[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his ancient Irish breed of mountain and moorland pony has been resident in South Africa since the first imports arrived directly from Ireland in 1965. These were Clonkeehan Barna Boy and Bright Lass. Both were imported by Sydney Press of the Bluehills Riding School near Johannesburg. Christine Walwyn of the nationally known Ashgar Connemara Stud in Clarens, Eastern Free State, acquired the stallion Dundrum and his dam Coromandel Abbeyline in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and evidence of their lineage can be found in the current Ashgar performance ponies competing in provincial English riding disciplines throughout South Africa.
Due to demands for cross-bred sport horses and ponies for performance and recreational horse riding, the pure-bred Connemara Pony in South Africa now suffers from chronic genetic erosion. The ‘factory’, in other words the pure-bred animals’ genetic pool, has been eroded to such an extent that Connemara Pony numbers in South Africa are currently placed in the ‘Critical’ category – there are under 20 pure-bred breeding mares and only four (two of them imported) breeding stallions.
In South Africa, locally bred Connemara Pony breed stallions, although in a similar class to the worldwide breed standards, were just one generation away from this situation. The only imported stallion available up to mid-year 2013 was still privately owned by one nationally known breeder.
So, what to do? Well, there were several suggestions put forward:
- Let the breed die out completely in South Africa.
- Find a stakeholder group of people resident in South Africa willing to collaborate and work towards the 22nd century future of the Connemara Pony in South Africa.
- Form a Connemara Conservation Programme to protect the remaining pure-bred stock and to consolidate relationships with the owners of privately owned pure-bred Connemaras via broodmare lease and donation agreements.
- Extend and re-establish the existing Pony gene pool to the best possible international breed standards, bearing in mind the existing and future SA rider market demands.
- Consolidate the existing SA Connemara Pony Registry into one entity currently maintained with SA Stud Book.
- Find a market niche for the breed in South Africa (bearing in mind that the Connemara Pony has limited exposure here in the international/global disciplines in which he excels: driving, hunting, junior eventing and Pony Club).
- Raise awareness of the Pony through print media and the internet to educate the general public on this ancient, versatile and beautiful Pony.
Having come to this conclusion I placed an ad in my mind of what kind of a foundation stallion we would be looking for – almost along the lines of a job description – to help me with my selection process.
Wanted: Foundation stallion for South Africa Connemara Pony Breed Conservation Programme
Personal attributes: Must meet the globally recognised top-class Connemara breed stallion in type and performance. A pony with charisma, fabulous sport pony paces, excellent conformation, a kind eye in a gentle face, with impeccable manners. He must be in the best of health according to SA and international quarantine laws and regulations as well as being able to withstand the rigours of a north-to-south change of hemisphere and change of environment, plus the potential exposure to African risks in terms of disease and viruses. Also proven as extremely fertile, preferably with award-winning progeny on the ground!
Education: Must have formal education in specific disciplines such as showing, dressage and showjumping and be comfortable in a show environment. The stallion should be an ‘old hand’ at live and AI breeding techniques.
Experience: Adaptable in a range of environments and comfortable with all the razzmatazz that comes with the big show environment. Able to cope with the change in environment from training yards in Gauteng to the stud in the Eastern Free State.
Personality: Even-tempered, tolerant and forgiving, easy-going, intelligent and quick to learn but quirky and fun without being boring. It is necessary to bear in mind that his potential progeny will most likely be owned and ridden by children and adults from novice to advanced standard in a multi-discipline environment.
Skills: English-speaking! This sounds strange but it is quite challenging when the horse has been trained in a different language such as German or French and you take him out to work. As a foundation stallion, he must have fabulous, smooth paces in rhythm, suppleness, not an excess of elevation being a sport pony but sufficient to be attractive.
Attributes: ‘Cheap to keep!’ In today’s world the cost of keeping horses tends to be on the top-end of any person’s budget. It is therefore beholden to the breeder to promote a breed that if possible fits into the ‘good doer’ category. He should also be adaptable to different environmental conditions and terrains (particularly if put into training for endurance in which he excels overseas). The breed is primarily targeted to children and juniors and so a sensitive category breed is not really appropriate.
Budget: Zero! Well, this isn’t entirely true. My husband is a businessman and entrepreneur and thankfully has a very soft spot for both me and the horses, being a life-long horseman himself. I put the sales pitch and job description above to him and was astounded when he said: “Okay, go for it.” Flushed with success I knew then the journey to find Mighty had begun.
The full article appears in the December issue of HQ.
Text: Zena Penfold