Celebrate the native equines of Ireland

Successful event horse Connaught, ridden by Phillip Dutton, is an example of the superlative athleticism of the Irish Sport Horse. Photo: Lesley Ward.

Ireland has a long history of horses and equestrianism. Some of the best racehorses and sport horses in the world today come from Irish bloodlines, and even some popular breeds of family horses and ponies have Irish history. Here are a few of the breeds that come from the Emerald Isle.

The Connemara Pony comes from and is named for an area on the west coast of Ireland bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Galway Bay; a wilderness of bogs and rugged moorland. In the early days of the breed, about 5th century B.C., the Connemara resembled a Shetland pony. Later, Celtic raiders bred the horses to the Spanish Jennet and the Irish Hobby.

Gypsy Horses, registered as Gypsy Vanner Horses, Gypsy Cobs and Gypsy Drum horses, are a relatively new concept to most people, but not to the Romany (gypsy) “Traveller” of Great Britain. Today, colorful Gypsy horses can be seen at times moving with their owners as they travel to their annual gathering places. Although many of the Gypsy’s horses are not specifically bred, an increased number of the horses have been selectively bred over the last 50 years to exhibit characteristics that create the perfect caravan horses.

The Irish Draught Horse is one of the two native equine breeds found in Ireland. Its ancestry is unclear. Thoroughbred stallions may have been put to local mares whose origins were a conglomeration of whatever swam to shore after shipwrecks (perhaps from Spanish galleons) and French and Flemish stock brought by Anglo-Norman invaders. The Irish Draught was more likely developed from local horses and adapted to the work that was required.

The Irish Sport Horse is one of the most popular breeds for the sport of eventing. These horses come from Irish Draught and Thoroughbred bloodlines. Famous Irish Sport Horses from recent history include U.S. Olympic Team horses Connaught (ridden by Phillip Dutton), McKinleigh (ridden by Gina Miles), Mr. Medicott (ridden by Karen O’Connor), Ringwood Magister (ridden by Tiana Coudray), and Flexible (ridden by Rich Fellers).

The Kerry Bog Pony is believed to be descended from the Celdone ponies, used by the Celtic settlers in northwest Spain. Military and trading relations between Spain, Portugal and Ireland have been credited with introducing these ponies to Ireland. Like other equines in Ireland, the ponies were used as pack and cavalry animals during the Peninsular Wars (1804 – 1814), and later in the Great War.



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