Ann Nicholson - Boyle, Co. Roscommon is a single mother-of-two and the owner and manager of CelticChieftan Shetland Pony Stud.
Ann - who holds a Bachelor of Business Studies from IT Sligo and a Diploma in Recreation and Leisure - grew up on a mixed farm with sucklers; beef cattle; sheep; goats; horses; and poultry.
“We always had a horse or pony around the place. Every Sunday, we attended the local pony drives with our horse and trap which covered areas in Roscommon, Sligo; Leitrim and Mayo.” Ann Nicholson told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
“I saved every penny to buy my first pony - a coal foal back on July, 26th 1993; I was only ten at the time and I forked out 375 old pounds for him,” Ann added.
After swapping and dealing, Ann finally found what she was searching for - a 12-year-old racing trotting mare - on New Year’s Ewe in 1994.
A veterinary practitioner scanned the mare and discovered that she was in-foal, although Ann was unaware of this at the time; this sparked Ann’s interest in equine breeding, more specifically, the Mini Shetland breed.
Ann runs this enterprise - CelticChieftan Shetland Pony Stud with the help and support of family and friends; she also has two daughters - a four-year-old and a five-and-a-half-year-old.
At present, CelticChieftan is home to 34 ponies including a licensed stallion; colts; breeding mares; fillies and 2018-born foals.
The stud’s licensed stallions run with mares/fillies from mid-May for eight weeks and after this period, the stallions re-join the younger colts.
The impregnated mares/fillies join the rest of the herd consisting of youngstock fillies and mares that have foaled in the current year.
“We do not breed our mares every year. I believe the mares with foals at foot enjoy their babies better for the short time they have together rather than been stressed running with a stallion and taking care of their young.”
“I find it works well for us; the welfare of our ponies is paramount and always comes first at whatever cost.”
“We do not cover any outside mares or visiting mares/fillies due to the risk of bringing in diseases to the stud,” Ann stressed.
All ponies are out-wintered, with the exception of foals on weaning; all animals have adequate shelter in the fields and paddocks and the stud enlists the help of its own Equine Vet when required.
Laying the foundations
Ann was drawn to Shetlands because of their ease of management, as highlighted above, but also its hardiness and strength.
She is also satisfied with the breed’s intelligence and placid temperament for riding; driving; showing; for pleasure as a companion or even for beginners including children.This is an important characteristic as Ann encourages her two daughters to follow in her footsteps.
A new breeding venture
In May 2013, when her first daughter was only 3-months-old, Ann purchased Glenkee Catrina - a registered Skewbald miniature shetland filly.
“I wanted my daughter to have her own pony to grow up with just as I always wanted my very own pony as a child,” Ann explained.
“Many people thought I was off my trolley and laughed at the thought of buying a baby a pony so young, but when I get something into my head, there's no stopping me!”
With fourteen 14.2-15.2 breeding cobs at the time, Ann travelled the length and breadth of the country in order to find a registered Mini Shetland companion for Catrina and eventually purchased a 2-year-old filly - Glenkee Felicity; a 10-year-old breeding mare - Glenkee Wynona and her filly foal at foot - Wynona's Black Velvet.
Bitten by the breeding bug, Ann then went in search of a stallion, but this was every bit as challenging.
After exploring Ireland for a registered stallion with no success, she embarked on a search across the U.K., where she purchased a Golden Palomino Licensed stallion - Hermits Tom Thumb from Kettlesnout Stud in Ripponden in West Yorkshire.
Ann’s first Miniature Shetland foals were born in 2015 and she has since added numerous ponies with a variety of bloodlines to the Roscommon-based holding.
She has bred numerous ponies and cobs throughout the years, many of which are proving themselves across the waters.
These include "Blackie" - a jumping pony who is now competing in Sweden and "Pie" - a cob who has found his forever home in Leeds, in the U.K, and is always in the ribbons, having qualified for the Great Yorkshire Show earlier this year.
Ann also exhibits at agricultural shows; however, her presence at these events is limited due to time constraints.
This year, she entered three classes at Castlerea Agricultural show in Co. Roscommon and secured a placing in all competitions.
“Both ponies we brought had never been shown before so we were delighted with how they behaved,” Ann said.
On the day, they took home the second-prize ribbon in the Shetland Stallion/gelding/colt class with home-bred Bing and came second in Shetland mare/filly class with Anastasia.
In addition to this, Anastasia also shot to success in the young handler’s class - a milestone that has boosted Kelly’s (Ann’s daughter) confidence.
“We try to get our showing as much as we can to get our name out there as it’s great publicity and a chance to show off some of the ponies we produce.”
“It is always a great day out and it helps to build friendships and it’s fantastic to be able to put a name to a face.”
Looking forward, the Boyle native will continue to increase the genetic merit of her stock; her ultimate goal is to produce true-to-type ponies with good bone and substance with pedigrees to match.
To complement the stud’s mares, a new sire will be eventually added to the pastures.
“Our focus will be on quality, not quantity and hope, in turn, to promote the breed here in Ireland. I am very excited for the future of CelticChieftan Shetland Pony Stud.”
“Ponies keep me fit and active and benefit my mental state; they take me away from the pressure or stressful situations in life.”
“If I have a bad day I go sit in the field surrounded by my ponies - that’s where I am happy and free,” Ann concluded.
To keep-up-to-date with CelticChieftan Shetland Pony Stud, see here.
Image source: CelticChieftan Shetland Pony Stud
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