggest heart."

DUNDRUM, Tommy Wade's 15 hand Connemara gelding, became Supreme Champion at the Wembley Horse of the Year Show when he set a record by clearing a 7' 2" puissance wall. In 1961, he was regarded as show jumper of the century when he won five major events at the Dublin Horse Show. It was the first time in history that so many awards were won by the same rider, let alone the same horse! He was the International Jumping Champion from 1959 to 1963.

STROLLER, a 14.1+ Connemara half-bred became the only pony to have ever competed in an Olympic Games. He was a member of the British Team competing in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, ridden by Marion Coakes. Bill Steinkraus and SNOWBOUND won the Gold Medal while Marion and STROLLER won the Individual Silver Medal, only four points behind Steinkraus. He was one of only two horses to jump a clear round in the entire 1968 Olympics, clearing a puissance fence of 6' 10".

MARCUS AURELIUS, also known as The Bionic Pony, was a Connemara/Thoroughbred ridden by Mary Anne Tauskey. They competed in the 1975 Pan American Games as members of the USET which won the Gold Medal in the Three Day Event. In 1976, they were members of the United States Three-Day Event team; again, they were members of the Gold Medal winning team.

In 1985, two of the top six Grand Prix USDF Horse of the Year Awards went to Connemara half-breds. Lendon Gray has earned worldwide recognition while riding the Connemara/Thoroughbreds, SELDOM SEEN and LAST SCENE in upper-level international dressage competitions.

Lana Dupont Wright has successfully driven her Connemara/Thoroughbred geldings in a number of international pairs competitions and two World Championships.

Custusha's Cashel Rock
During his long career Rocky won both the An Tostal and Camlin Trophies and earned gold medallions from the ACPS in Hunter, Jumper, Dressage and Combined Training. He was Champion Connemara In-Hand at Woodstock in '77,'78,'79. ln open competition, he won awards Championships from the Washington State Horseman's Council in Dressage, Adult Amateur Hunter and Jumper, Small and Working Hunter. He took the Championship in USCTA Area Vll in Adult Training Level and USDF All-Breed First in First Level Dressage in 1988, his last year of competition.

At the 1993 West Coast Connemara Show a large crowd assembled for the retirement ceremony of the dun Connemara stallion, Custusha's Cashel Rock, owned by Mel and Helen King, Silver Creek, Washington. Rocky will always be seen and remembered for he is the 1990 model for the Breyer horse model: Rocky, Champion Connemara Stallion.

Hideaway's Erin Go Bragh
Partnered since 1988 with rider Carol Koslowski of Geneseo, NY, Hideaway's Erin Go Bragh moved quickly through the Preliminary ranks finishing second three times in 1990 to the delight of his breeders and owners, Ed and Jackie Harris. In 1991,his win at the MCTA Horse Trials, a highly regarded event with a notoriously tough cross-country course, against some stiff competition gave some indication of the talent in that compact body. Wins at Preliminary at Winona, OH and Geneseo, NY only further encouraged Carol and the Harrises to test their little stallion. However, it was his win at the Groton Horse Trials later that year, in a division that included riders like Bruce Davidson, Mike Plumb and Denny Emerson, that really told Carol and the Harrises this was one special pony. In the next three years he became a favorite of the eventing world with remarkable performances at almost all the major shows on the East Coast.

A young, charismatic stallion of incredible presence, Erin Go Bragh began 1995 by winning three second-level classes at the Lake Erie College Dressage show, followed it up by winning his Open Intermediate divisions at Fair Hill and at the Middleburg Horse Trials, finally becoming the AHSA's Zone 2 Advanced Horse Trials champion for 1995 as well as the USCTA's Connemara of the Year. These awards are only the latest of a long string of triumphs for this son of Erin Smithereen and Hideaway's Centerfold. Go Bragh is also successful in the breeding shed counting among his successful progeny, the marvelous half-bred Tilly Go Bragh.

Black Points Tilly Go Bragh
Under the guidance of John Williams, this 15.2 hand powerhouse mare has had a meteoric rise in the eventing world in 1997, leaping from Training to Intermediate in just ten months, and finishing 2nd in her first 3-day event at the Preliminary level along the way. "John and Tilly have been a perfect match," say owners Mary Delton and Bob Boeckman, "they have so much confidence in each other".

Tilly's success has not been a surprise for her owners who bred and raised her. "We bred her to be an event horse," (Tilly is by Hideaway's Erin Go Bragh and out of the TB mare Ristic Skipper, both event horses). She was very athletic right from the start, and jumped out of the paddock when she was just four months old!" This enthusiastic jumping style has attracted a sizable fan club at events, which have dubbed her everything from "Mighty Mouse" to "Bionic Pony II."

Tilly's 1997 honors included earning the USCTA Preliminary Horse of the Year, the AHSA, Zone 2 Intermediate Championship, the USCTA Connemara of the Year (with her sire, Hideaway's Erin Go Bragh),and the AHSA/ACPS Joan R. McKenna Trophy for excelling in Combined Training at both the Preliminary and Intermediate levels.