The Kerry Bog pony faced almost certain extinction in 1994 when there
were a mere twenty of these ponies left in all of Ireland. The Bog Pony is rather small, about
the size of a Shetland pony - ten or eleven hands high. They can be bay, grey, or chestnut with
a black mane and tail. Interestingly they exhibit the dished face of an Arabian. The breed was
blood-typed in 1994 to distinguish whether or not it the current ponies truly were survivors of
the rare breed, and when the test was positive the Kerry Bog Pony Society was formed.
These little ponies have been used mostly for carrying peat, or turf,
from the bogs for the use of domestic fuel in houses. Originally the peat was transported on slides
attached by two poles to either side of the horse, although later little wheeled carts were incorporated
for use in the less boggy areas. About ten years ago a Mr. John Mulvihill acquired a little chestnut
stallion and immediately recognized is as one of the few remaining Kerry Bog Ponies. One of the
foundation sires of the Kerry Bog Pony breed is the grandson of that little pony - Flashy Fox,
along with Old Peat and Bogman. Most Kerry Bog Ponies are named after the bog's flora and fauna...names
such as The Badger Queen, Bog Cotton, the Brave Badger, Bog Oak, and Purple Heather are just a
few examples. This breed has kept its name alive in the history books as Ireland's very own 'Heritage
Originally these ponies were bred during the 17th century for working
on the peatlands to help move te cut turf to drying areas, and also to carry seaweed from the
seashore for use as crop fertilizer. Occasionally they were even used to take the family to Sunday
mass. They are often referred to as the "work maids of all farmers" because they were ideally
suited to the working conditions because of their size, strength, and resilience.
The predicament the ponies were in, facing almost certain extinction,
generated much concern and sparked a lot of interest amongst breeders who were anxious lest they
become extinct like so many other rare Irish breeds. John Mulvihill has a long family association
with the breed, so it was he who pioneered the action to save the Kerry Bog Pony breed from extinction.
Eight years ago he bought a stallion that produced two foals before he died; now he has twenty
Kerry Bog Ponies, and he and his wife have set up a committee to document and organize all the
support for the saving of this breed. Directly resulting from this, a network of Kerry Bog enthusiasts
has been established and now the breed is thriving; there are estimated to be 130 Kerry Bog Ponies
in Ireland today.
The breed has been given the official seal of approval by the Irish
Equine Center, which follows blood and DNA testing. The Kerry Bog Pony has been registered in
the Irish Rare Breeds Directory as the 'Heritage Pony'. Much media coverage from around the world
has gotten many horse enthusiasts interested in the rediscovery of the breed, and Ireland's 'Heritage
Pony' has seemingly become a living legend!
These ponies can "live virtually on air" and are very easy keepers.
They could survive quite easily on the heather and sphagnum moss that grew on the bogs, utilizing
the land that remained off-limits to cattle and sheep. Their owners didn't even bother tying them
up, instead letting them graze without moving too far away. Because so many families in Ireland
eventually owned a Bog pony, they came to be know as the "Hobby" horse. Despite all they did for
the community though, the ponies were considered completely worthless. For example, if a family
was evicted and their livestock taken away for restitution, they were told to take their Hobby
horse and go!
Sometime during the Peninsular Wars though, the cavalry discovered
the economic little ponies and went around buying them all to use for pack animals. Very few returned,
and around the same time a funny looking equine called the donkey arrived from Spain, virtually
replacing the Hobby horse as the beast of burden.
Kerry Bog Ponies are rather fine for a native breed, and most of them
have long, flaxen manes and tails with just a little feathering on their legs. They live outside
all year and because of the soft turf on the bogs their feet do not get worn down, although their
hooves do need regular paring. They often foal out in the fields, they are very intelligent and
easy to train. They also make wonderful children's riding ponies, because they are quiet and careful
with their young charges. They excel as driving ponies, too (naturally).
Check out these links for more info on the Kerry Bog Pony breed!
Kerry Bog Pony Breed
The Legend of the Kerry Bog Pony
Kerry Bog Pony Information
Kerry Bog Pony Society Of Ireland
Ireland Horses: The Kerry Bog
More Kerry Bog Info
News: Rare Kerry Bog Ponies To Be Introduced To US
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