The Horse in Ireland
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Iron Age Ireland was dominated by the spread of the Celts from about 750B.C. to 50B.C. The culture was one of many individual groups or communities with constant raiding and battles being fought. There are descriptions of warriors driving into battle in chariots pulled by small horses. Harness pieces in the National Museum of Ireland, dated from this period, fit Kerry Bog Ponies perfectly and so we know that these early ponies were around 11 – 12 hands high. Archaeological finds are rare from the Iron Age but some horse bones have been documented from sites at Newgrange and Tara in Meath.
With the Norman invasion in 1169 there was an influx of larger horses from Wales and France. Numbers increased but horses were still a prized asset, only for the wealthy.
The 13th century saw the emergence of the Irish Hobby, a fiery warmblood, considered as a gift fit for a king. In 1399, Art MacMurrough, King of Leinster, rode to meet the Earl of Gloucester:
“He had a horse without housing or saddle which was so fine and good, that it had cost him, they said, 400 cows.
The Irish hobby was a small horse of about 12 hands that was highly sought after throughout Europe. They seem to have become extinct in the late 17th century.
The term ‘hobby’ was in use throughout the country at one time but later came to be used only in the far west and in Kerry where it endures up to the present day. It is thought that this name may have been derived from a practice in Gaelic-speaking areas of calling "Hup, Hup" repeatedly to a pony to attract it home to the farmyard. The practice is known in Irish as obaireacht.