THERE are those who said that the Kerry Bog Pony was make believe – a Kerry invention for some nefarious motive: a hoax or a means of making money but not a genuine breed. However in 2006 Aisling Heffernan, of Weatherbys DNA Laboratory, produced a major study of the genetics that the lab had been gathering for the previous number of years.
As the result, it was discovered that a large proportion of the Kerry Bog Pony population fell into the rare haplogroup E which is not found in other Irish native breeds. With that scientific recognition, a start could be made to rescue and preserve these ponies and to create a Studbook.
A valuable start had already been made back in the 1980s. A series of events occurred which by good fortune led a local man, John Mulvihill, to recognise the breed for what it was. John’s sister Joan, a historian, mentioned that there were accounts from the mid-1700s of a distinct Kerry Pony, characterised by its small size, strength and surefootedness.
Mulvihill decided to look for ponies of the old type in Kerry and was delighted to find a small stallion called The Bogman who did not look like a Shetland Pony or a Welsh Pony. He was an old pony who thrived in John’s care and despite his age, he sired a number of foals.
Two veterinary surgeons, Daniel Hutch and Teddy Clifford, became interested in the project to try and save the breed. Together with their input and that of Dr Leo Curran, a very sound plan was put in place. Dr John Flynn from Weatherbys also took an interest. Consequently from the mid-1990s all ponies were blood-typed and later DNA-typed. The Kerry Bog Pony Co-Operative Society was set up to be the responsible authority for the promotion and preservation of the breed.
Now thanks to funding from the Department of Agriculture’s Genetic Resources Grant Aid Scheme Paul Flynn from Weatherbys Scientific has recently carried out a research project using high density genome wide markers better known as SNP Technology.
Paul Flynn’s research and its findings place the Kerry Bog Pony on a par with other well-known international equine breeds and is leading the way with research in Ireland.
Despite this, the breed is still struggling with just approximately 50 foals being registered each year. The Kerry Bog Ponies are quick learners, easily trained and love to be busy. They are excellent in First Ridden, Lead Rein Classes, Pony Club games and pleasure driving. Hopefully more people will come to appreciate and value the heritage of this small indigenous breed and get involved in creating a bright future for the Kerry Bog Pony.