Name of breed: Connemara
Country of origin: Ireland
Breed origin: Named after the Connemara region in County Galway, western Ireland, this pony is versatile and athletic, yet as tough and sound as its home is rugged and wild. There are a number of theories as to how the breed came to be: some believe it developed from Scandinavian ponies brought to Ireland by the Vikings, and others believe it descends from the Irish Hobby, a now-extinct breed that was developed prior to 13th century. There is also a legend that says that Andalusian horses on board the Spanish Armada found their way ashore after the fleet’s destruction in 1588, breeding with the local ponies. Whatever their origin, Connemaras are much more refined than other native breeds, with later infusions of Arabian, Hackney and Thoroughbred blood contributing to what is today one of the post sought-after competition pony breeds worldwide.
The only pony ever to have competed at the Olympics was a 14.2 hand high Connemara cross called Stroller. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, ridden by Marion Coakes, the gelding took home a silver medal, placing only four points behind the gold.
Distinguishing features: Tough, intelligent, good-natured and courageous, the Connemara is a compact and athletic breed that can be ridden by both children and adults. Usually standing between 12.2 to 14.2 hands high, Connemaras can be any solid colour. They have refined heads with a slightly dished profile and large, kind eyes, a strong, well-set neck, solid hooves, a deep chest and a strong back. Their relatively short yet muscular legs, strong hindquarters and overall athleticism make these ponies excellent jumpers.
Modern day Connemara pony: Best known today as a sports pony and ridden by both adults and children, the Connemara is popular around the world for show jumping, dressage, hunting, eventing, endurance riding and driving.