Reproduction of female goddess and a pony

Epona

Horse Goddess

This image (left; courtesy of Dr M-J Gould-Earley) is a modern reproduction of a stable shrine to the goddess Epona. Descriptions of it quite often say that her pony is a foal, but the long tail shows it is adult.

Epona was a Celtic goddess, probably first worshipped in Gaul; statues, inscriptions and depictions date between 79 and 303 AD and literary references occur as late as ~525 AD (epona.net). Like many pagan gods and goddesses she was also adopted in Rome, where her feast day was 18th December. She was associated with horses, fertility, and guidance to the Otherworld at death. A famous image of Epona is the one found at Alesia (Alise-Sainte-Reine) in France, which is believed to have been the centre of her cult. Others have been found all over Europe as well as in Britain.

red sandstone altar with image of Epona on a horseThis altar to Epona (right) was found at Maryport, Cumbria. It is carved of local red sandstone and shows the Goddess riding aside on a horse which is pacing or ambling. 2nd or 3rd C AD. (Senhouse Museum, Maryport: on loan to "All the Queen's Horses", Kentucky, April-August 2003. Sketch from original, © S Millard 2003.) A photo of the altar can be seen on the Senhouse Museum web site.

"Pony"

It has been suggested that the word "pony" comes from Epona's name (epos = "horse" in the Gaulish language; epa = "mare"). Sadly that doesn’t really hold water because her name had disappeared from common English usage by the 6th century AD—a thousand years before the earliest known date for “powny” which is a diary entry in 1659. The word "pony" is more recent than such terms as horse, nag, destrier, charger, steed, foal, mare, haquenee, courser, rouncy, cob, palfrey, sumpter, stot, ambler, rakker or even galloway (1600s). "pony" is not recorded until 1659 and 1675.

The Oxford English Dictionary adds that “pony” comes from Scottish, apparently from French poulenet “little foal”, and that the Irish pónaí and Scottish Gaelic pònaidh are derived from the English word and not the other way around.

There are several other theories about the word "pony" from later centuries including "puny" (Scots: small). The Oxford English Dictionary suggests it is from "poulenet" (French, 1444: little foal). Local Cumbrian pronunciation varies between "pauwney" and "powney", the first syllable rhyming with either "aw "or "ow!". "Colt" is also sometimes pronounced "cowt" which does at least lend weight to the possibility of "poulenet" becoming "powney".