IRELAND is renowned for breeding great ponies that went on to remarkable careers in the ring.

Look at the achievements of the famed Connemara 15hh gelding Dundrum, partnered by the great Tommy Wade. Take Stroller, ridden by Marion Coakes, stood at just 14.2hh and among his victories was his two wins of the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Cup at the Royal International Show and he was part of three Nations Cups wins. Stroller was imported as a ‘job-lot’ from Ireland by the Sussex Olympian.

Iconic native breed, the Connemara Pony has flown the flag for Ireland as a nation in the ring. The evidence is there to be seen, not only is it common for performance ponies to have some Connemara or Welsh breeding, it’s almost inevitable that one of these breeds is present.

Take, for example, the glittering careeers of Cul Ban Mistress (individual silver at the FEI Pony European Championships and team gold winner 2017); Ballyowen Maybelle Molly (Monaghanstown Fred x Ballyowen Bonny Bell), winner of individual gold and team silver at the 2009 European Championships, later sold to Belgium. Sillogue Darkie (by Ard Talisman (CP) out of Coillchru Esmeralda) qualified for the prestigious 148cm All Ireland Championship at the RDS over no less than seven successive years. He competed on numerous pony Nations Cups teams and contributed to silver and bronze medals wins at European level.

In recent times, the success at FEI Pony European Championship and FEI Pony Jumping Trophy is testimony to the strength of Ireland’s ponies and also our pony riders. The talent of the ponies and our ability of a nation to produce them has not gone unnoticed and as a result there is a huge demand for top Irish-bred ponies overseas.

There are some very successful breeding lines in Ireland, one of which is the Kilcreene prefix. Bred by Deirdre Smithwick, she maintained that if you breed a pony with good conformation, good movement and temperament, they could go on to do anything.

For her daughter, Thalia Smithwick, ponies must have a good temperament and she believes that the Welsh pony has this in abundance, along with a long stride and good movement. The Kilcreene line is still active and producing very good ponies. Thalia Smithwick also has the Welsh section B stallion Moelview Cherokee (Tomahawk out of Nannau Charm), who is also proving popular with pony breeders.

Thalia said: “This stallion has an exceptionally quiet temperament which I feel is one of the most important factors for a child’s pony. His offspring have been successful in a lot of disciplines. His full-brother qualified for HOYS five times under saddle as an entire stallion and was placed in the top 10 every time. He was put to a Section A mare who produced Kilcreene Fudge, now in Scotland. Another, Kilcreene Toffee, was third in a M&M 80cm qualifier for HOYS. He also produced Kilcreene Cherval, successfully showjumping 80cm and 90cm every weekend. Due to his scopey strides, he easily makes the distances on these tracks every week.

“Kilcreene Snapdragon was champion foal at the IPS Championship show and won on all of his three outings as a foal and is now proving himself to be a great jumper and qualified for the jump-off in the RDS last year. Kilcreene Tarrigon, a very successful loose jumper, was sold to Sweden, while Kilcreen Garnagree Chilli (full brother to Chervil and Tarragon) is now jumping successfully in the SJI ranks.

“These ponies are children’s ponies that are quiet and kind to do anything with. Along with these good traits, they also have the ability to take the children to the top in the show jumping ring but equally hunting, eventing and pony club. We have always aimed to breed kind, safe, children’s ponies that have scope to allow children to compete safely at a top level,” said Thalia.

Value of recorded breeding

One problem in Ireland has been the fact that, in the past, the breeding lines were seldom recorded so there was very little in the way of trend analysis and looking at combinations that worked.

Things are changing however and pedigree recording is on the rise here. If we look outside Europe, breed lines of ponies are of utmost importance. In France you can’t jump ponies if the breeding is not recorded.

Rocketing prices

The landscape in pony breeding has changed here also. More is demanded of ponies at the top level and the price that they can command has skyrocketed.

Tullibards Stud’s Hans Kuehnle, no stranger to success in this area, commented: “Before you could travel the country and come home with a few ponies, now you would be lucky to get one and the price of ponies has increased so much that a lot are just not affordable.”

Five years ago, Hans brought in a pony stallion from Germany to use on his own mares. Beckenbauer is a bay stallion, standing 146cm. He is a German riding pony by Black Boy out of the Brilliant-sired Da Samira. He is fully approved in five European Studbooks. He is the sire of five approved sons in Germany. His progeny have won and were placed in German young pony championships in all disciplines. Hans described his stallion as having “character, great conformation, flowing paces combined with a bold jump”.

Certainly by all accounts, breeders seem to be taking an intelligent approach to breeding ponies at this level. There is also some evidence to suggest that in order to get that top ponies, breeders are bringing pony mares to horse stallions. As the market is changing and the demands on these top performance ponies gets greater, we need to ask if we are doing enough to breed the top performance ponies for the future, capable of competing in the 1.35m championships?

In demand

Last October, Tipperary Olympian Greg Broderick and his sister Olga invested in the French pony stallion Gilton Des Islots. The stallion is a cross by Diamant de Semilly out of Tabelle des Islots.

The Brodericks commented: “We were looking for some nice ponies for our nephew Max and Gavin to produce. Greg was looking for ponies that cantered and rode like horses because he thought it was a better type for Max and Gavin to ride on and more like what they will be doing on horses in time. We saw this pony and really liked his balance and type .To be honest, it’s a bonus that he’s a stallion by Diamant De Semilly.

“We didn’t really think about the opening for a stallion pony but we are amazed with the interest there has been from breeders asking to use him since they’ve seen him so we are not complaining. It’s a great opportunity for people to breed a good pony with this guy. It is a little unique to have a pony by Diamant De Semilly. He’s 148cm on the button so he’s not going to be a struggle to measure in.

“He has the scope of a horse, the right balance in the canter to make him and his offspring nice to ride and he is very brave, another good characteristic. Along with this, he has a great temperament and is easy to work with,” they commented.

The likelihood of seeing more new European stallions being introduced to our native pony breeds is inevitable. Ireland has such a strong reputation for producing top ponies that this can be seen as a positive trend.

However, it can’t be overlooked that it is also the top production of the ponies in Ireland by our amazingly talented Irish pony riders that ultimately makes for great ponies. In this regard, we are the envy of Europe.