6 Irish Horse Breeds That You Should Know

Ireland is well renowned for its horses, and produces some of the best, highest quality racing, riding and driving horses which are exported across the world. Ireland has no less than six native horse breeds, each with their own individual characteristics and uses. Let’s have a little look at the Irish horse breeds that originate from the Emerald Isle.


Connemara pony
Source: Wikimedia.org

The Connemara comes from the Connemara region in Galway in Western Ireland. The landscape is harsh, which has given rise to strong, hardy horses who can survive on poor grazing and tough landscapes. Some believe that the Connemara came from horses that the Vikings brought to Ireland, while others speculate that they came from Spanish galleons that ran aground in 1588, and the Andalusians on board were set loose and bred with the native ponies.

Whatever their origins, the Connemara is a sturdy, strong pony that is perfectly suited to many different disciplines such as show jumping, dressage, eventing, and also has the stamina for endurance riding. The neck is arched but without too much crest and they have strong, well muscled legs.

They stand between 12.2 and 14.2 hands, have strong backs and loins and a laid back shoulder which is ideal for riding, and all colours except pinto (piebald and skewbald) are permitted within the breed. They are ridden by both children and adults, as their size is ideal for children yet their strength is suited to both smaller and larger riders.

Gypsy Vanner

gypsy vanner
Source: Wikimedia.org

The Gypsy cob was not considered to be a specific breed until 1996, although it had been in use for centuries before this. The Vanner was originally bred by the Roma of Great Britain to pull the Vardoes (wagons for living in) in which they lived, and because of the heavy loads they pulled they had to be extremely strong and hardy.

These horses were bred for strength and stamina, rather than speed, and tend to be stocky and extremely strong and solid – taller horses were considered to be less worthy than the smaller ones, as they would eat more and be harder to keep healthy, so the breed traditionally should be between 13 and 16 hands. They have a vast amount of bone and are heavily feathered, with long thick manes and tails.

The Vanners were considered to be part of the family when used in their original capacity as the transport for the family, so any horse whose temperament was even slightly unreliable was considered unsuitable, and this docile, gentle temperament has continued through the years. Most are piebald, although skewbalds do also exist in the breed. These days, Irish gypsy horses are used for pulling wagons and showing, as well as for general riding purposes.

Irish Draft

Irish Draft horse
Source: Wikimedia.org

The Irish Draft is the national breed of Ireland, and it has been common in the country since the 18th century. They were initially a cross between the Irish Hobby horse and the Anglo Norman war Horses, which were Iberian horses bred from the 16th century Spanish Armada shipwrecks. The Irish Draft was bred for use on farms, so has to be strong, economical to keep and suitable for harness and draft work as well as under the saddle.

Irish Drafts stand between 15.2 and 16.3 hands, with a good head, strong legs and a deep girth. All solid colours are allowed within the breed, but excessive white markings are prohibited. Their movements are active, strong and straight, and they are known for their good temperament and docile nature. They are willing to learn and make good all round horses.

Irish Hobby

The Irish Hobby horse is a now extinct breed that was developed in Ireland before the 13th century. The Hobby has had a lot of influence on horses that we know and love today, being a common ancestor of the Connemara, the Irish Draft and the Thoroughbred.

The Hobby horse was evidently imported to England and Scotland for various activities including racing, as they were incredibly fast. Some people consider that the Kerry Bog Pony and the Hobby Horse are one and the same, meaning that this breed is not as extinct as it was once thought!

Irish Sports Horse

Irish Sports Horse
Source: Wikimedia.org

The Irish Sports Horse is a result of crosses between the Irish Draft and Thoroughbred. It has been recognised as a breed since 1923, and more recent crosses have included European Warmblood breeds which has resulted in a versatile, robust, athletic horse which excels at all disciplines and is becoming increasingly popular in the highest level of competitions.

This horse combines the athleticism of the Warmbloods with the sensibleness of the Draft, which is a winning combination. They stand between 15.3 and 16.3 hands, and have a strong, muscular frame that is similar to the Irish Draft. This breed is very popular with the police forces in Britain and Ireland due to its size and calmness under pressure.

Kerry Bog Pony

Kerry Bog Pony
Source: Wikimedia.org

The Kerry Bog Pony is another that is native to Ireland, starting out its existence in County Kerry where it roamed feral in the harsh conditions and developed a good resistance to sparse grazing and difficult weather conditions. Locals used to use this small breed to pull carts carrying peat or kelp to nearby villages, as they have an interesting footfall pattern that helps them balance on boggy ground.

They stand between 10 and 12 hands, and have a muscular frame with good legs and strong feet, that help them in their native peat bogs. They have long, dense winter coats that protect them from harsh weather, and long thick manes and tails reminiscent of the Vanner – the Kerry Bog is one of the breeds thought to contribute to the Vanner.

Their temperament, due to years of use on farms, has produced a calm disposition and a willingness to work and learn. Nowadays they are generally used as driving horses, companions and therapeutic riding, though they are still considered to be endangered as a breed.

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