USA: Promoting the Connemara as a Performance Pony

by Chris Knox

Especially today, when the sport horse and sport pony are getting so much attention, it is important that we showcase our wonderful Connemaras as the great performance animals they are. As breeders begin to realize the large market for competitive and athletic ponies they see that performance geldings can comprise a desirable portion of their production goals. In years past mares were in the greatest demand as they were marketed primarily for their ability to produce offspring. Geldings were often held in lower esteem and priced more modestly. Nowadays it is recognized that the ultimate ‘end user’ of the ponies we produce is more often a junior or amateur adult rider looking for a competitive or recreational riding animal, rather than a fellow breeder looking to add to his herd of bloodstock. Connemaras enjoy a positive image worldwide as being kind, tractable and enjoyable companions who also possess the athletic ability to compete successfully in myriad disciplines.

In an effort to encourage and reward the use of Connemaras and halfbred Connemaras, the American Connemara Pony Society has an extensive awards program. This awards program not only recognizes Connemaras which are shown in hand and under saddle at breed shows, but also rewards Connemaras performing on the larger stage of national and international open competition.

There are several subdivisions within the ACPS awards system. Each is tailored to bring attention to the talents of the Connemara breed and to reward owners and riders of Connemaras for showcasing the breed heritage of their animal. Connemaras can and do compete successfully in all disciplines and against horses and ponies often bred specifically for one particular discipline. The ACPS is trying to do its part in exposing this great secret and let the world know Connemaras are not only great pleasure animals and companions for juniors and amateur adults, but can also compete and win in any company!

ACPS Hall of Fame Awards

These are lifetime awards based on the distinguished career of the pony in producing offspring or in the competitive arena. They include the following trophies:

Tooreen Laddie Trophy

Awarded to an outstanding stallion that has had a positive influence on the breed

Broodmare Trophy

Presented to a broodmare that has had a positive influence on the breed

An Tostal Trophy

Awarded in recognition of outstanding achievement, both competitive and non-competitive, of a purebred stallion
Camlin Trophy
Presented to a mare of gelding that has had a career of outstanding competitive performance Tre Awain Halfbred

Awarded in recognition of a career of outstanding achievements of a halfbred Connemara

US Equestrian Federation Awards

These awards are presented at the annual Horse of the Year awards banquet of the US Equestrian Federation, which is the governing body of all horse sports in the U.S.

USEF Clifden Trophy

Awarded to the top ranking purebred Connemara in the USEF Pony Hunter divisions

USEF McKenna Trophy

Awarded to the purebred or halfbred Connemara with the most points in USEF recognized Events at Preliminary (Novice in England), Intermediate and/or Advanced Level

National Awards

In its National Award program, the ACPS teams with national organizations which track points in their particular disciplines, such as the US Eventing Association, the US Dressage Federation, the North American Trail Ride Conference and the US Equestrian Federation for its hunter and jumper disciplines. Awards are given to the highest placing purebred and halfbred Connemaras in the nation. In eventing all levels are awarded including Beginner Novice (a 2’6” introductory level in the US), Novice, Training, Preliminary (equivalent to Novice in the UK), Intermediate and Advanced.

The US Dressage Federation has a cooperative program with many US breed associations which it calls the All Breeds awards. Owners or riders must declare their horse as a particular breed and provide proof of registration with the designated breed association. Points at all levels of dressage from training level through grand prix are tracked throughout the country and tabulated in categories of open, amateur and junior rider. The ACPS rewards Connemaras and halfbreds in all categories. Winners are showcased at the USDF Annual convention. A list of Connemara winners and their photos also appear in the USDF Dressage Connections magazine, bringing more recognition to our wonderful breed.

The ACPS National Awards program has led to an increased interest on the part of owners and riders in making sure their Connemara is fully ACPS registered. Oft times riders in national, open, discipline based competitions are unaware or uninterested in the breeding of their equine partner. Providing awards based on breed association registration can help breeders track their produce and insure the breed gets the recognition it deserves in a larger competitive arena.

Achievement Awards

The ACPS Achievement Awards program provides a way to recognize Connemaras who are used in a variety of competitive and non competitive endeavors. Points are accumulated yearly based on show performance or regular service to the rider as a mount for Pony Club, foxhunting, etc. When an animal reaches the required number of points over a period of time, perhaps years, it is awarded a bronze, silver, or gold medallion in that discipline. If a pony reaches the gold medallion level of points in five different disciplines it is awarded the coveted ACPS Golden Shamrock. This program is particularly popular with owners and riders whose pony may not be winning at the highest levels, but puts in a workmanlike performance time and again in its discipline. Points are awarded in eventing for each completion and in dressage based on the percentage score earned, rather than the ribbons won. It also rewards the pony who may be passed from child to child in Pony Club or who has served as a reliable foxhunting mount for many years. For more information on the ACPS Achievement Awards program, or any of the ACPS awards programs, please visit the ACPS website at

Other programs

There are three additional programs within the ACPS Awards system which help promote the use of Connemaras. Through the ACPS junior and adult scholarship program individuals write an essay on how they use their Connemara and why they deserve to be awarded a monetary prize which may be applied to further training for themselves or their pony. The Connemara of the Year award is presented to an animal which in some notable way, within a given year, brings positive recognition to the breed. The ACPS also offers a program to show managers of open competitions by which they can award lovely championship ribbons to the highest placing purebred and/or halfbred Connemara. This serves to draw attention to the breed by giving the Connemara name recognition at the awards ceremony of a large competition in which many breeds and crossbred horses are represented.

The ACPS is doing all it can to let the world know Connemaras are competitive in all disciplines and at all levels. Not only can you win with a Connemara, you are sharing that win with the best equine friend you could ever have!


“On Top of the World” by Ruth Rogers

On Top of the World

Ruth Rogers traces the global success of the Connemara Pony

Reproduced by kind permission of the Irish Field

Since the inception of the Stud Book in 1923, the Connemara Pony has etched its name all over the World. Today no less than sixteen international societies championing the breed are in existence are in place.

In past decades, great names like Dundrum, Ashfield Bobby Sparrow, and Stroller readily come to mind as true legends of the jumping arena.

Today, there are Connemara ponies all over the world that have provided owners with immeasurable pleasure on the hunting field, eventing grounds, show jumping arena, dressage ring, cross-Country course, driving and in-hand.

More importantly the mares and stallions who were exported have, in their own right, established foundation bloodlines and opened up new opportunities to breeders in overseas countries. They now represent many European nations including Denmark, Poland, Italy, Luxemburg, France, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and England.

Ireland’s Sillogue Darkie has both individual and Nations Cup wins in Belgium, Italy, France, England and Holland to his credit and was a leading light on the Irish team at the Pony European Championships in Freudenberg, Germany and carried the same form into 2008 with rider Jessica Burke from Co. Galway. He also has two stallion brothers in Ireland


In the the 1960s breeders became aware of the extraordinary potential of the Connemara pony. Buyers from Australia, America, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, England, and Holland travelled to Connemara in search of foundation stock. Quite often it was owing to economic reasons that many of our most valued stock was exported as the sale of a pony generated much-needed income for the breeders.

The Carna Dun and Carna Bobby lines that left Ireland at that time have gone on to dominate in the performance field.

The famous Marble (Rebel Wind-Callowfeenish Dolly 2nd ) was one of the most influential and outstanding Connemara stallions who ever left Ireland.

Judged reserve champion at Clifden in 1975, he was chosen as a typical example to represent Ireland at the Essen Equitana show in Germany, where he attracted much attention and was subsequently sold to Lene Neilsen’s stud in Denmark in 1976.

To day the Marble line is in demand in both stallion and mare pedigrees and several breeders in Ireland have travelled to Europe in the hope of acquiring such lines.

One of the most successful performance ponies in France in recent years was Dexter Leam Pondi, by Leam Finnegan. His dam White Granite (Marble-Ganty Jane 2nd) was exported from Ireland and there is no doubt she will take her rightful place in the history of Connemara ponies in France. Dexter has now handed down his immense jumping ability to his son Magic Leam Pondi, proving yet again the success of the outstanding mare lines that have been handed down from Marble.

Judged overall reserve champion at the French National show in 2008 was Kingstown Rory bred by Joe Gorham in Clifden, he is a full brother to the Clifden supreme champion Kingstown Dana.

In the Southern Hemisphere there are now numerous populations of Connemara breeding stock. The late Donald Kenny conducted the first inspections of Connemaras in South Africa and approved them for entry in the Irish Stud Book. The ponies had all originally come from Ireland, but South Africa did not have the original registration papers. One can therefore thank Donald Kenny for putting the South African Connemaras back on the international map. The numbers of Connemaras and Connemara crosses are growing steadily and they can be seen competing successfully in all disciplines. There are now approximately two hundred Connemaras, both purebred and part-breeds in South Africa and in Namibia and Botswana.


In the past two decades, the Irish Connemara influence in Australia has been colossal, with the blue line through Carna Bobby having the biggest impact.

In 1963 the first Irish Connemara pony exported was Island King by Carna Bobby out of Doon Lass. He covered mostly non-Connemara mares and many were sent to various parts of that vast country.

One stallion and two mares were sent to Australia in the late 1970s have been extremely influential in the formation of present day Australian breeding.

They are Tulira Fuschia (Tulira Máirtín-Tulira Heather) bred by Lady Hemphill; Willie Diamond’s Four of Diamonds (Rebel Wind-Leam Grey), and Abbeyleix Finbar, bred by the late Lady de Vesci and bought by Padraic Hynes as a foal. He was to leave Ireland as a yearling colt.

Twenty years later, the stallion Castle Baron (Abbeyleix Owen-Castle Dame) arrived in Australia and introduced the ‘Village’ line. Bred by Henry O’Toole in Clifden, Castle Baron is a full brother to O’Toole’s great champions Castle Urchin and Castle Countess.

He was bought by Sue & Barton Clarke from Glenormiston Stud in Queensland as a two year old, and was virtually unbeaten in the show ring. Now, thanks to the progeny of this foundation stock, Australian Connemaras are leaders in several disciplines.

It is interesting to note that, thanks to more convenient travel arrangements, Australian breeders are broadening their horizons as they seek further stock, especially from breeders in Europe and Ireland.

The Connemara scene in Australia is about to enter a new phase of development. The major factor is the membership approval of the new (2007) Stud book Rules. The CPBSA will ask the C.P.B.S. to approve several small variations to the new rules. Land distances, the relatively small size of the herd, and the feasibility of using ‘shuttle’ stallions is being examined.


Killacorran Blue (Blue Smokie-Caravilla Rose) (King of the Hills-Abbey Jen) has proved yet again that Ireland can produce top international ponies. His breeder Seamus Glynn from Ballyglass, Claremorris, Co. Mayo bought Carravilla Rose from Liam Walsh in Hollymount and later sold Killacorran Blue at the Clifden Mart in 2000 for £150. Later he left Ireland with just a foal cert. In the words of his owner Gina Stoddart “he is the most delightful and versatile Connemara pony you could wish to meet, he has given us everything”. On the long road to success when ridden by Eliza Stoddart, he hunted in Leicestershire, attended Fernie Hunt Pony Club Camp and did pony club eventing, qualifying for the Championships in 2006 and 2007. He competed in Mountain & Moorland working hunter classes, qualifying HOYS as a five -year old, was the BSPS Novice WHP Champion in 2006, qualified for the RIHS 153cms WHP classes in 2007, and went on to finish third in the Necarne Castle CCNP** that same year. He also won Pony Trials at Gatcombe Park and Weston Park in the spring of 2008, leading to selection for the British squad at the Pony European Eventing Championships in Switzerland, where he was a member of the silver medal-winning team. He also finished 5th individually.

Killacorran Blue has now gone to a new home in Wiltshire with a talented young jockey, Pumbaa Goess-Saurau (11), with whom he is forging a wonderful new partnership both on the hunting field and competitively dressage, show jumping and eventing.

The Stoddart family also has another promising Connemara, Doonagore Boy, who shares some of the good lines. He is only a five year old, but was Reserve Champion at the Burghley Eventing Pony Final last September. He belongs to Eliza’s younger brother Joss, but she helps to produce him. He is dun and has a show jumping record from Ireland with his previous owners

Athenry Cliff (Maam Hill-Derrybrien Early) bred by John Duffy from Kiltulla, Athenry, was a successful Grade A show jumper and eventer in Ireland prior to being exported to a family in Berkshire who have also enjoyed considerable success.

Glenayre Bay Surf (Grange King’s Surf-Mount Gable) was selected on the Eventing Team and also competed in Switzerland in the World Championship.

Meanwhile Ballinaboy Reamus (Shackleton-Ballinaboy Bella) is a promising young dun pony making a name for himself as a competent all-rounder in England.

Also in the U.K. the grey stallion Troubadour (Moy Hazy Cove-Tuam Lass) owned by Michael & Orla Igoe Kippure has been a consistent performer who has numerous championships in many disciplines.

In 2007 Bunowen Castle Ri (Village Boy-Bunowen Castle Queen) ridden by Matthew Lawerence became only the second pony ever to win the Mountain & Moorlands championship twice at Olympia.

Castle Comet a full brother to Castle Baron became the first ever Connemara to win double awards at H.O.Y.S. and Olympia

Lough Fadda Best Man (Innellan Kestrel-Cuckoo Valley Candy) bred by Padraic Heanue was prominent under saddle last season as was Glencarrig Duke (Castlestrange Fionn – Glencroft Amy) ridden by Chantelle Holmes judged Best of Breed at Olympia 2008.


The American Society each year presents two Hall of Fame awards in breeding, to honour a stallion and a mare with a positive influence on the breed through their offspring.

Previous recipients include Canal Laurinston (Callowffenish Mairtin-Village Laura) bred by Padraic Hynes owned by Joanie Webester from Stonybrook Connemaras in California, he performed with distinction in dressage, eventing, and driving and was crowned outstanding Connemara stallion of 2006.

The Broodmare Trophy last year went to Bar S Heather (Rory Ruadh – Queen of Hill) who was sold as a foal by her breeder Padraig Curran in Moycullen.

In 2008 Grange Finn Sparrow, (Coosheen Finn – Dun Sparrow) bred by Lady Maria Levenge took the Hall of Fame award for breeding.

Meanwhile Cashelbay Kim (Glenvalley Grey-Beal na Mulla Kim) bred by Robbie Fallon at Cashelbay Stud has performed admirably in three disciplines in California winning the A.C.P.S. Bronze medals in eventing, dressage and jumping.

A sensational stallion in the U.S. is the bay 21-year-old Ballinaboy Eamon (Loobeen Larry- Ocean Bambi). Col A.J. Morris bred him in Ireland. He was Connemara of the Year in 1997 and over the years consistently produced top class performance ponies including Shammer Sandman, Shammer Jake and King of Hearts.

His full brother Ballinaboy Tom stands at stud in Ireland.

Garry & John Bolger run Waterfield Farm in Massachusetts where several ponies using the Coral prefix have done extremely well including the resident stallion Coral Bobby. Other Waterfield ponies can be seen competing in New England, New York and Pennsylvania.

The stallion Robuck (Tulira Robuck – Lecarrow) looks to have a bright future. He qualified for the American Eventing Championships and was awarded USDF/ACPS All Breed Awards at Training and First Level and received the highest ACPS Achievement Award “Award of Excellence in Dressage”

It must be said that Tulira Robuck (Earl of Castleffrench – Tulira Heather) has some exceptional performance and In-hand stock in many countries proving that Lady Hemphill’s great foundation stock is very much alive.


November 1991 the Swedish rider Pia Lewin bought Poetic Justice (Ballydonagh Casanova- Gloves Misty) as a three year old. He went on to have a highly successful jumping career and his progeny have shown that this one was something very special.

Today Poetic Justice is one of the hottest properties in Sweden and his offspring have jumped internationally at the highest levels

A famous daughter is Poetic Moonlight who has been winning at major shows in the country. She produced the stallion Silver Shadow, who competed for Ireland at the European championships last season.

The performance stallion Kilpatrick Fionn (Abbeyleix Fionn – Moorland Juliet) prior to being exported to Sweden, where he was a member of European teams and won many competitions here.

Lexus Justice (Westside Fred-Dunamoney Lass) also competed for Sweden at the Europeans in Avenches last summer.

The Connemara flag is flying high in Finland as the new President of the International Society, Tuula Pyöriä resides there. In 1979 she bought her first Connemara mare Espe Etta, who was ridden, driven, shown in-hand and used for breeding. Today her progeny and their offspring have extended the breed to many parts of Finland

There are known to be 16 show jumping, nine dressage, and five eventing Connemaras competing there with much success. Park Benjamin (Ashfield Festy-Spanish Dancer) represented Finland at show jumping in the European championships. The mare Kate (Killreagh Kim-Lissoughter Laura) bred by Christy O’Sullivan in Ireland, now twenty-four has also greatly contributed to the breeding pool in Finland.


There are eleven well known jumping, five eventing and three dressage Connemara ponies in Belgium. Ard Conneely, a Clifden and Dublin Supreme Champion, went to Belgium where he was ridden, driven, and runs with his mares. In 2005 he won the Supreme Connemara Pony Championship.

At present, Poland has five eventing, six Show jumping, and five dressage ponies competing. They include Clougherboy Mirah, (Westside Mirah-Secret Pal) and Annilaun Sweet Jessie (Annilaun Oscar-Sweet Charity) who represented Poland in show jumping and eventing at the European championships. Meanwhile Milford Russett Heather (Ashfield Hunters Jewel-Milford Heather Belle has evented for Italy.

You can find a Connemara at the top of almost every discipline in Holland. The European Championships demonstrated this very well, especially the three- day eventing team in the past years. There Ashfield Silver Ghost (Ormond Oliver-Ashfield Silver Cloud) is enjoying a great show jumping career with his rider Brigitte Smits. Other uncommon disciplines have already heard of the Connemara pony, with Dun Alice competing in the highest level of endurance. She is one of the two ponies in Holland that completed 160 kilometres in one day.

The progeny of Danish stallions have done very well in Europe and Ireland, especially the offspring of Laerkens Cascade Dawn and Hazy Match. Denmark is the hub of present day Connemara breeding apart from Ireland.

The purchase by Gunner Harder of the stallion Hazy Dawn (Dale Haze-Castle Park) foaled in 1985 and bred by Johnny Lee in Moycullen heralded a new era. It was the inception of the Hazy line in Denmark which could be rated on a par with the success of Marble.

Last autumn Sue Clarke in Australia introduced the green “Hazy” line when she imported Frederiksminde Hazy Miracle, a full brother to Skousboe Morning Rock to stand alongside Castle Barron at Glenormiston stud.


Some Irish breeders are now seeking to regain some of the genes that left the country, especially those with Marble in their veins. The proven Danish stallion Skousboe Morning Rock (Hazy Dawn-Frederiksminde Mellow) owned by Sternbergs stud, in Germany will stand at Spiddal during 2009. He is the only stallion that holds a Supreme Championship sash in three countries, Germany, Denmark, and Ireland.

In mare classes Villa Colleen bred by Liam Walsh and owned by Dr.Sabine Bachmann of Glaskopf stud has impressed many judges in Germany.

In an effort to rejuvenate old bloodlines even further, Sean Dunne from Garryhinch stud purchased the mare Banks Vanilla (Teglsdrup Duke – Banks Squares Do Do) when she was adjudged Best Pony at inspections there in 2006. Her success continued in Ireland, as she was Supreme Champion at Oughterard in 2007, and again at the Midlands show in 2008.

Henry O’Toole imported the stallion Janus (Oxenholm Marble-Brants Hammer Julie) from Sweden and his decision proved worth as he went on to win the Supreme Championship at the R.D.S. in 2006.

The progress made by Clifden Mart, Cavan, and Goresbridge sales has provided a platform for breeders to buy and sell ponies. Over the years, many colt foals were registered and travelled

with only a foal certificate. They were gelded or used as stallions when they left Ireland, but sadly few if any official records were retained, and many of those are now our best ambassadors.

There is no denying that Clifden show each August remains the showcase for the breed here , but Ballinalee, Dublin, Roundstone, and The Midland shows also produce the cream of the crop. In conclusion the Connemara Pony is flourishing all over the world, but it is vital that stallions are carefully selected to retain the vision put in place by the founders in 1923. It is they who established our very own native breed and type. Long may it last.

USA: Therapy Pony – Serendipity’s Savannah 2007

Connemara therapy pony makes a visit to the nursing home
By Vickie J. Maris, Savannah’s human

Serendipity’s Savannah (Sire – Oak Hills Country Song; Dam – Oak Hills Maggie) represented the Connemara breed proudly when she served as a therapy pony in St. Anthony’s Healthcare Center on Dec. 11, 2007, Lafayette, Ind. Therapy pony is just one of many roles that Savannah has served for Dawn of Promise Farm where she has lived since her yearling year.

She is now 13 years old, has produced four foals by Kerrymor Madison, competed successfully in combined tests, USDF dressage shows at training level, jumper classes, and has been the favorite lesson pony of many of my young riding students. But all of this seemed to pale in comparison when she stepped through the back dock entrance of a nursing home onto tile floors most ponies would consider slick, and followed me through the hallways to visit the residents.

The day was cold and rainy and seemed to me to be an Irish blessing of the event about to unfold. I had wrapped Savannah’s hooves in Vetrap® and a little duct tape to keep her from slipping. Her first potential obstacles were the shouts of the kitchen workers who stepped out in the hall to discard things in the trash only to scream when they saw a “real horse” in their hallway.

Savvy has experienced many shouts of delight in her day since she is most often used for the very tiny riders of ages 3 – 5. Little did I know that those exuberant children were preparing her for days of pet therapy with senior citizens!

My late father, Jim Maris, had been living at St. Anthony’s during the fall and was the first to meet us in the hallway that day. He was anxiously awaiting our arrival with my mom, Lucille. Savannah gave him several kisses of greeting and we set out on our tour. Dad was rolling along behind serving as Savannah’s personal PR person. The staff of the nursing home were incredibly accommodating and helpful. The activities director, who had arranged the event, carried the muck bucket and shovel – just in case. The nurses and assistants checked with residents to ask if they’d like a visit from a pony and then helped accommodate all who were excited to meet Savannah. One lovely woman who was about to turn 105 expressed, “Ooohhh! Savannah, you are the best present I’ve ever had! I’ve never touched a real horse until today!” Another woman openly wept with joy. She couldn’t speak, but we all sensed that Savannah was making her day! I later learned that she had grown up on a horse farm. Her tears of joy were the most reaction the staff had seen from her since she had arrived.

Ponies are equipped with such wonderful intuition and Savannah was using every bit of hers to determine if she needed to kiss someone on the cheek or stand quietly while a resident tried to negotiate getting a hand out to pet her. Some residents did not have the coordination to stroke her gently, so she patiently tolerated anyone who grabbed her halter, nostril, ear, and on a couple occasions, tail, while I was looking towards her head.

I knew from Savannah’s outing to represent Connemaras at the Hoosier Horse Fair, that she was not one to worry about crowds and equipment. This was a good thing, as she was approached several times by people in wheelchairs or on walkers and was even surrounded on one occasion by about four residents in wheelchairs before we could get everyone rolled back a bit. She never flinched at wheelchairs, never flicked an ear at alarms going off or at the screeches of delight from residents and staff. In true pony style, she did try to taste the fake Christmas tree at one of the nurse’s stations.

Savannah brought tears to my own eyes as she adjusted the height of her head and her level of activity for each resident depending on their ability and interest. She watched carefully where she placed her feet and would glance behind before I would turn her 180 degrees to head back towards someone calling out for her. She even went into resident rooms to greet those who were bedridden. This required that she enter the doorway and pass the restroom where the hallway was just slightly wider than her well-fed Connemara frame. She would stand quietly at the foot of a resident’s bed and wait for them to reach for her. That seemed to be her clue as to which of the two residents had requested her (and it was sometimes both). So she would then stretch her neck up from the foot of the bed and hold herself in a somewhat awkward position to be petted and loved on or shown a stuffed animal. When the visit was over, she, at my request, would quietly back out of the room, one careful step at a time. My mom told me later that she just couldn’t believe it all and that she wanted to share motherly words of caution, but stopped herself. “As I watched you and Savannah working together, I knew that it was a moment I didn’t need to interrupt. That connection between the two of you is amazing. I could tell that if something wasn’t going to be right, Savannah would have told you and you would have listened.”

Savannah’s unflappable demeanor was perfect for this environment. I always have thought Connemaras were the perfect pony, but dear Savannah, has once again confirmed it! In addition to her good-natured Irish genes, I was grateful for the natural horsemanship training I’ve received alongside Savannah from Megan Doyle and Sherry Beuttner plus the myriad of goofy activities that Savannah and I have done in the past that prepared us for this. One example is the day I arranged for her to be on display in the local feed store promoting a pony program I had going on at the time.

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to share Savannah with my Dad and the other residents of St. Anthony’s. Dad’s health took a turn for the worse only four days later and he was moved to the hospital. He went to be with the Lord on Jan. 9, 2008. In his last month, Dad, Mom and I had the joy of being able to talk and laugh about Savannah’s visit to St. Anthony’s and how she surprised and brought joy to so many people. When Dad died, he had his bride of 65 years keeping watch at his bedside and two photos on his bed table. One was a photo of Savannah.

I look forward to facilitating Savannah’s ability to share joy in nursing homes in the future. I have started reading my book from the Delta Society to prepare the two of us for certification in pet assisted therapy.

Characterisation of the Connemara Pony Population in Ireland

Report presented to
The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development,
Agriculture House, Kildare St., Dublin 2.

Report funded by
The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development,
Agriculture House, Kildare St., Dublin 2.

Deirdre Feely B.Agr.Sc.1,
Patrick Brophy MVB MRCVS1,
Katherine Quinn M.Agr.Sc1.

1Department of Animal Science and Production,
Faculty of Agriculture,
University College Dublin,
Belfield, Dublin 4.


The Connemara Pony is numerically a small breed, with approximately 2,000 breeding females and 250 breeding males in Ireland. Traditionally, the Connemara was a working pony and enjoyed a prominent role in agricultural life in the West of Ireland. However, in the middle of the last century farming practices changed, and as machinery was introduced, the role of the working pony became redundant. The Connemara Pony has maintained its popularity by establishing a position in the showing and riding industry.

The Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society was founded in 1923. The main objectives of the Breed Society are the encouragement, development and maintenance of the Connemara Pony as a pure breed. Since its formation the Society has also been responsible for the publication of the Connemara Pony Stud Book. The breed is now recognised throughout the world as a top class performance pony and 17 different countries have established their own Breeders’ Societies.

As yet, there is little concern regarding the number of pure bred foals produced annually. However, the Connemara Pony Stud Book has been closed since 1964 and the practice of overusing popular sires is prevalent throughout the history of the breed. This could potentially led to a narrowing of the gene pool, high levels of inbreeding and a loss of genetic diversity within the population.

The main objectives of this project were to demographically and genetically characterise the Connemara Pony population, with specific emphasis placed on how past breeding practised have affected the present genetic composition of the breed. Height trends were also analysed in attempt to establish evidence of genetic erosion.


A total of 20,032 records were used in the characterisation of the Connemara Pony population. These records were obtained from the Breed Societies’ database and from Dan-Axel Danielsson of the Swedish Connemara Pony Society.

The study focused on two reference populations. The first reference population consisted of 2,316 registered ponies born between 1993 and 1996 inclusive. This reference population represents the current breeding population of Connemara Ponies. The second reference population contained 2,844 foals born between 1998 and 2001 inclusive. This reference population contained records of both registered and non-registered ponies and represents the future breeding stock of the Connemara Pony. It should be noted that approximately one third of the non-registered ponies in this reference population will not be subsequently registered as Connemara Ponies.

The reference populations were characterised both demographically and genetically. The demographic characterisation is a description of a population in numerical terms and enables us to see how the size and structure of the population has altered over time. The main parameters estimated as part of the demographic characterisation included the number of registered ponies born year, the sex ratio, the average generation interval and family size. The genetic characterisation of a population is conducted to determine the level of genetic diversity within the population. As part of the genetic characterisation the average inbreeding coefficient and average relationship coefficient for animals in the reference populations were calculated. The contributions made by the ancestors of the reference populations, the number of founders, the effective number of founders and the effective number of ancestors were also estimated in order to measure the level of genetic diversity within the population. The influence that the Thoroughbred, Arab, Irish Draught and Welsh Cob breeds had on the reference populations was calculated. Height trends in the Connemara Pony were also analysed.

Summary of results

  • Demographic characterisation of the population
  • Up until 1959 the number of registered ponies born annually was consistently below 100. There was a steep increase in the number ponies born per year between 1959 and 1970, peaking at 568 in 1970. The population size was reduced considerably between 1971 and 1980, but recovered again between 1980 and 1996. At present there is approximately 800 pure bred foals born annually, however only 60 to 70% of these are subsequently registered as Connemara Ponies.
  • In recent years the ratio of registered mares to stallions deteriorated considerably. In 1980 for every 8.53 registered mares born there was one registered stallion born. In 1994 this ratio increased to 30.5 registered mares per stallion.

Demographic analysis of the reference populations

  • In the 1993 to 1996 reference population the number of registered ponies born per year increased from 548 in 1993, to 590 in 1996. In the 1998 to 2001 reference population the number of foals born per year appeared to decrease from 866 in 1998, to 441 in 2001. However, it is assumed that this is due to a lack of records for foals born in more recent years rather than an actual drop in annual foal production.
  • 181 different sires produced the 2,316 animals in the 1993 to 1996 reference population. The number of progeny per sire ranged from 1 to 140. 214 different stallions produced the 2,844 animals in the 1998 to 2001 reference population. The number of foals per stallion ranged from 1 to 151.

Age profile of the sires and dams of the reference populations

  • The average age of sires as higher for the more recent reference population. For example, 7% of the sires of the 1993 to 1996 reference population were under 5 years of age, but in the 1998 to 2001 reference population only 2% of the sires were under 5 years of age.
  • A larger proportion of younger dams produced the more recent reference population. 15% of the dams of the 1993 to 1996 reference population were 20 years or older, while only 5% of the dams of the 1998 to 2001 reference population were of that age group.

Generation interval

The generation interval is defined as the average age of the parents when their offspring are born.

  • The average generation interval between parents and offspring in the 1993 to 1996 reference population was 10.51 years. The average generation interval for the 1998 to 2001 reference population increased slightly to 10.59 years.
  • For both reference populations the generation interval between sires and their offspring was approximately 2 years longer than the generation interval between dams and their offspring.
  • Between 1980 and 2000 the average generation interval increased by 16%, from 8.98 years to 10.44 years.
  • The generation interval calculated is similar to the generation intervals found in other horse populations. The longer generation interval between sires and their progeny may indicate that breeders have a preference for older and proven sires, or it may merely reflect that stallions tend to commence breeding later in life.

Family size

For the purpose of the analysis family size was defined as the number of ‘breeding’ offspring per sire and dam. Offspring were deemed ‘breeding’ if they had produced at least one registered offspring themselves. In an ideal situation, family sizes would be balanced, giving each breeding animal an equal chance of producing their own replacements in the next generation.

  • On average each sire produced 2.88 ‘breeding’ male and 9.94 ‘breeding’ female offspring. Paternal family sizes were found to be extremely unbalanced, with a large proportion of the breeding population being produced by a small pool of stallions. For example, 10% of sires produced 55% of the ‘breeding’ female offspring and 30% of the ‘breeding’ male offspring.
  • On average each dam produced 1.24 ‘breeding’ male and 1.77 ‘breeding’ female offspring. The maternal family sizes showed less variation compared to paternal family sizes, as dams are biologically limited to producing one foal per year.
  • Paternal family sizes were very unbalanced. This is likely to cause a loss in the genetic variation of the breed, an increase in the relationship among animals in future generations, and a rise in the level of inbreeding.
  • Genetic characterisation of the population

Pedigree completeness

Pedigree completeness is an important parameter as the accuracy of the genetic characterisation is largely dependent on the quality of the records used in the analysis. Pedigree completeness was measured by determining the proportion of ancestors known per generation. The complete generation equivalent was also used to measure pedigree completeness and is defined as the average number of complete generations recorded.

  • Both reference populations’ pedigree data was practically 100% complete for the first 3 generations, i.e., almost 100% of all parents, grandparents and great grandparents were known. After the 5th and 6th generations, the proportion of known ancestors steadily decreased.
  • There complete generation equivalents for the 1993 to 1996, and the 1998 to 2001 reference populations, were 6.15 and 6.59 respectively.
  • The level of pedigree completeness for the animals in the reference populations was deemed to be relatively high when compared to corresponding studies.


The coefficient of inbreeding measures the probability that an animal receives identical genes by descent from its sire and dam.

  • The average inbreeding coefficient for animals in the 1993 to 1996 reference population was 4.49%. This had increased to 4.65% for the 1998 to 2001 reference population.
  • 5.31% of the animals in the 1993 to 1996 reference population had inbreeding coefficients under 2%. The proportion of ponies in the 1998 to 2001 reference population with inbreeding coefficients under 2% was 2.67%.
  • The increase in inbreeding from 1980 to 1990 was 0.93% and was very similar to the expected rate at which inbreeding would increase under random mating conditions.
  • The average inbreeding coefficient for animals born in 1980 was 3.19%, this has increased steadily, reaching 4.65% in 2000.
  • The level of inbreeding detected in the Connemara Pony population was high in relation to most comparable studies. The actual increase in inbreeding corresponded to the theoretical increase in inbreeding expected if mating were at random, indicating that breeders did not take sufficient steps to avoid the mating of related animals.

Average relationship coefficient

The average relationship coefficient measures the proportion of genes that animals have in common.

  • The average relationship coefficient among animals in the 1993 to 1996, and 1998 to 2001 reference populations were 10.26% and 10.66% respectively. The relationship among the sires of both of the reference populations was almost 1% higher than the relationships among the dams of the reference populations.
  • Considering the average relationship between two first cousins is 12.5%, the average relationship among animals in the reference populations was extremely high. The average relationship among the sires of the reference populations was higher than the relationship among the dams of the reference populations, implying that stallions selected for breeding are of similar ancestry or breeding lines.

Contributions made by ancestors 

Important ancestors were identified by calculating the marginal contributions made by ascendants to the reference populations. The marginal contribution is the contribution made by an ancestor that is not already explained by another animal.

  • Carna Bobby was the most important ancestor to both of the reference populations, with a marginal contribution of 13.81% to the 1993 to 1996 reference population and 13.93% to the 1998 to 2001 reference population. Dun Lorenzo and Carna Dun were the next most important ancestors, contributing approximately 10.5% and 8.5% respectively to the genes of the reference populations.
  • Overall the contributions made by the ancestors of the reference populations were found to be very unequal with 6 ancestors contributing 50% of the genes to both of the reference populations
  • The imbalance of the contributions made by ancestors implies that future generations are at risk of further losses in genetic variation.

Number of founders, effective number of founders A founder is defined as an ancestor with unknown parents or the unknown parent where only one parent is unknown. It is assumed that all founders are unrelated and all of the genes in the populations emanate from these founders. The effective number of founders is a theoretical number defined as the number of equally contributing founders that would be expected, given the level of genetic diversity that exists in the reference population. The more balanced the founder contributions are to the reference population, the more the effective number of founders will approach the actual number of founders.

  • There were 351 founders for the 1993 to 1996 reference population and 342 founders for the 1998 to 2001 reference population.
  • The effective number of founders for both of the reference populations was 35.8.

The discrepancy between the actual number of founders and the effective number of founders is expected to decrease the amount of genetic diversity in the present population relative to what would have transpired had all founders contributed equally.

The effective number of ancestors

The effective number of ancestors is a theoretical number that supplies us with the minimum number of ancestors needed to explain the complete genetic diversity of the reference population. Unlike the effective number of founders, the effective number of ancestors accounts for bottlenecks in the pedigree. The closer the effective number of ancestors is to the effective number of founders, the smaller the impact past bottlenecks have had on the genetic diversity of the population.

  • The effective number of founders for both of the reference populations was approximately 18.
  • This indicates that past bottlenecks have adversely affected the genetic diversity of the animals in the reference populations.

The breed composition of the reference populationsA small number of Thoroughbred, Arab and Irish Draught stallions sired registered Connemara Ponies in the 1940s and 1950s. There were also two stallions in the pedigree file that were known to have Welsh Cob genes. The proportion of genes that the animals in the reference populations possessed, originating from these stallions, was estimated to obtain the influence that the Thoroughbred, Arab and Irish Draught had on the reference populations..

  • The Thoroughbred was the most influential of the foreign breeds, accounting for approximately 6% of the genes of the reference populations. The Arab, Irish Draught and Welsh Cob accounted for approximately 3.7%, 1.2% and 0.9% of the genes of the reference populations respectively. Approximately 88% of the genes in the animals in the reference population are assumed to be Connemara Pony.
  • The majority of the animals in the reference populations possessed at least some Welsh Cob, Thoroughbred and Arab genes. Approximately 50% of the animals in the reference populations had Irish Draught in their ancestry.

Height trends in the Connemara PonyThe traditional role of the Connemara Pony was as a versatile working animal. The main emphasis was on producing ponies with strength, hardiness, good bone and intelligence. However, as farming became increasingly mechanised during the middle of the last century, the role that the Connemara Pony had secured as a working animal began to disappear. The breed has survived by gaining a reputation as a performance animal and establishing a place in the showing and riding industry. In order to adapt to present market demands the breed is moving away from a traditional type to a ‘modern’ type of animal that is taller and lighter boned. As the breed moves away from the traditional type valuable genes may be lost, along with the characteristics that distinguish the Connemara Pony from other equine breeds. This process is known as genetic erosion and is a problem confronting many present-day equine breeds. Height trends in the Connemara Pony were analysed in an attempt to identify the occurrence of genetic erosion.

  • The average height at time of inspection of registered Connemara Ponies born in 1970 was 135.33cm. This increased steadily over the years, reaching 142.88cm in 1997.
  • Between 1972 and 1997 the average height of registered mares and stallions at the time of inspection increased by 8cm and 5.5cm respectively. Between 1975 and 1995, ponies bred outside Co. Galway were significantly taller than ponies bred inside Co. Galway (141.29cm +/- 4.56 versus 139.23cm +/- 5.16; P=0.0001). However, between 1991 and 2000 there was no difference in height between the two groups (142.49cm +/- 3.98 versus 142.38cm +/- 4.18; P=0.3834).
  • The analysis of height trends confirmed that Connemara Ponies are growing taller. It is assumed that this is a consequence of both improved environmental conditions and selection for taller ponies.


Following the analysis, it appears that the Connemara Pony breed is being confronted with two problems. Firstly, the survival of the traditional type of breed is under threat, and secondly, the genetic diversity of the breed is diminishing.

Today, the riding industry is an important outlet for Connemara Ponies. However, there is concern that this industry is instigating a shift from the traditional type of pony, to a taller, ‘modern’ type. The traditional type of Connemara Pony is perfectly adapted to the environment in which it developed and is completely distinct from other equine breeds. It may be necessary to safeguard against market forces inciting the disappearance of the traditional type of pony, which is a valuable national resource, and once lost can never be recovered.

The results generated from the characterisation of the Connemara Pony population indicate that past breeding practices have caused a significant loss in the breeds’ genetic diversity. To ensure that the genetic variation in the breed does not recede to a detrimental level, breeding policies need to be altered.

In future, it is vital that sire family sizes become more balanced, giving all stallions a better opportunity to breed their own replacements in the next generation. This would help to control the level of inbreeding and genetic diversity within the population.

The stallions used for breeding are closely related to each other and tend to be of similar ancestry or breeding lines. From a genetic diversity perspective it may be advantageous to have a pool of breeding stallions that are less related to each other to bestow a variety of genes to the proceeding generations.

As relationships among animals in the present population is high the mating of related animals is inevitable. Breeders must be very vigilant in respect to the stallions that they use for breeding to ensure that a minimal amount of inbreeding is practised.

There are 16 different countries, outside Ireland, that have formed their own Breeders’ Societies and maintain their own stud books. A study is presently being undertaken to characterise the Connemara Pony populations in a number of these countries. It is hoped that these animals may be a source of genetic variability that could be used to widen the gene pool of the Irish Connemara Pony population.

Adequate genetic diversity is vital for the long term health and viability of any population. Thus, it is vital that breeding practices are altered in order to secure the future prosperity of the Connemara Pony breed.