Welsh Ponies and Cobs

  • HEIGHT: 11–13.2 hands for ponies; 13.2 hands (with no upper limit) for Cobs
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Wales
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Beautiful animals noted for soundness, excellence of movement, and jumping talent
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Jumping, driving, children’s pleasure

The original Welsh Mountain Pony lived in the hills and valleys of Wales before the Romans arrived in Britain. The severe winters and meager vegetation kept the ponies small but also made them tough, resourceful, and hardy. Standing about 12 hands (48 inches) tall, the Welsh Mountain Pony was soundly built and sure-footed. It had considerable intelligence, tremendous natural jumping ability, and impressive endurance—all assets essential to survival in the tough, mountainous Welsh terrain.

The ancestors of the Welsh Pony were probably ancient Celtic ponies. The obvious Arab-like appearance of the Welsh traces back to the time of the Roman occupation, when Arabian and other desert-bred horses first arrived in England. In 55 BCE, Julius Caesar greatly admired the beautiful British chariot horses he saw. Later infusions of desert horses came when Britons returned from the Crusades.

During the reign of King Henry VIII (1509–1547), these smaller horses suffered greatly when the ruler decreed that all horses under 15 hands be destroyed in an attempt to force farmers to breed larger horses more useful to armored knights. To save their ponies, farmers turned them loose in the rugged Welsh hills. Little bands of ponies retreated to the roughest, most remote areas of the hills and managed to elude discovery. Like their ancestors, they survived nicely, becoming more athletic and clever during their banishment. After the edict was rescinded, farmers recaptured their ponies and began crossing the larger ones onto various draft breeds, creating the Welsh Cob. The high head carriage, lofty action, and feathered fetlocks seen today on Welsh Cobs are reminders of that legacy.

The sturdy yet elegant Welsh Pony has a distinguished history dating back to the time of the Romans.

Here, from left to right, are a Welsh Cob, a Welsh Pony, and a Welsh Mountain Pony.

Several Types of Welsh Pony

Since the end of the nineteenth century, the Welsh Mountain Pony, the Welsh Pony, and the Welsh Cob have maintained their own dominant physical characteristics. The word cob means a small, solidly built horse. The Welsh Pony and Cob Society in Wales governs the studbook and standard for each variety and distinguishes the ponies by size and by type, as follows:

• Section A: Welsh Mountain Pony, under 12 hands

• Section B: Welsh Pony, under 13.2 hands

• Section C: Welsh Pony (cob type), under 13.2 hands

• Section D: Welsh Cob, 13.2 hands, with no upper limit; some may reach 15 or even 16 hands

The original and smallest type is the Welsh Mountain Pony. The Welsh Pony is a slightly larger version of the Welsh Mountain Pony. This type reflects the contribution of Hackney blood and, near the end of the 1800s, the prepotency of a small Thoroughbred stallion named Merlin, whose influence was such that Section B Welsh Ponies are still sometimes called Merlins.

Section C ponies are of cob type, meaning that they have a heavier build than the Section B Welsh Ponies of the same height. During the Crusades (1100–1500), quite a few desert-bred horses were brought back to Britain. They were often crossed on the Welsh Pony, producing taller animals. Andalusians were also crossed in, which added substance.

Section D animals are cobs. In the old days, Welsh Cobs did farmwork, but because they were much faster and more responsive than draft horses, they were also ridden. References from the Middle Ages describe the Welsh Cobs as “fleet of foot,” good jumpers, good swimmers, and able to carry substantial weight. Before true draft horses arrived, Welsh Cobs performed many mundane tasks, but because they were fast and athletic, they also made good military mounts. Henry Tudor’s rise to the throne in 1485 is credited largely to the Welsh militia mounted on cobs.

The Welsh Pony in America

The first Welsh Ponies arrived in the United States in the 1880s. George Brown, of Aurora, Illinois, imported quite a few between 1880 and 1910. Through his efforts, the Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America was formed in 1906.

As with many other breeds, interest fell off during the Depression but revived as the economy recovered. During the mid-1950s, Welsh Ponies became increasingly popular as children’s show ponies, especially hunters. Over the next decades, the boom continued, with about five hundred new members joining the association each year. At one point, the Welsh Pony was the fastest-growing breed of pony in America, though other breeds, such as the POA, have increased in popularity more recently.

Breed Characteristics

Always beautiful, Welsh Ponies make excellent riding and driving ponies and outstanding jumpers, and they are well known for their pleasant disposition. The action is straight, quick, and free, both in front and behind, with hocks well flexed. Section B and C Welsh Ponies are sometimes seen in the United States today in shows and parades in draft hitches.

The Welsh Pony has long been valued for its ground-covering trot and extraordinary stamina.

MEDIEVAL COBS

British knights used the Welsh Cob, or rouncy, in the fifteenth century. The warhorses of the day were known as destriers, a term that described their use, not their breeding. Destriers were big and heavy so they could bear a knight in full armor, a load that sometimes went to three hundred pounds. Between conflicts, however, knights were inclined to travel long distances at the trot, and destrier trots were frequently bone jarring. During distance travel, it was common for the knight to ride the comfortable cob and for his serf to ride the warhorse or run alongside. For battle or jousting tournaments, they switched mounts.

Because the rouncy had to be able to keep up with the big destriers for long distances at the trot, excellence at the trot was highly valued. During peaceful times, trotting matches between cobs were popular, and the sale value of one of these horses often depended on how far it could trot without difficulty. The ground-covering trot of the Welsh Cobs has been legendary for centuries. It is not surprising that these horses are being rediscovered as driving increases in popularity.

In spite of the prevalence of bays in this picture, gray is a more common color in the breed, along with brown and chestnut.

There is also a Welsh Part-Bred Register for horses, cobs, and ponies whose breeding is not less than 25 percent registered Welsh. Part-bred Welsh are very popular in show jumping, eventing, dressage, and driving.

Conformation

Section A, Welsh Mountain Pony: Height cannot exceed 12 hands. The head is small, with neat, pointed ears; big, bold eyes; and a wide forehead. The jaw is clean-cut, tapering to a fine muzzle. The preferred profile is concave, never too straight or convex. The neck is carried well, with shoulders sloping back to well-defined withers. The legs are set square, with good, flat bone and round, dense hooves. The tail is set high and carried gaily.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America (established in 1906):

• There are 44,047 purebred animals registered.

• The half-Welsh registry contains 6,515 animals.

• There are about 900 new registrations each year.

• The breed is found throughout North America.

Section B, Welsh Pony: Height cannot exceed 13.2. The general description is the same as above but with greater emphasis placed on riding pony qualities, while still retaining the true Welsh quality and substance.

Section C, Welsh Pony of Cob Type: Height cannot exceed 13.2 hands in Wales or 14.2 hands in the United States. This is the stronger, sturdier version of the Welsh Pony.

Section D, Welsh Cob: Height is over 13.2 hands, with no upper limit. The general character is of strength, hardiness, and agility. The body must be deep, supported by strong limbs with good joints and an abundance of flat bone. Action must be straight, free, and forceful. The knees should be bent and then the entire forelegs extended from the shoulders as far forward as possible in all gaits, with the hocks well flexed, producing powerful leverage.

Color

For all types, any solid color is accepted. Gray, brown, and chestnut are the most common colors. White on the face and lower legs is permitted. Pinto and Appaloosa patterns are not allowed.

The top picture shows an example of the refined Welsh Mountain Pony; the bottom one depicts the sturdier and more substantial cob type.