The Connemara is a large pony breed native to Ireland. Their name is derived from the Connemara region in County Galway on Ireland’s west coast, which is where they originated.

Legends abound regarding the origins of these Irish ponies. Although the precise history of the breed continues to be researched, the modern Connemara Pony unmistakably mirrors the rugged beauty of the landscape from which they hail.

Today, Connemara ponies are well known for their athleticism and versatility as a riding horse. Their size and talent make them competitive in several disciplines. But the breed is also susceptible to a unique genetic disease that can affect their soundness.

This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Connemara breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Connemara ponies.

Connemara Pony History

Connemara ponies have a long history deeply rooted in the western coast of Ireland. The stark landscape of the Connemara region shaped the breed into the beloved mounts that riders know today. But the origins of this breed remain obscure.

Origin

Celtic ponies came to Ireland alongside the Celts 2500 years ago. Historical evidence of Iron Age chariot races in Loughrea near Galway suggests these ponies influenced Connemara breeding. [1]

Scandinavian ponies brought to Ireland during the Viking Age also likely influenced the development of local pony breeds. Viking raids off the west coast of Ireland began in 795 AD. Today, several modern British and Irish ponies share genetic links to Nordic breeds. [2]

Genetic studies confirm that Iberian bloodlines also influenced the development of traditional Irish horse breeds. Other genetic influences in Connemara Pony bloodlines include Thoroughbreds, Arabians, and Welsh Ponies. [3]

A popular legend claims these ponies descend from Spanish horses that swam to shore after a Spanish Armada shipwreck off the Connemara coast in the late 16th century. However, these breed influences are more likely due to trade links between Spain and Western Ireland.

Arabian and Iberian horses were crossed with Irish Hobby horses during this time to refine local ponies. One study found Connemaras had the most significant gene flow from migrant populations among British and Irish breeds. [4]

Historic Use

Irish mythology describes ancient warrior tribes in western Ireland mounted on ponies. Celtic warriors used the ponies to pull war chariots and carts. But throughout their history, the ancestors of Connemaras were primarily all-around working animals for Irish Farmers. [1]

Farmers in the Connemara region needed hardy ponies that could traverse rocky terrain and deep mud. Families generally relied on a single pony to pull plows, carry turf from the bogs, and work from dawn to dusk. Connemaras also competed with Irish Hunter horses in local races.

Hardships and famine in 19th-century Ireland led to excessive crossbreeding and reduced quality in Connemara pony stock. But a resurgence in support for the breed in the early 20th century helped the Connemara rebound as a popular riding and show horse.

Breed Registry

Founded in 1923, the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society established inspections in Ireland to register foundation stock and improve the breed. The inspections continue today, along with an annual Connemara Pony Show held in Clifden, the capital of Connemara.

The American Connemara Pony Society registers ponies and promotes the Connemara breed in North America.

Mad About Horses
Join Dr. Chris Mortensen, PhD on an exciting adventure into the story of the horse and learn how we can make the world a better place for all equines.
Apple Podcasts Spotify Youtube
Mad Barn - Equine Nutrition Consultants | Mad Barn USA

Breed Characteristics

Judges evaluate Connemara Ponies based on an established breed standard at inspections and shows. Connemaras generally have a more athletic build than other pony breeds, which allows the breed to excel in several competitive disciplines.

Conformation

Connemaras are one of the largest pony breeds, ranging from 13 to 15 hands tall at adulthood. Their general conformation is well-balanced, with an overall impression of a light riding type with good substance and ground-covering movement.

Their heads have pony characteristics with large eyes and well-defined cheekbones. The head is well set on the neck, which should connect to a laid-back shoulder.

Deep bodies with solid backs and loins add to their athleticism. Hindquarters have some length and well-developed gaskins. Limbs should be strong and correct with short cannons, medium pasterns, good bone, free elbows, and medium-sized feet.

Colours

Acceptable coat colours in Connemara ponies include:

  • Grey
  • Black
  • Bay
  • Brown
  • Dun
  • Roan
  • Chestnut
  • Palomino
  • Cream

Pinto colour is not permitted in the breed.

Temperament

Most Connemaras have gentle and adaptable temperaments. These ponies develop strong bonds with their human handlers. Their intelligence and work ethic make them enjoyable equine partners who learn new things quickly.

Many Connemara owners find these ponies have enough heart to compensate for their smaller size when competing against larger sport horses. They are also agile and athletic, with excellent stamina and sure-footedness.

Disciplines

Connemara ponies are suitable for both small adult and youth riders. The breed is a popular sport and show pony, thanks to their elegance, movement, and athleticism. While some Connemaras show in harness, most compete under saddle.

Popular competitive disciplines for Connemara ponies include show jumping, eventing, and dressage. Connemaras have good jumping ability, and some ponies compete internationally in eventing.

Connemara Pony Health

Many common health problems found in Connemaras are prevalent in all native Irish and British pony breeds. However, Connemaras are also susceptible to breed-specific genetic conditions.

Genetic Diseases

Hoof wall separation disease (HWSD) is the primary genetic disorder found in the Connemara breed. This inherited condition is characterized by cracking and separation of the outer hoof wall. Affected horses have fragile hoof walls, which can contribute to ongoing lameness. [5]

Researchers have linked a unique genetic mutation in Connemara ponies to the hoof wall phenotype associated with the disease. The specific mutation involved in this hoof disorder is a frameshift in the SERPINB11 gene, resulting in a shortened protein. [6]

HWSD is an autosomal recessive disorder, which means ponies with two copies of the SERPINB11 variant will show clinical signs of the disease, while carriers with one copy have normal hoof walls. However, carriers have a 50% chance of passing the gene on to their offspring and a 25% chance of producing a foal with HWSD if bred to another carrier.

Clinical signs of hoof wall separation disease typically appear within the first six months of life. Sudden environmental changes can exacerbate splitting and cracks of the hooves.

Surveys estimate that 14.8% of Connemara ponies are carriers for the gene responsible for HWSD. Genetic testing can help prevent matings between carriers and reduce the incidence of the disease. [6]

Health Problems

Severe cases of HWSD in Connemara ponies can also lead to laminitis, a painful condition affecting the laminae tissue within the hoof.

Laminitis is a prevalent concern in British and Irish pony breeds due to their inherent susceptibility to equine metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. [7] Connemaras prone to insulin resistance face an increased risk of laminitis, requiring careful dietary management to protect their health. [8]

Bone development disorders are another health concern for Connemara ponies. While Connemaras are taller than some pony breeds, they are not a heavy pony breed and don’t have the same carrying capacity. Ensure riders are an appropriate size for Connemaras to carry comfortably.

Heavy rider weight can contribute to welfare and lameness issues in mature Connemaras. However, the stress of carrying heavy loads early in life can also increase the risk of developmental orthopedic disorders in ponies. [9]

Many common health problems in Connemara show ponies are associated with the stress of training and competing. Horses in heavy work have an increased risk of gastric ulcers. Management that reduces stress and supports digestive health can help mitigate these risks. [10]

Care and Management

All Connemara ponies need quality basic horse care that meets their physical and behavioural needs. Diligent care and proactive management are essential to maintaining your pony’s health, whether they are actively competing or not.

Care for your Connemara pony should include a preventative wellness program developed with your veterinarian and other equine health practitioners:

  • Veterinary Exams: Schedule routine check-ups to detect and address health issues in Connemara ponies early.
  • Vaccinations: Follow a veterinarian-recommended vaccination schedule to protect your pony from infectious diseases.
  • Dental Care: Schedule regular dental check-ups with a qualified equine dental practitioner to support proper chewing and digestion, especially in older ponies.
  • Parasite Management: Implement a thorough deworming strategy to protect your Connemara against internal parasites.
  • Hoof Care: Prioritize regular trims by a professional farrier to prevent lameness and hoof issues. [10]

Farrier care is vital for keeping Connemaras sound. Ponies with hoof wall separation disease often struggle to keep shoes on and need advanced care to support hoof health.

This breed is also very social and enjoys daily grooming time with their owners. Grooming also supports their skin, coat, and muscle health.

Connemaras are hardy ponies that can live outside if they have access to shelter from inclement weather. Many show Connemaras live inside, but prolonged stall confinement can increase stress. Ensure your pony gets adequate daily turnout to enable free exercise and social interaction.

These athletic ponies do best in training programs with regular exercise. Exercise is beneficial for bone strength and helps ponies maintain a healthy weight. Connemaras with light workloads often need careful dietary management to reduce the risk of obesity and metabolic issues.

Connemara Pony Nutrition

Connemaras have similar nutritional needs to other pony breeds. A balanced feeding program can help manage health risks in the breed and enable Connemara ponies to perform their best in the competition arena.

Weight Maintenance

Connemara ponies are easy keepers. Like other ponies from Ireland and the British Isles, they have an efficient metabolism that allowed them to survive on sparse vegetation in harsh terrain.

These ponies should easily maintain body condition on a balanced diet. However, Connemaras are also prone to unhealthy weight gain in domestic management settings when provided with energy-dense feeds.

Connemara pony shows penalize these ponies for being overweight or underweight. Owners can use body condition scoring to monitor their Connemara’s weight and determine if dietary changes are necessary.

Sample Diet

The following sample feeding program is based on a 800 pound (360 kg) mature Connemara pony at maintenance (not exercising).

Feed Amount per day
Mid-Quality Hay (8% crude protein) Free-choice
Salt 15 g (1 tbsp)
Omneity Pellets 150 g (1.5 scoops)
Diet Analysis
Digestible Energy (% of Req) 106%
Protein (% of Req) 130%
HC (ESC + starch; % Diet) 8.8%

 

Although forage should make up the bulk of your pony’s diet, forage-based diets require fortification to prevent common nutrient deficiencies in the equine diet. A vitamin and mineral supplement can help fortify these diets without adding extra calories or starch. [11]

Mad Barn’s Omneity is a balanced vitamin and mineral supplement designed to complement forage-based diets. Omneity provides essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, yeast and digestive enzymes to support hoof health, gut function, performance and more in Connemaras.

Omneity – Premix

5 stars
88%
4 stars
6%
3 stars
4%
2 stars
1%
1 star
1%

Learn More

  • 100% organic trace minerals
  • Complete B-vitamin fortification
  • Optimal nutrition balance
  • Our best-selling equine vitamin

Forage

Horses should consume approximately 2% of their bodyweight in forage per day to provide adequate energy and protein, as well as support digestive function.

For an 800 pound (360 kg) Connemara pony, this is equivalent to 16 pounds (7.2 kg) of average-quality, low-starch, low-sugar grass hay daily. Easy keepers typically require mature forages to avoid gaining excess weight. Choose a hay with less than 10% hydrolyzable carbohydrates (HC) which is the combination of starch and sugar (ESC) that impact insulin levels, unlike NSC which contains carbohydrates that do not impact insulin.

Connemaras with heavy workloads may benefit from higher-quality forages to meet their energy requirements. Alfalfa hay is a good forage-based source of protein for performance horses. Alfalfa also has a high calcium content, which supports stomach health in competition horses by buffering stomach acid, however this needs to be appropriately balanced with adequate phosphorus. [12]

Horses benefit from free-choice access to forage, but unrestricted hay can lead to weight gain in some Connemara ponies. Using a slow feeder helps regulate hay consumption while still allowing continuous access to forage.

When turned out on fresh pasture, Connemaras may be exposed to high sugar levels in grass, which can elevate the risk of metabolic issues and pasture-associated laminitis. Consider turning your pony out on a dry lot or using a grazing muzzle to safely limit grass intake. [13]

Feeding Recommendations

Most Connemara ponies in light work can meet all of their energy and protein requirements with forage alone. Connemaras with heavy training workloads may need additional sources of calorie provided.

However, high-starch grains should be avoided for this breed. Most Connemara ponies don’t need commercial concentrates, and large grain meals can increase the risk of digestive upset and metabolic issues in this breed.

If your Connemara needs extra energy to support athletic demands, feed forage-based alternatives (i.e. hay pellets, beet pulp) or fat supplements instead. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements provide additional benefits for immune and metabolic health. [14]

All Connemaras need access to fresh, clean water and free-choice salt. Feeding 1 – 2 tablespoons of plain loose salt in your pony’s daily ration ensures they get enough sodium in their diet.

Nutritional Supplements

When developing a new feeding program for your Connemara pony, the first priority is to balance their overall diet. After ensuring their diet is balanced, you can consider adding supplements for targeted nutritional support.

  • W-3 Oil is an essential fatty acid supplement enriched with high levels of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, as well as natural Vitamin E. Connemara ponies can benefit from W-3 Oil as it supports joint health, helps to regulate inflammation, and promotes a healthy coat.
  • Visceral+ is a comprehensive gut supplement that helps maintain gastric and hindgut health in Connemara ponies. This formula provides probiotics, yeast, amino acids, herbs, and minerals to support digestion and reduce risks associated with gastric ulcers.
  • MSM is a natural joint supplement that can support healthy soft tissues in growing and exercising Connemara ponies. MSM is a source of bioavailable sulphur, which helps maintain healthy cartilage and connective tissue.
  • Performance XL: Electrolytes is scientifically formulated to replenish the electrolytes that horses lose in their sweat. Connemara ponies competing in eventing and other intense disciplines benefit from electrolyte supplementation to maintain nerve and muscle function, support post-exercise care and prevent dehydration.

Submit your Connemara pony’s diet online for a free consultation with our experienced equine nutritionists to get help with formulating a balanced diet.

Is Your Horse's Diet Missing Anything?

Identify gaps in your horse's nutrition program to optimize their well-being.

References

  1. McCormick, F. The horse in early Ireland. Anthropozoologica. 2007.
  2. Prystupa, J. et al. Genetic diversity and admixture among Canadian, Mountain and Moorland and Nordic pony populations. Animal. 2011.
  3. McGivney, B. et al. The genetic composition of the Traditional Irish Horse – towards the development of a DNA-ancestry test for the preservation of traditionally bred Irish Sport Horses. Genet Resources. 2023.
  4. Winton, C. et al. Genetic diversity within and between British and Irish breeds: The maternal and paternal history of native ponies. Ecol and Evol. 2020.View Summary
  5. Finno, C. Hoof wall separation disease: A review. Equine Vet Ed. 2021. View Summary
  6. Finno, C. et al. SERPINB11 Frameshift Variant Associated with Novel Hoof Specific Phenotype in Connemara Ponies. PLoS Genet. 2015. View Summary
  7. Pollard, D. et al. Incidence and clinical signs of owner-reported equine laminitis in a cohort of horses and ponies in Great Britain. Equine Vet J. 2018.View Summary
  8. Carslake, H. et al. Equine metabolic syndrome in UK native ponies and cobs is highly prevalent with modifiable risk factors. Equine Vet J. 2020. View Summary
  9. Dyson, S. et al. The influence of rider:horse bodyweight ratio and rider-horse-saddle fit on equine gait and behaviour: A pilot study. Equine Vet Ed. 2019.
  10. Hartmann, A. et al. A preliminary investigation into the association between competition and gastric ulcer formation in non-racing performance horses. J Equine Vet Sci. 2003.
  11. National Research Council. Nutrient Requirements of Horses. National Academies. 2007.
  12. Lybbert, T. et al. Feeding alfalfa hay to exercising horses reduces the severity of gastric squamous mucosal ulceration. Proceed AAEP. 2007.
  13. Watts, K. Forage and pasture management for laminitic horses. Clin Techniq Equine Pract. 2004.
  14. Zeyner, A. et al. Effect of feeding exercised horses on high-starch or high-fat diets for 390 days. Equine Vet J. 2010.View Summary