Over many years Connemara ponies have been driven successfully in combined driving competitions in Ireland. However, internationally they have been out of favour, where Welsh ponies have been the preferred native breed.
Combined driving is an official FEI sport. It tests the skill of the driver and the training, temperament and stamina of the ponies. Competitions, run over 2 or 3 days, comprise driven dressage, cross country marathon and cones driving phases. Separate classes are held for single ponies, pairs and teams of four ponies.
Tipperary four in hand pony driver Brian O’Slatarra from Nenagh, has been proving over the past 2 years that the Connemara can be competitive in top class driving competitions, both here and in Britain. Brian drives a team of four registered Irish bred Connemara’s mostly greys between 142 and 148 cms. To drive a team at this level requires at least 6 ponies in training each with the required paces, temperament and experience. Ponies will show differing aptitudes for the various phases. Often a good dressage pony will not perform well at cross country and a sub might be brought in for the marathon phase. It can take several years for ponies to develop into competitive driving ponies and not all make the grade.
The next World Pony Driving Championships is due to take place in Breda in Holland in Sept 2015. Brian’s preparation started in 2013 when he competed at several top class competitions in Britain including CAI Sandringham. His best result was a win at the prestigious Lowther event the local event of the famous George Bowman. His performance throughout the season was so consistent, he was rewarded by a win in the British Carriagedriving league. At home he also scored a win in the Northern Ireland Championships but was unsuccessful in the Nationals where narrowly beaten into 2nd. Brian is hoping to commence his 2014 season at the CAI *** International Driving Grand Prix at Royal Windsor in May. This will see many of the top European teams from Holland, Germany and France compete for one of the top prizes in driving.
All going well, let’s hope that 2015 will see a team of Irish Connemara ponies competing for the first time at the World Driving Championships.
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