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Get to know our Native Pony Breeds Scotland & Ireland

horses on a grass field under a cloudy sky

We have recently looked at some of our native horse and draught horse breeds. Today I want to talk to you about some of our adorable and endangered native pony breeds. We have so many native breeds, that I’m going to start with those from Scotland and Ireland.

Connemara

A fantastic sports pony.

Connemara ponies. Credit: Tanya Hart @ flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/arripay/28231388811
Connemara ponies. Credit: Tanya Hart
  • Height: 12hh – 14.2hh
  • Colours: Typically grey or dun. But can be bay, black, brown, roan, chestnut, palomino or cream.
  • Temperament: Intelligent, agile and surefooted.

The Connemara pony is versatile native pony breed from the Connemara region of western Ireland. Its history is deeply rooted in the rugged and challenging landscapes of this region, and it has evolved over centuries to become one of the most recognized and cherished pony breeds in the world, often cross breed with larger horses to create the perfect smaller sports horse.

The exact origins of the Connemara pony are not well-documented, but it is believed that they have a mix of local Irish ponies, Spanish horses brought to Ireland by explorers, and perhaps some influence from Arabian horses. Their hardiness and surefootedness were crucial for navigating the rocky terrain of Ireland, helping with farming, fishing and transportation.

In the 19th century, efforts to improve the breed’s quality and conformation began. The aim was to create a pony that could not only work the land but also excel in various equestrian disciplines. By the early 20th century, it was being used not only for work on the farms but also for riding, hunting, and as a driving pony. In 1923, the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society was founded to preserve and promote the breed’s qualities.

Today, Connemara ponies are renowned for their intelligence, gentle disposition, and adaptability. They are used in a wide range of equestrian activities, including show jumping, dressage, eventing, and as family ponies.

Shetland

Believed to be the strongest horse in the world.

herd of purebred ponies pasturing in snowy hillside
Photo by Harry Cooke on Pexels.com
  • Height: 10.2hh and under
  • Colours: Ay colour apart from spotted colours.
  • Temperament: Gentle but intelligent and cheeky.

The Shetland pony is a small but hardy breed native to the Shetland Islands, which are part of Scotland. The exact origins of the Shetland pony are not well-documented, but it is believed that they descended from ponies brought to the Shetland Islands by Norse settlers more than a thousand years ago. Over centuries, the Shetland pony evolved in isolation, adapting to the Shetland Islands’ harsh climate, limited resources, and rugged terrain. Their small stature was an advantage in these conditions, as it allowed them to efficiently forage for food in the rocky landscape.

Their strength, endurance, and surefootedness made them invaluable to the islanders. They were used for pulling carts and plowing fields, as well as for transportation. In the 19th century, Shetland ponies were exported to mainland Britain and other parts of the world. They were used in coal mines, textile mills, and as pit ponies due to their small size and strength. In the 20th century, efforts were made to refine and standardize the breed. Crossing with other pony breeds, including Welsh and Hackney ponies, was done to enhance their conformation and suitability for showing.

Today, Shetland ponies are known for their compact size, cheekiness, and versatility. They are popular as children’s ponies, in driving competitions, and for pony racing. Who doesn’t love watching the Shetland Grand National at most major horse shows?

Highland

Less than 900 left in the UK.

Highland Ponies in Glen Feshie
Credit: Dorothy Carse (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Highland Ponies in Glen Feshie
Credit: Dorothy Carse (cc-by-sa/2.0)
  • Height: Less than 14.2hh
  • Colours: Pretty much any solid colour. Including duns, greys and creams.
  • Temperament: Safe, hardy, friendly.

The Highland Pony’s ancestors can be traced back to the native ponies of Scotland that have inhabited the region for centuries. These ancient ponies were small and hardy, well-suited to the challenging terrain and harsh climate of the Scottish Highlands. Over the centuries they have been used for a wide range of tasks, including plowing fields, hauling peat and timber, carrying deer and game from the hills, and as general-purpose workhorses.

By the 20th century, the Highland Pony’s population had declined due to changes in agriculture and transportation. Recognizing the need to preserve this valuable breed, organizations like the Highland Pony Society were established to promote and protect the breed.

Today, the Highland Pony is valued for its strength, hardiness, and versatility. While they are still used for traditional tasks such as deer stalking and working on crofts (small farms), they have also found roles in recreational riding, driving, and showing. Their calm and gentle temperament makes them suitable for riders of all ages and abilities.

Eriskay

Related to the unique Icelandic ponies.

An Eriskay mare and her foal. Credit: Barbara Carr
An Eriskay mare and her foal. Credit: Barbara Carr
  • Height: Smaller than 13.2hh
  • Colours: Grey. Very rarely other solid colours.
  • Temperament: Placid, trainable and sturdy.

The Eriskay pony, also known as the Eriskay or Eriskay Island pony, is a small and hardy breed native to the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The Eriskay pony’s ancestry is believed to be ancient, with roots dating back to the small, hardy ponies that lived on the islands for centuries. These ponies were well-suited to the harsh and challenging conditions of the Hebrides.

The isolation of the Isle of Eriskay allowed the breed to evolve naturally and adapt to the island’s environment. The ponies developed characteristics such as a sturdy build, a thick, weather-resistant coat, and surefootedness on rocky and boggy terrain. This made it a perfect workhorse for the islanders. They were used for a variety of tasks, including working on crofts (small farms), pulling carts, hauling peat and seaweed, and transporting goods and people.

The Eriskay Pony Society, founded in 1972, has played a vital role in promoting and protecting the breed. Changes in agriculture and transportation had led to a decline in the population of Eriskay ponies. Today there are fewer than 300 ponies. They are known for their friendly and docile temperament, making them suitable for riding, driving, and as family ponies. They are also appreciated for their conservation grazing capabilities, helping to maintain the natural habitats of the islands.

Last Updated on 06/10/2023

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