On entering the picturesque Balearic medieval city of Ciudadella in Menorca, a striking sculpture, larger than life size, of a handsome prancing black horse on a traffic roundabout creates an immediate good impression. This is the Menorcan native breed, much protected and revered by the local people, especially at Fiesta time, when the ridden Cavall Menorque performance in the streets and squares is a major highlight of the Island’s many festivals. In the 17th century the Knight tournaments died out in the rest of Europe, but the old Knight’s tradition still survives in Menorca.
The breeding of the all-black stallions is carefully controlled and regulated by a Society which was set up in 1988 to preserve, improve and promote the breed – who stand at 15 to 16 hands high. They were officially recognised as a distinct rare breed in the following year.
The Island was colonised many times over past centuries and, as in the back- breeding of our Connemaras, Berber horses from North Africa, Arabians from the Middle East and Spain and thoroughbred blood introduced during British rule are in the background of these prized equines, which have been called the Black Princes or Pearls of the Mediterranean. Their obligatory black colour, long legs, slim body, long head and low set tail define this pure-bred horse. Their character is described as noble, good-natured, obedient, clever and biddable.
The riding style is known as the Doma Menorquina. Menorcan dressage, while using the classic dressage movements, differs from classic dressage. In Menorca the reins are held in the left hand, and they specialize in the signature ‘bot’ or rear-on-command; the Spanish- type saddle with high cantle helps support the rider during the frequent ‘bot’ movements. They use a Spanish bridle with a long curb shaft, and the rider in national costume completes the picture. The schooling and more advanced work of these horses,which perform and compete year round, provides a colourful spectacle.
Our own native Connemara pony breeders society, set up more than 60 years earlier than their Menorcan counterpart, had similar aims. We set out to preserve, improve and promote the Connemara breed and our native ponies are still improving and going strong, demonstrating their versatility and competing at top level throughout many countries and several continents too. But for some reason, we have not yet managed to erect a monument or sculpture in Clifden, the home town of the Connemara Pony – that could compare with the beautiful installation in Menorca. A monument or installation in Clifden would signal to all comers that this is the home of our native Connemara pony. An opportunity was missed when the mini-spire was erected in the square in Clifden. Now there’s a thought! To end; below you will see a few examples of the showing and performance abilities of the Connemara pony of today.