What to Know About the Connemara Pony

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 08, 2023
5 min read

The Connemara pony is a gentle but hardy companion that has gained fame for its natural jumping ability. According to Irish mythology, the Connemara developed after Spanish horses escaped from a shipwreck near the rocky Connemara coast in Western Ireland. The surviving horses interbred with wild Irish ponies, producing today’s Connemara pony. This breed has gained popularity with horse lovers because of its athleticism, friendly temperament, and tenacity. 

Many people associate ponies with children, but the Connemara pony can make a suitable mount for riders of all ages. Read on to learn fascinating Connemara horse facts and find out if this pony could be the right choice for you.

The harsh Irish landscape shaped the development of the Connemara pony. The American Connemara Pony Society’s (ACPS) breed standard describes the Connemara as a rugged and resilient pony. This breed has hard feet and strong legs that allow it to carry heavy loads through mucky Irish bogs. 

The Connemara has a compact body with a deep chest and well-sprung ribs. A muscular back, deep and round hindquarters, and large joints give the pony incredible athleticism. The pony is also known for its sure-footedness, which enabled it to navigate the treacherous Irish mountains safely. 

The Connemara grows a thick coat suitable for cold Irish winters. It has a long and thick mane and tail that may have waves. 

This breed comes in a variety of colors. Most Connemara ponies are dun and gray. Other acceptable colors include bay, black, brown, chestnut, palomino, and roan. The pony can have white markings on the face and legs. Unacceptable coat patterns include Appaloosa markings, spots, and pinto.

The Connemara pony has a calm and sensible disposition, making it an ideal companion for riders of all levels. Because of its origins in the rugged Irish landscape, the Connemara has tremendous agility, hardiness, and stamina. These traits allow the pony to excel in various sports. 

This breed is also famous for its love of people and intelligence. Some owners describe their Connemara ponies as “born broken” because they enjoy working and can be quickly trained for riding. The Connemara’s cleverness and sense of humor can also lead it into mischief. For example, the pony may teach itself to open gate latches around the stable.

Together, these traits make the Connemara an excellent pet that can adapt to the needs of each family member.

The Connemara is the largest breed of pony in the world. According to the ACPS, the breed can stand 13 to 15 hands tall, but the average Connemara horse size is 14 to 14.2 hands. 

This pony typically weighs between 640 and 860 pounds. By comparison, the smaller Shetland pony weighs 400 to 440 pounds. The Connemara’s larger size makes it an appropriate mount for both children and adults.

The Connemara pony is the only native Irish pony. The breed descends from dun-colored ponies that ancient Celtic warriors transported to Ireland around 2,500 years ago. The Celts used the animals to pull carts and war chariots through the Irish beaches and river plains. Later, the Western Irish tribes rode ponies that may have descended from the Celtic mounts. 

In 1568, the Spanish Armada wrecked near the Connemara coast. According to Irish mythology, some of the surviving Andalusian stallions swam to shore and bred with native Celtic ponies roaming the mountains. The indigenous ponies may also have mated with horses traded between Ireland and Spain over the centuries. The introduction of Spanish horse bloodlines created bigger and more athletic ponies, leading to the development of the modern Connemara pony.

In the 1920s, Connemara enthusiasts grew increasingly concerned about the breed’s declining hardiness and purity. Many people bred inferior Connemaras or crossbred the ponies with other breeds. Several Connemara owners released a dozen ponies into the wild to preserve the breed. They used the surviving animals to protect the breed’s purity and resilience. 

In 1923, Irish equestrians also founded the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society. Three years later, the society inspected 50 stallions. Six of these ponies passed the inspection and became the breed’s founding sires.

Today, the Connemara pony has gained international popularity. The breed has spread to Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, the U.S., and other regions. In 1956, the American Connemara Pony Society was founded. In 2006, Canadian breeders created the Canadian Connemara Pony Society.

Irish farmers originally used the Connemara pony as a versatile workhorse. Many farmers lived in poverty and could only support one pony, which they frequently captured in the wild. They used the Connemara to pull carts and plows. The ponies also carried heavy loads like rocks and turf in baskets called creels. Only the toughest Connemara ponies thrived under this intense workload, and they passed their stamina on to their foals.

The Irish frequently raced Connemara ponies against Irish Hunters and Thoroughbreds. The breed also developed incredible jumping abilities and speed by leaping over stone walls in the Irish hills.

Today, the Connemara pony is a versatile mount that thrives in many disciplines, including:

  • Dressage
  • Driving
  • Endurance racing
  • Eventing 
  • Fox hunting 
  • Show jumping
  • Western pleasure
  • Working hunter 

The Connemara also excels as a child’s pet. Many beginning riders and 4-H members use these ponies.

Hoof wall separation disease (HWSD) is one genetic health condition that can affect the Connemara pony. This disease causes the hoof wall to break and splinter more easily. Impacted ponies can develop severe lameness. 

HWSD is an autosomal recessive trait, which means that ponies must inherit two copies of the genetic mutation to exhibit symptoms. Around 15% of Connemara ponies carry the gene for HWSD. All Connemara ponies must be genetically tested for this disease. 

Despite this potential health issue, many Connemara ponies have long and healthy lives. The breed’s average lifespan is 30 to 40 years.

The Connemara pony is an adaptable companion equally at home being ridden by children or competing in the show jumping arena. The breed’s Irish roots have given it a docile but hardy temperament prized by many horse lovers. If you’re looking for an easy keeper with a strong work ethic, the Connemara pony could be a great addition to your barn or pasture.