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The Ultimate Guide to Connemara Sport Horses

Our Secrets to Selecting Thoroughbred Mares

September 23, 2022

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes


Many of today’s top competition Connemara Sport Horses in Dressage and Combined Training result from crossing a Connemara Stallion with a Thoroughbred Mare. The Connemara-Thoroughbred Cross combines the unique character, rideablity, versatility, and soundness of the Connemara Pony with the willingness, athleticism, scope, and endurance of the Thoroughbred. So much has been written about choosing a Connemara stallion, but what about the mare? Read on to learn our secret to selecting Thoroughbred mares for our Connemara Sport Horse breeding program.

What is essential when selecting a mare for breeding?

As with stallions, selecting healthy, fertile breeding mares with good character, correct conformation, type, and athleticism is a given. However, if you are new to breeding, the mare’s temperament and personality are of critical importance. A sensible, tractable mare that is easy to handle is generally a better choice for first-time breeders. If you are buying a mare to use for breeding, be sure she is of a kind and gentle nature. Broodmares with at least one offspring are often an excellent choice for new breeders. 

Suppose you are choosing a mare that you already own. In that case, evaluating her potential for crossing with a Connemara Stallion should be relatively straightforward. We all love our mares and think they are “perfect.” However, every mare has some traits that can be improved upon. Therefore, we should separate our attachment and critique them objectively like any other horse.

Additionally, you will want any mares used for breeding to be examined by a veterinarian to ensure that she is reproductively healthy. A reproductive exam with culture and cytology is always a good investment. Even young, healthy maiden mares can sometimes be harboring an infection. 

Breed Related Faults to Avoid Duplicating While Making Our Selection

In general, Connemara Ponies tend towards shorter-legged, shorter-necked, longer-softer backed, with lower, poorly defined withers and more upright “pony” pasterns. While those traits may not be readily visible in the Connemara’s you’ve seen, such breed-typical characteristics could reemerge in your Connemara Thoroughbred Cross. Therefore we will want to avoid duplicating these issues in our broodmare selection. Some additional faults to consider and avoid repeating are:

  • Limited Reach in Front
  • Thick Throat Latch
  • Short in the Neck
  • Too low or too high heels
  • Too short, upright broken forward hoof-pastern axis
  • Too long or low in the back
  • Poorly defined wither, Weak Topline
  • Tied-in at the elbow
  • Limited Scope or Reach in the Forearm
  • Out Behind 
  • Too short in the hip
  • Overly steep, short hip
  • Tail Set on Too High or Too Low
  • Too straight or over angled (Sickle Hocked) behind
  • Impure Gaits (Lateral Walk, 4 Beat Canter)
Black Connemara Stallion R BLUE MOON
Connemara Stallion R Blue Moon is very difficult to fault.

What sort of Thoroughbred Mare should we be looking for?

All horses have the same general structure; their shape is similar – from the smallest pony to the largest warmblood. The variation in type we see results from variation in lengths of bones and the angles with which they are joined. Thoroughbreds, like Connemara Ponies, come in various shapes, sizes, colors, and types. So, what sort of Thoroughbred Mare should we be looking for?

Critical Elements: Frame, Type, and Leggy Appearance

High-Quality Thoroughbred Mares selected for the Connemara Sport Horse Breeding Program should have a smooth-bodied type, be medium length and build, and appear elegant and feminine. Also desirable is a beautiful face, shorter head, broad forehead, and generous liquid eye. Overly long, overly coarse, heavy-bodied, short legs or thick bunchy muscled, masculine mares should always be avoided. 

Thoroughbred Mare Ladys Comet
Ladys’ Comet, Thoroughbred Mare sired by Comet Shine

Desirable “Type” traits to look for when making your selection:

  • Smooth Muscled/Smooth Bodied 
  • Refined Type, Elegant and Feminine
  • Natural Balance, Athletic, Scopey
  • Excellent Jumping Form and Technique
  • Ability to show lengthened paces
  • Above Average topline structure (Smooth and Level)
  • Leggy Appearance (Not necessarily Tall)
  • Athletic Riding Horse Type (Tri-Athletic)
  • Excellent reach through the forearm
  • Shorter Canon/Longer Forearm (long canons relative to the forearm are not desirable)
  • Correct Hoof Pastern Angle 
  • Desirable Thoroughbred Sport Horse Lineage (May Improve Marketability)
  • Fetlocks that are neither overly long nor too short upright
  • Proper Hind Leg Structure (Avoid Post-Legged or Sickle Hocked)
  • Powerful Thrusting Hind Leg that steps well under the body
  • Medium Frame
  • Length and shape of the Neck (A short triangular neck should be avoided)
  • Uphill to Level Body Balance
  • Tail Set on at Medium Height (Extremely high or low set tail is not desirable)
Thoroughbred Mare sired by Animal Kingdom

Selecting Thoroughbred Mares for the Connemara Sport Horse Breeding Program

We recommend looking for a mare with a strong level topline, well-defined wither, and a leggy appearance. Leggy does not have to mean tall for example, ponies can be leggy. Ideally, we are looking for “Riding Type” or “Sport Horse” type Thoroughbred mares. Such mares come from various lineages though certain desirable pedigrees are favored by many breeders. Desirable Thoroughbred sport horse pedigrees are always advantageous regarding commercial marketability. 

Sometimes high performance mares make their way into the Connemara Sport Horse breeding program. This may or may not prove desirable; some excellent performers may fail to meet the criteria for breeding excellence. However, this is not to say they are not outstanding mares worthy of objective evaluation. For example, I once acquired a high-performance mare. However, after getting her home, I quickly realized her temperament and quirky, unreliable nature eliminated her from being a good fit for our breeding program. Not only was she high-strung, temperamental, and difficult to handle, she never cycled regularly or proved fertile. 

The ideal frame of the Thoroughbred Mare used for crossing with a Connemara Stallion should be of medium length with a relatively “leggy” appearance and level to uphill body balance. Uphill body balance with a high-set neck that connects smoothly into long, well-defined withers would be our first choice. There should be no dip either in front of or behind the withers. A drop behind high withers indicates a low back and may compromise saddle fit and position. We still consider a minor dip in front of the wither acceptable. The top line should be smooth and essentially level. An above-average topline, smooth, well-muscled loin connected to a long powerful hip is ideal. The tail should be set at medium height. A tail set on too low or too high is not desirable. 

We specifically look for mares who are long from the point of the hip to the point of the hock (Low Set/Slung Hocks). This ideal arrangement generates a powerful thrust and long stride length. A correctly constructed hind leg and broad clean hock joints are desirable. Additionally, we look for mares with a long forearm and short canon. We also want minimal muscling around the elbow. Significant muscling around the elbow indicates an elbow that is tied in and possibly restricted. There should be plenty of space directly behind the elbow.

We want to choose Thoroughbred mares who are as close to the ideal Riding Type as possible. We also preferentially select Thoroughbred Mares with excellent limb construction. We actively avoid offset canons, crooked legs, tied in behind the knee, poor loin connection or short hip, back at the knee, pigeon breast, standing under or out in front or behind. Standing slightly close behind is still acceptable, provided everything else meets our standard. I personally look for mares with adequate size hooves. Too small a foot for the body type may reappear in the offspring, despite the connemaras’ reputation for excellent hoof shape and quality. It won’t matter if the hoof is perfect if the size is inadequate. 

Apt to Please, Thoroughbred Mare sired by Pleasant Tap
Apt to Please, Thoroughbred Mare sired by Pleasant Tap

In Conclusion

When selecting Thoroughbred Mares for breeding with a Connemara, the most essential criteria are character, personality, general conformation, and way of going. In addition, a healthy, fertile mare is vital to your success. Ideally, you should choose a mare with a suitable smooth-bodied riding type who is leggy in appearance. Look for an excellent topline, uphill balance, strong deep hindquarters, and an ideal hind leg. In addition, the mare you select should be feminine and elegant in appearance. In practice, finding mares of superior type for breeding can be challenging. Lastly, your choice of mare will depend to some extent on your personal preferences and breeding goal. 

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