A unique breed from the bogs of Ireland, the Kerry Bog Pony was on the brink of extinction only twenty years ago.
The Kerry Bog Pony is believed to have originated in County Kerry, Ireland as early as the 17th century. The feral ponies were eventually domesticated and served as farm horses. The ponies were used to transport peat and kelp in the peat bogs, and were talented at negotiating the soft, sometimes hazardous footing of the bogs. This talent, paired with their small size, gave them the advantages of being able to reach areas that larger, heavier workhorses could not access.
The ponies were used by the British cavalry during the Peninsular War that lasted from 1808 to 1814. Many ponies’ lives were lost in battle. The Irish Famine, which occurred from 1845 to 1852, caused many of the farmers who had used the Kerry Bog Pony to immigrate, further decreasing the demand for the breed. The Industrial Revolution introduced more machinery to farming, and soon the remaining ponies were allowed to go feral, all demand for them having been lost.
It is in large part thanks to John Mulvihill, a County Kerry resident, that the breed still exists today. In 1994 Mulvihill searched for and found 20 Kerry Bog Ponies. He transported them to his stables and had DNA testing performed which identified them as a unique breed different than those of the other ponies that lived in the area. Mulvihill bred the ponies and advocated for the breed’s recognition. His efforts were rewarded when the Irish government recognized the Kerry Bog Pony as the Irish Heritage Pony in 2002, an event that was followed by the formation of the Kerry Bog Pony Society.
As the breed’s numbers grew, so did its popularity. Kerry Bog Ponies were first exported to the United States in 2003, and as of 2011 there were 51 Kerry Bog Ponies registered in the US. The American Kerry Bog Pony Society was founded in 2005.
The Kerry Bog Pony is small in height, standing only between 10 to 12 hands high. Despite their small stature, they are strong and muscular. Kerry Bog Ponies are hardy, easy keepers, and can exist on the moss and kelp of the bogs despite its low nutrient quality. The ponies come in all solid coat colors. They grow thick and long winter coats necessary for survival in the harsh climates of the bogs.
The Kerry Bog Pony’s ability to navigate the difficult bog surfaces is due in part to its unusual style of walking. With each stride, the pony typically brings its hind feet outside of its front feet, distributing its weight on a wider track than a horse would normally use, and helping it to keep its balance. Its small stature and relatively low weight are additional advantages when negotiating the bogs.
The Breed Today
The Kerry Bog Pony’s numbers are gradually increasing, thanks to the work of dedicated breeders. Though still on the Critically Endangered Species List, the breed’s suitability as driving ponies, paired with its excellent temperament, are helping to increase demand for these unique ponies.
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerry_Bog_Pony
Original Source: History of the Kerry Bog Pony