After crossing paths during their third-level studies, Tomás and Fiona Grimes decided to move back to the Heather County, after working in the capital for years. Venturing to the other side of the country to the picturesque Carrowkeel, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, the couple decided to settle on Tomas’ native soil where the Grimes family had been farming for generations, engaging in sheep; dairy and beef farming down through the years, and keeping and breeding an Irish Draught and Connemara pony up until his grandfather's time.
“My father died a young man in 1996 and the land was leased out as I went to continue my studies, although I have always had an interest in farming. When we moved back there was an opportunity to utilise the farm, so we went on a mission to find a use for it.” Tomás Grimes explained to Catherina Cunnane.
With Fiona’s father synonymous with Connemara ponies and after climbing to great success herself with show-jumping, bringing ponies to Grade-A, Tomás and Fiona’s common interests in the Equine and Agricultural fields sparked a light-bulb moment.
“We approached my mother and told her that we were thinking about getting into a few ponies. She agreed to let us do an experiment and we started off with three Connemara foals from Fiona’s fathers already well-established herd in 2004 and in spring 2005, we purchased our foundation mare, Lishín Star.” Tomás explained.
Yearlings on the farm in 2017, Copperbeech Bláthnaid and Copperbeech Boru. Photo by Copperbeech Connemara Ponies.
Building a Renowned Brand
Copperbeech Connemaras was officially established, and the stud farm continued to sky-rocket to success, which resulted in the husband-and-wife duo taking hold of the entire holding, with Tomas’ mother giving the move her full support. In the years that followed, the Grimes purchased numerous other ponies and bred high-end stock, which caused a major stir on the show circuit. In the mid-noughties, they used to break several ponies and sell them on as four-year-olds, with many of these crossing the waters to the U.K.
“Out of our first three foals, one of them in particular called ‘Carrowkeel Boy, was sold at a sale in Clifden and he ended up in the U.K. He qualified for numerous championships including the world-renowned HOYS,” Tomás said.
“Our stock has been sold predominantly abroad, and can be seen across the UK and Europe, particularly France, and even in Jersey, with these ponies competing well under saddle in working hunters, dressage, endurance riding and show jumping ” Tomás explained.
Copperbeech Connemara Ponies
Today, the Grimes operate a fully-fledged equestrian enterprise, breeding, producing and showing Connemara ponies under ‘Copperbeech’ prefix over a total of forty-acres. The family had previously named horses using ‘Carrowkeel’ and ‘An Cheathrú Chaol’. Keen to create a brand that would resonate and be recognisable for their growing legion of foreign friends and customers, they settled on the Copperbeech prefix, a symbol of the hedgerows and trees that surround their yard and home.
Running Copperbeech Connemara Ponies is a family affair, with input from Tomás; Fiona; their two young children, Bláthnaid ( aged ten); James( aged nine) and the extended family circles. They generally run twenty ponies on the stud farm, with eleven class-one mares and numerous young stock. Their selective breeding philosophy which involves identifying and utilising the best possible lines is reflected in the quality that is present on the ground, sweeping the boards in major championships since 2012.
A family celebration – An Cheathru Chaol Bláthnaid after winning the 6&7-year-old mare class in Clifden 2016 with all the gang. Photo by Cecilia Isabel Heikne.
Lishín Star’s success finishing off as the Reserve Champion of Champions in 2012 resulted in the Grimes families’ notable surge of interest in showing, which now forms a major part of their enterprise. The Grimes put their best foot forward at approximately twenty shows annually, starting with the Northern Ireland festival in Cavan in April and Balmoral in Belfast in May; from there it is show-time every weekend on the road, wrapping up the showing calendar in September.
“We won the Supreme Champion at Balmoral Show for three consecutive years. To make it more special, it was all by the one family of ponies; Lishín Star won in 2014, her daughter Carrowkeel Star won in 2015, and her other daughter An Cheathrú Chaol Bláthnaid won it in 2016 - an impressive reflection of our ponies and breeding programme.” Tomás added.
[Lishin Star & Bláthnaid winning the lead rein in Clifden 2017. Photo by Copperbeech Connemara Ponies.]
With a cabinet of prestigious silverware from the Clifden Show, the pinnacle of the calendar, to signify their success, the team have been on a winning streak since they hit the ground running.
“In 2014, Lishín Star won the 10-15 mare class and Carrowkeel Star won the 6-7-year-old class and was crowned Reserve Champion. “Tomás explained.
“In 2016 in Clifden, we also won the 6-7-year-old class with a pony called An Cheathru Chaol Blathnaid, yet another daughter of Lishín Star.”
“That year, we also took the Overall Supreme Champion title with Lackagh Beauty. We had sold her previously which resulted in her being the highest-priced mare ever to go through the ring in Clifden and then a few years later, I spotted her on the catalogue and ended up buying her back for a very small price.” Tomás explained.
[Lackragh Beauty, Carrowkeel Star with Bláthnaid, Tomás and James out and about on the farm. Photo by Copperbeech Connemara Ponies.]
“We had Copperbeech Polly out last year and she is being produced on our behalf by Rachel Moore near Belfast, Northern Ireland. She had a phenomenal year in novice ridden classes last year, being second in the Dublin Horse Show and we look forward to her future.”
With a quality brand now nationally and internationally recognised, the Grimes family will continue to focus on type; movement and confirmation when it comes to developing and breeding their perfect pony. They have intentions to introduce more ridden and working hunter ponies as time progresses, which will add another dimension to their enterprise, holding great optimism that this will spring further success.
“A big part of building our brand is social media and that has allowed us to reach out to interested parties across the waters. We have several international visitors throughout the year which is fantastic to see and they are always welcome. We look forward to seeing what Copperbeech Connemara Ponies will deliver next for us.” Tomás concluded.
[Copperbeech Polly and Rachel Moore at Dublin Horse Show 2017. Photo by Copperbeech Connemara Ponies.]
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