March 2006
Horses, Horses, Horses!

The luck of the Irish, so they say, is great luck indeed, and the month of March is pretty much synonymous with everything associated with the Emerald Isle, known in our contemporary society as Ireland.

 
  Irish Hunter
March is the month that hosts St. Patrick’s Day, and on the seventeenth of March all who are and who are not Irish deck themselves out in green and enjoy the parades and festivities that ensue.  There are bagpipes being played by kilt-wearing men, and no matter what your opinion about bagpipes or kilts, there is no denying the grandness they conjure up in your heart........a kind of ancient grandeur, a call of something bigger than ourselves.....a wild, very, very ancient call.  Notice, sometime when you get the opportunity to hear the pipes being played at a procession, children don’t chatter and adults don’t whisper, but instead they listen very intently, or cheer their hearts out.  It is a grand thing, and a grand thing indeed to see the clans represented by their different plaids on those kilt-wearing men.  It is ancient.....it is wild.....and it is wonderful.  If you are Irish by blood or if you are Irish in heart, you know this to be true.

Ireland has been known by many names throughout the centuries of history, such as Hibernia, Ogygia, (meaning the Ancient Island), Inisfail, the Isle of Destiny, Banba, Erin, and lastly Scotia, or Scotia Major, meaning the country of the Scots.  This is because Ireland was mainly populated by the Scottish people.  (If you are Irish, your deeper roots are more than likely truly Scottish.....Celtic).  The Island was called Scotia Major up through the eleventh century, but the name changed to Ireland after that. It is still called Erin even today, but mostly by orators and poets. 

Due to a mass exodus of the Irish people during great famines on the Island many years ago, people with Irish blood today live all over the world.  Statistically, 3,846,393 Irish left Ireland’s ports between the years 1851 and 1901.  Of these, 89% came to America, with most of the rest going to Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. 

 
Connemara Pony  
Why the history lesson on Ireland and Irish roots when this is an article about the equine persuasion of creature?  Because I have always been fascinated by Ireland, her green rolling hills, her bogs, her coastlines, her people, her mystery, and her beauty.....and it just so happens that Ireland is widely accepted as one of the most perfect places, in climate and landscape,  for breeding and raising horses in the world.  In fact, Ireland has often been called "Horse Heaven."  The Irish love their horses and the country is well suited for horses.  An old joke being that if a good horse dies, it doesn’t go to Heaven.....it just goes to Ireland.

Irish horses, just like the Irish people, have been exported all over the world.  Just like her people, Ireland’s horses are strong and resourceful.  There are three main breeds.....the Irish Hunter, the Irish Draft and the Connemara Pony.  The Irish Hunter is probably the most well known of the three breeds.  The Irish Hunter is famous as a Hunter, as its name implies.  It is used for Stadium Jumping and Eventing, but of course it was bred to be a horse suited to one or even two days of hunting per week during the hunting season.  It is a bold, intelligent horse with great stamina and jumping ability, which is desirable due to the long hours endured by both horse and rider during the Hunts.  The Irish Hunter is actually bred by crossing the Irish Draft horse with high quality Thoroughbreds, thus producing the strength, size, and agility needed for the breed.  Just a personal experience quib about the Irish Hunter being a really good horse for jumping. When I was on the Equestrian Team at Judson College many moons ago, I sometimes rode an Irish Hunter that belonged to Dennis Murphy.  The horse’s stable name was "Charlie." My instructor had me ride "Charlie" the most because I had a quiet seat and hands.  "Charlie" was a huge animal, at least 17 hands, and he would jump anything, I mean literally anything.  He was big enough to do it quite well also.  He was a tribute to his breed, and because of "Charlie," I personally have a high opinion of the Irish Hunter’s abilities.

The second breed on the list of three is the Irish Draft.  It is sometimes called "the horse of the countryside," because it is used so much on the small Irish farm.  Due to the rougher terrain of the Irish countryside, the Irish farmer developed a more adaptable horse in the Irish Draft, one that could ridden, driven and worked in the fields.  Their massive legs are hard and strong with large, round hooves, and notably there is no feathering around the ankles of this Draft horse.  This horse is an "easy keeper," yet is very active and willing, with a natural ability to jump. It can stand as high as 17 hands and, of course, is well muscled.  The Irish Draft, as we have said, is crossed with the Thoroughbred to produce the Irish Hunter.

The third horse of the Irish breeds is the Connemara Pony.  Don’t let this pretty little horse fool you, it can and does compete with the big boys. The Connemara can stand between 12.2 and 14.2 hands, but is known as an excellent Hunter and Jumper. Certain Connemara’s have won in large competitions, clearing seven-plus foot walls.  Legend has it that this pony descended from Spanish horses rescued from an Armada that wrecked on the coast of western Ireland in 1588.  The Spanish horses mated with the local stock to produce the sturdy, hardy, adaptable and pretty pony of today.

Ireland, Ireland, Ireland... exceptional horses, exceptional people, an exceptional place.....one that I hope one day to actually visit. Indeed, it would be ever so nice to visit the "Horse Heaven" of Ireland.   So, during the month of March, as all of us are celebrating our Irishness, whether by blood or at heart, let us remember what a mysterious and marvelous country the Emerald Isle is.....ancient and beautiful.....having given birth to some outstanding horse breeds.

Once again I would really like to know what horse people want and need to know about their animals. Please feel free to send suggestions, questions, and comments to the mailing address: Cooperative Farming News, P. O. Box 2227, Decatur, AL 35609-2227, or fax 256-560-2605, or email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Janet Bryant is a freelance writer from Oneonta, Alabama.