Spring Weekend 2023
A sparkling start to centenary celebrations: The Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society celebrate Spring Weekend
The Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society commenced their Centenary year celebrations this past weekend. The ‘Spring Weekend’ schedule of events recognised the extraordinary milestone in both the history of the Society and of the Connemara pony breed itself. Founded in 1923, the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society acknowledged the foresight of the first council to preserve and improve Ireland’s unique native pony, and the contribution the breed has made to the economy and development of Connemara, as the pony has found success and homes around the globe.
The weekend of events kicked off with spring colt inspections, which evaluates the performance of young male ponies in accordance with the breed standards for classification in the Studbook. Two days of inspections (Thursday & Friday) were held in Creagh Equestrian Center, Ballinasloe with the final day, Saturday, moving to the Showgrounds in Clifden. Fifty ponies were presented over the 3 days sixteen* of which achieved Class 1, eight achieved Class 2 and twenty five remained Class 3.
Centenary celebrations got underway on Friday evening at Station House Theatre in Clifden. The students of Clifden Community School lead by teacher Olivia Staunton showcased a series of projects including an interview series ‘Your life with the Connemara Pony.’ Edited by Leaving Cert student Ciara Heanue, students discussed their experiences with the Connemara Pony as part of family life, what areas of management and riding they enjoyed most, the qualities they admire in the breed and their ambitions for the future. A young Malachy Gorham talked about ‘show-itis’ ahead of Clifden Show week, something many can relate to, as part of the excitement in preparing ponies for summer shows.
Music was performed on the night by young local musicians and written projects on the history of the breed and some of the coveted class cups from the Connemara Pony show were on display. It was a heart warming start to the celebrations hearing the students who demonstrated the impact this breed continues to have on this region and speak on the importance of the Connemara pony in their lives and their own future plans for the breed.
After a week of rain Saturday saw the sun come out and shine on Clifden for the first of this year’s events at the Show Grounds. With the final day of this week’s colt & stallion inspection taking place between the sand and grass arenas the All Ireland Farrier organized by Bryan & Niamh O’Halloran competition showcased the skills of the trade by farriers from around the country. In the evening centenary celebrations return to the Station House Theater with the launch of An Capillín, Volume 21. The Society’s annual magazine is a bumper edition for the year that it is, consisting of 209 pages packed full of all that Connemara ponies, breeders, riders and owners have been achieving around the world in 2022. The 2023 Stallion directory lists ponies standing in Ireland for this year along with the results from the Connemara Pony Show last summer which are also included. A momentous section of the evening was the Hall of Fame awards with Chris Ryan overseeing the proceedings. Society President Dave Sheedy described the opportunity of inducting two new breeders into the CPBS Hall of Fame ‘as one of the extreme privileges of the role’ as president. First recipient to be awarded this year was Liz Hodgins, a 6th generation breeder, recognised for her long-time service to the Society over the last 65years. Breeder of Woodfield Sammy (Abbeyleix Owen x Clonlara Nora) the Grade A showjumping stallion, he has gone on to be a sire of sires. She also bred the showjumping pony Bang On (Ballinaboy Ben x Mynish Galaxy) who was ridden competitively by Ellen Whittaker for Great Britian. Second to be awarded was Robbie Fallon of Cashel Bay Connemara Ponies, recognised for his success as a breeder, producer and promoter of the Connemara pony both here and abroad. Breeding the winners of the In-hand Supreme and Ridden Champions at the 2022 Connemara Pony Show in Clifden, Robbie described the events of last summer as the “icing on the cake” of a glittering life to date with ponies. Since the 90’s Cashelbay graduates have gone on to win at all the major shows in Ireland and the UK, including the Dublin Horse Show, Clifden, Horse of the Year Show, Olympia and win medals at the highest levels of International pony show jumping.
A fire side chat with the living relatives of the founding fathers followed that created an image of what life was like for those involved originally in founding the Society. Relations that attended on the night included Leslie Lyons, Tómas O’Malley, Mary Coyne and Martin Mellette. Marrying the past with the present and a glimpse of the future, young breeder Colin Doyle gave a compelling presentation on his experience as part of the ‘ISH Young Breeders’ training program. As part of Team Ireland, Colin along with two other Connemara enthusiasts Camilla Snow Coyne and Amy Finn travelled to the Young Breeders World Championships in Ermelo, Holland last July where they were awarded World Champions. The evening’s proceedings were rounded off by a special presentation from Michaela Pavlisová, President of the Czech Republic Connemara Pony Society to the CPBS committee members. This is the most recently formed daughter society, bringing the total number of associated societies to 17 worldwide.
Sunday saw the fine weather continue as crowds gathered around Ring One for the Society’s annual Stallion parade. Over 20 Connemara Pony Stallions turned out sparkling and full of spring joy to participate in this year’s showcase including some of the recently passed colts from the week’s inspections. The Stallion parade allows stallion owners to showcase Stallions standing for the coming season to the public for breeding consideration. Ponies on display included previous HOYs winners, Clifden Champions and FEI International showjumping medal winners. A diverse display of colours and types were presented over three sessions of the parade.
A break from the first section of the parade allowed President Dave Sheedy, the CPBS committee members & family members of the Society’s founding fathers to unveil the special commemorative plaque outside the Society office to mark this auspicious year. Awards of recognition were also presented to individuals who have positively impacted the breed in a variety of ways. Paddy Mc Namara of Belmont Pony Stud, was recognised as breeder of the prolific performance pony Blackwood Fernando (Ferdia x Dancing Queen) who has excelled across all disciplines he has turned a hoof to. Alicia Devlin Byrne, recognised for her achievements as rider of Blackwood Fernando as well as her performance on Connemara ponies across multiple disciplines. Claire Crawford of Ardfry Stud was recognised as breeder of Ardfry Skye (Cashelbay Prince x Ross Castle Ardfry Fuschia), a mare has won multiple individual & team International showjumping medals for Team Ireland. The Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society would like to thank all stallion owners who presented ponies as part of this weekend’s event. To see so many spectators turn out today in the sunshine was a spectacular end to a wonderful Spring Weekend.
*At time of publishing one pony is presently awaiting to be re-vetted. This pony attained Class 1 from the visual inspection so whilst included in the number presented, he has not been categorized by class until the second veterinary examination is completed.
Author: Clare Silke.
Photography: Rynes Walker.