Connemara Breed Standard
The Connemara pony stands between 13hh and 14.2hh and is to be no higher than 14.2hh at two years of age. Colours may include any except pinto, spotted, or appaloosa markings. White on the legs and face is permitted but not encouraged in excess.
The Connemara is overall a compact pony with good bone, 7-9 inches around the cannon bone below the knee, relative to height. The joints are large and flat. The coat is long and thick in winter usually with a soft undercoat and long guard hairs.
The head is of moderate size with a straight profile, large, well-defined jaw and small ears, not longer than 4.5 inches. The eyes are set wide apart with a broad forehead.
Connemaras have a deep girth and wide chest with a medium head and neck set and a good length of rein. The tail is set on medium height and is thick and luxuriant. The mane is long and thick, and like the tail is often wavy.
The main distinguishing characteristics are the amount of bone, the width of the chest and depth of girth. The overall impression is of a four-square pony standing over a good amount of ground. These are substantial ponies, capable of carrying weight, but with an overall appearance of quality without coarseness.
Connemaras: From Ireland to Canada
Connemara ponies are native to the West Coast of Ireland, where they have roamed the barren hills and coastline for centuries. The original ponies were brought to Connemara by the ancient Celts who were legendary horsemen. Stories are told of the wreck of the Spanish Armada on the rocky coast of Connemara and the Andalusian stallions that swam ashore and bred with the native ponies. Whether infusions of outside blood to this tough Celtic pony stock were through these survivors or from horses traded up and down the Atlantic coasts from Spain to Ireland over the centuries, the Connemara pony increased in size and athletic ability until they became all-round athletes.
Traditionally, as Connemaras worked the farms and were often the only means of travel, they had to be hardy and strong as well as gentle and manageable. The ponies would pull the plough during the week, take the family to church in the side car on Sunday and then be driven to the beach for the “flaps” or races on the sands in the afternoon. It was a hard life for these early ponies. Carrying heavy loads, often in creels slung over their backs, they moved rocks to build walls, seaweed to fertilize the poor land, and peat for cooking and heating. The good mares survived and were expected to produce a willing-tempered foal with strong sturdy legs each year while continuing to work themselves.
From these characteristics come the ponies we know today. Their incredible jumping ability and good balance were honed on the hills jumping stone walls, and they were bred for speed as well as strength as the Irish loved their racing!
The Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society was founded in Ireland in 1923 and the first ponies inspected and entered in the Stud Book in 1926. Out of 50 stallions presented for the first inspections, only six were passed, forming the foundation sires of the breed. The first and most famous of these was Cannon Ball who was never beaten in all the years he raced, once against a train for four miles, winning easily. His owner, Henri Toole, drove him regularly to market on Saturdays, a round trip of over 90 kilometres, often unhitching him to breed farmers’ mares en route. Henri was fond of a pint on the long journey, stopping at pubs on the way and it was frequently left to Cannon Ball to find his way home with Henri sleeping in the cart.
From Ireland, the ponies spread to England, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and were first imported to North America in the 1950s. Since then, they have grown in numbers and popularity in both the United States and Canada. The American Connemara Pony Society was formed in 1956, and fifty years later there were enough breeders in Canada for the Canadian Connemara Pony Society to be formed in January 2006.
Connemaras’ temperament and athleticism have taken them to the top of all disciplines: dressage, eventing, hunter/jumper, driving, endurance, and western games. They also excel as stock horses, trail and pleasure ponies, field hunters, Pony Club and 4H mounts, and all-round family friends. Crossed with Thoroughbreds, Connemaras are competitive to the highest levels, especially in eventing where their sure-footedness and love of jumping really shine. There have been Connemara teams competing in the Battle of the Breeds for several years, culminating in Team Connemara’s win over eleven other breeds in 2006, some achievement considering the few numbers of ponies there were from which to choose the team.
Best of all, perhaps, Connemaras are so people-oriented and versatile that they are any kid’s best friend. Their laid-back attitude, sense of humour and willingness to try anything also make them favourites with small adult riders. They are the ideal family pony, suitable for the smallest child or beginner rider, capable of carrying an adult with ease and athletic enough to suit most competitors in any discipline. The kids can do Pony Club, 4H, or event, Mom can be competitive in dressage and Dad can drive for pleasure or show.
What attracts people to the ponies initially is their good looks and performance, but what keeps them is the temperament. Stories abound of Connemaras who are so easy to train they are “born broken.” Get any group of Connemara owners or breeders together and anecdotes of ponies undoing gate latches, happily going under saddle the first time the tack was on, and getting their riders out of tricky situations will abound. The ponies learn quickly, enjoy working with people and are so sure footed and sensible they look after themselves and therefore their riders. You don’t have to teach a Connemara to jump. You just give them the chance to practice.
With the formation of the Canadian Connemara Pony Society in 2006, we are hoping that the breed will become even better known. The Society’s web page lists breeders, stallions and histories of some of our oldest bloodlines. There are three regions within the Society: Pacific, Prairie and Central, with the possibility of a Maritime region when numbers warrant. We have an inspection program to inspect our ponies to international standards and an awards program to cover all disciplines.