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The Connemara Pony

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Spanning the length of the west coast of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way is home to a multitude of hidden gems. Particularly alluring is a region known as Connemara. From the soaring Twelve Bens mountain range to the coast’s stunning beaches, it's an unspoilt and idyllic paradise. 

Vistors to Connemara find themselves bowled over by the rugged landscapes, wild flora, spectacular views and, of course, the region's very own unique breed - the Connemara Pony. 

The Connemara Pony, brought to Ireland by the Vikings

This stocky little guy is instantly recognisable, measuring between just 128 and 148cm in height. With a strong back and short muscular legs, its physicality is perfectly suited to the craggy and untamed terrain of the Connemara landscape. But how did such an unusual pony come about?
Surprisingly, the breed is actually of Scandinavian descent, having been brought to Ireland by the Vikings (who arrived in 795AD). Legend has it that when galleons from the infamous Spanish Armada (who were returning home after unsuccessfully attempting to invade England) unexpectedly ran aground off the Galway coast in 1588, the Andalusian horses on board were set loose, swimming to shore from the wrecks. These horses then gradually began to breed with the now-Irish ponies running wild in the mountains.

This refined the genetic makeup of the Connemara Pony yet again, and that's no bad thing; the Andalusians were famed for their strength, elegance and prowess as war horses. Today’s ponies retain some of those characteristics, displaying stamina and brawn, a compact build and handsome features.

Such is the hardiness of the Connemara Pony that right up until the 1940s and 1950s they served as the backbone of many Connemara farming families. Ponies (usually mares, as they could be bred) were historically led down from the mountains by farmers and tamed. In the pre-tractor era, they were used to pull ploughs across the land. They were also fitted with baskets called ‘creels’ and used to transport turf home from the local bog, as well as haul seaweed, which was used to fertilise the often barren land.

This hard-working lifestyle contributed further to the ponies’ stamina and adaptability. And, perhaps surprisingly, despite their somewhat harsh cultivation, the Connemara Pony has long been known for its kind and gentle temperament, often taking pride of place in the affections of its owner. Indeed, many were harnessed to a trap each Sunday and proudly paraded through town by the family on their way to mass. 

  • Popular for riding and trekking
  • Famed for their strength, elegance and prowess
  • Suited to the craggy and untamed terrain

Today, the Connemara Pony continues to thrive, but enjoys a more relaxed lifestyle. Rather than farming labour, the breed is now popular for riding and trekking, with lots of equestrian centres along the west coast offering trips  through the scenic surrounds on Connemara Ponies. Their size and temperament make them ideal for children’s trekking, though they’re hardy enough to hold adults too, and excel in show-jumping and dressage.

At the annual Clifden Connemara Pony Show, local pony enthusiasts proudly showcase their beautiful specimens. If you happen to be in the region in August, it’s well worth a visit. Here you’ll find arts and crafts, Irish dancing, and a traditional market on the streets of Clifden - truly something for everyone. 

Check out some photos from last year’s show here

Saddle up with more Wild Atlantic adventures on horse back here.


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