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The small Kerry Bog Pony pony evolved because of its use as a draft animal in the bogs of Kerry, Ireland. The conformation, great strength, soundness, and the Kerry Bog Pony’s disposition of kindness enable them to easily be trained to harness or saddle and make good children’s riding ponies.
The Kerry Bog Pony is thought to be a descendant of native British ponies and those Iberian mountain ponies which carry oriental (Celtic) blood. In an article in “Nature” in 1904, Cossar Ewart expressed the opinion that the Celtic pony was a distinct equine subspecies. The Iberian mountain pony shows influences of that Celtic pony, or horse, and passed them on to several breeds on the British Isles.
At any rate, it is undisputed that military and trading links between Ireland and Spain and Portugal brought some of the ponies to Ireland which were native to northern Iberia, and which were influenced by the Celtic pony, or small horse rather, then at the Celts then took everywhere they went.
An old book depicting part of an Irish procession at Stuttgart in 1617 shows animals portrayed whose morphology and comparative small size suggest that they may have been ponies of the type known today as the Kerry Bog Pony.
Admirers of the Kerry Bog Pony like to point out their partly Iberian ancestry. So they mention a visit by Isaac Ware to Charles Smith in the 1700’s in Kerry, and Ware’s observation that the ponies there used to be called Asturiones, as having originally been brought over from the Asturias in Spain.
Reportedly, visitors to the region of Kerry such as Mr. and Mrs. Hall in 1840, and British agricultural writers like David Low in 1842, all referred to the distinguishable small local ponies of Kerry.
As recent as in 1962, Kevin Danaher mentioned the use in Kerry of the Kerry Bog Pony for the transport of sod peat out of the bog and on to the roadside. Thus it is obvious from where the name of this pony derives..
It appears that these small and sure-footed ponies were used on family holdings in the mountains and valleys of Kerry for centuries. They were known locally as “hobbies”, although according to other sources, the Irish “hobby horse” was most often applied to somewhat larger, gaited ponies.
THE NEW OLD BREED
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, John Mulvihill in the Kerry Bog Village came to notice that what he viewed as the local breed of the Kerry Bog Pony was declining in numbers all around on the mountains and moorlands there. He studied its conformation and decided that the ponies were worthy of conservation as part of the local heritage and assembled a small herd from the back country around Glenbeigh. He was advised to keep records for each foundation animal and to document the parentage of each foal produced. For this project he received much encouragement from Daniel Hutch of the Bettyville Veterinary Hospital in Kanturk.
John Mulvihill then decided to bring the matter to the attention of a wider audience. At that time he decided that Kerry Bog Pony would be an appropriate modern name. The existence of the “new old breed” and its numerical growth became a newsworthy item for newspapers. When the national press carried a story about the ponies and published photographs, and national television became interested, and this led to the appearance of the attractive Kerry Bog stallion “Flashy Fox” on a popular TV show. The show captured Dr John Flynn’s interest, Head of Blood Typing Laboratory at Weatherby’s, Ireland. He documented the DNA characteristics of the foundation animals.
Dr Leo Curran, author of “Kerry and Dexter Cattle and other Irish Native Breeds: A History” discussed the Kerry Bog Pony with John Mulvihill, its pedigrees and the relationships within the population. By and by, an informal group of interested people from Kerry and others areas developed, who all agreed that it would be worthwhile to preserve this breed of ponies, and that a breed association should be formed to ensure its preservation.
The Kerry Bog ponies had extended the region of their owners and breeders throughout the island of Ireland, and it became apparent that a formal organization was needed to lend the status to the breed that everyone felt it deserved.
Timothy Clifford of Listowel wrote a breed standard for the Kerry Bog Pony Society, which was based on examination of all animals forming the known herd. A broadly-based and representative committee was formed in 2003, which became a legal entity, and in August 2004, the Society became a member of the Irish Cooperative Organization Society (ICOS).
The typical characteristics of these ponies were originally determined and defined in 1994 and later re-affirmed. They include a size of just 11,2 hh for stallions and geldings and 10 to 11 hh for mares.
The color of the Kerry Bog Pony can be any solid color, although they are usually black or brown or bay. Some chestnuts, grey and dun can also be found. The coat is long and dense, affording the ponies the ability to easily withstand harsh winter conditions without shelter.
The head is pleasant and of average size, with a tendency to be dish-faced. The eyes are relatively small and pointed. The jaw is strong with excellent teeth that can grind heath, gorse, and heather, allowing the pony to survive on a meager diet.
The neck is strong and of medium length, and the shoulder of the Kerry Bog Pony is rounded and muscular. The body is strong and compact with a deep chest, well-sprung ribs and good depth of girth. The loins are powerful and the hindquarters strong. The tail is full and abundant. Legs are strong and muscular, with short cannon bones, short pasterns and wide, well-shaped hooves that have a tough horn quality.
In relation to its size, the Kerry Bog ponies have great strength. Their action is straight and level with good balance. They are sure-footed and instinctively know how to navigate the soft ground conditions in the bogs of Kerry.
The disposition and character of the Kerry Bog Pony is kind, sensible and confident, but it also possesses great courage and endurance. Soundness is also an asset of these ponies, any unsoundness, hereditary or otherwise, is extremely rare. They have a robust constitution, a large heart and plenty of lung capacity. They can easily be trained to harness or saddle and make good children’s riding ponies.