CROWDS will flock to Clifden, Co Galway, this week when the iconic Connemara Pony breed will again showcase the benefits of cultural heritage to economic and social well being.
Exhibitors and owners will travel to meet, discuss, showcase, sell and buy some of the finest specimens of the distinctive pony which is noted for its versatility and good temperament Each year, the show brings together the largest collection of Connemara ponies seen anywhere in the world and is used as a market window for breeders from both Ireland and overseas.
The pony has been exported worldwide and is in much demand, with breeder societies in 17 countries.
Delegates from these societies return each year to the traditional home of the native breed which has a history that goes back 2,500 years.
Connemara Ponies have been hailed as tremendous ambassadors for Ireland. They can go anywhere, live anywhere, do not require luxurious food, and have remarkable staying power.
Many of the dry-stone walls in the West of Ireland were built from rocks moved by Connemara ponies fitted with creels.
The ponies also dragged seaweed from the shore to fertilise the barren fields and to carry the turf cut from the bogs to heat the dwellings.
Over time, those highly regarded and much sought-after traits of hardiness, agility and extraordinary jumping ability were developed and promoted.
But the ponies also have a unique gentle nature which makes them ideal for young children.
The Connemara is now a very popular pony in the training of young riders in many riding schools located across Europe.
Breeders are therefore conscious of the international market demand for a performance pony of quality, good size and uniform type.
That’s why the Connemara Pony Festival, which began last night with the selection of the Show Queen and continues until August 24, is such an important event.
There will be a bus tour of studs in South Connemara, a conference of delegates to discuss topics relating to the breed, a pony performance spectacle and other events.
Highlight of the week will be the Connemara Pony Show on Thursday, when the best of the breed will be on display.
It was first held in 1924 and is organised by the Connemara Pony Breeders Society (CPBS), which raises awareness and appreciation of the pony as an integral part of Irish heritage.
One of the society’s primary functions is to maintain the Connemara Pony Study Book. All sires and dams are recorded in the book. It is a continuous record since 1923.
Breeders, many of them small farmers in the West will have a particular interest in the two-day sale of 500 Connemara ponies at Clifden Mart this coming Saturday and Sunday.
They will be hoping their ponies will catch the eyes of the buyers. Recession in many economies resulted in poorer prices than expected being paid for all breeds in recent years.
There have also been reports that Connemara ponies bought in Ireland have been sold on for much higher prices in Britain and elsewhere.
Connemara Pony Elite Sales Group was formed earlier this year to help bridge that gap and develop the market for top performance ponies at home.
It held an elite sale in Galway last March and is planning another in 2015 at a time and venue to be decided.
Meanwhile, there were indications at the two-day Connemara Pony Sales at Clifden in May that the market is improving.
A total of 454 ponies went through the ring with 279 lots changing hands.
Prices for five-year-old and over broken and ridden mares and geldings ranged from €1,500 to €4,200. Four-year-old ridden ponies sold from between €1,250 to €2,600.
Breeding mares were a little better than in the February sales, but it was still hard enough to get more than €800 for some, with a few yearling and two-year-old fillies only fetching €250 to €400.
The CPBS said with the high number of ponies sold heading overseas, the future was looking bright and an upturn in Connemara pony prices was definitely on the cards.
Now, there are hopes among breeders and owners that the trend will be continued this week when heritage and the economy again meet at Ireland’s most famous pony show.