Name of breed: Kerry Bog Pony
Country of origin: Ireland
Breed origin: As its name suggests, the Kerry Bog Pony originated in Kerry, a county in the southwest of Ireland. DNA testing has revealed that it shares ancient roots with breeds from northern Europe such as the Icelandic horse and Shetland pony. This is hardly surprising, as the Kerry Bog Pony is similarly small, tough and full of character. Until machinery began to take over traditional Irish farming practices in the 1960s, these ponies were used for all sorts of jobs including seaweed harvesting, transporting fresh milk to the creameries and – the penny drops – carting turf. Turf is a product of Irish peat bogs and to this day it is cut, laid out to dry, then taken off the bog to be used as fuel for cooking and heating.
Kerry Bog Ponies were the only ponies small and strong enough to navigate the treacherous and steep terrain of Kerry’s mountains and bogs while carrying a load or a rider – and sometimes both. They were also hardy enough to withstand the harsh winters on their own, and survive on the native heath and shrubs.
In 1756, Dr Charles Smith said of these ponies,
‘The little hobbies of the country are the properest horses to travel through it; and a man must abandon himself intirely to their guidance, which will answer much better than if one should strive to manage and direct their footsteps […] they climb over the most rugged rocks, and both ascend and descend the steepest precipices with great facility and safety; are so light, as to skim over waving bogs and morasses without sinking, where heavier horses would certainly perish […] add to this their gait is ambling, which is extremely easy.’
Given the importance of Kerry Bog Ponies to the families they served, it’s hard to imagine the breed dying out. But like so many working horse breeds, it was on the verge of extinction by the late 20th century. A survey in 1992 found a mere 20 mares and six stallions remaining. In the end, the breed was saved by a handful of dedicated people who recognised its perfect suitability as a children’s pony.
Distinguishing features: Thanks to its history as a working animal, the Kerry Bog Pony has incredible strength and endurance, with strong bones and a compact, muscular body. The cannon and pastern are short, the hooves are upright and the neck is strong. Its height varies from 10 to 11.2 hands high and many colours are seen, although bay and chestnut are the most common. The breed is known for its intelligent head and large, gentle eyes. It has a gentle, willing temperament and, like most ponies, bucketloads of character.
Modern day Kerry Bog Pony: Nowadays, these ponies are popular with children thanks to their fun-loving yet calm character and their willingness to give anything a go, from ridden classes to cross country. They are also well loved by adults, especially as driving ponies.
Image credits: Heather Moreton, The Kerry Bog Pony Cooperative Society. William Micklem.