The Welsh Pony and Cob are closely related horse breeds including both pony and cob types, which originated in Wales in the United Kingdom. The breed society for the Welsh breeds has four sections, primarily distinguished by height, but also by variations in type.
The types are classed as the Welsh Mountain Pony (Section A), the Welsh Pony (Section B), the Welsh Pony of Cob Type (Section C), and the Welsh Cob (Section D).
Welsh ponies and cobs are known for their good temperament, hardiness, and free-moving gaits.
Native ponies existed in Wales prior to 1600 BC, and a Welsh-type cob was known as early as the Middle Ages. They were influenced by the Arabian horse, and possibly also by the Thoroughbred and the Hackney horse.
In 1901, the first stud book for the Welsh breeds was established in the United Kingdom, and in 1907 another registry was established in the United States. Interest in the breed declined during the Great Depression, but revived in the 1950s.
Throughout their history, the Welsh breeds have had many uses.
Use of the Welsh ponies and cobs included as a cavalry horse, a pit pony, and as a working animal on farms.
Today, the modern Welsh Pony and Cob breeds are used for many equestrian competitive disciplines, including showing, jumping and driving, as well as for pleasure riding, trekking and trail riding The smaller types are popular children’s ponies.
The Welsh also crosses well with many other breeds and has influenced the development of many British and American horse and pony breeds.
Evidence suggests that a native Welsh-type of pony existed before 1600 BC.
The original Welsh Mountain Pony is thought to have evolved from the prehistoric Celtic pony. Welsh ponies were primarily developed in Wales and their ancestors existed in the British Isles prior to the arrival of the Roman Empire.
The Welsh Pony developed into a hardy breed due to the harsh climate, limited shelter and sparse food sources of their native country. At some point in their development, the Welsh breeds had some Arabian blood added, although this did not take away the physical characteristics that make the breed unique.
The characteristics of the Welsh breeds as they are known today are thought to have been established by the late 15th century, after the Crusaders returned to England with Arabian stallions obtained from the Middle East.
In the 16th century, King Henry VIII, thinking to improve the breeds of horses, particularly war horses, ordered the destruction of all stallions under 15 hands and all mares under 13 hands in the Breed of Horses Act 1535.
The laws for swingeing culls of ‘under-height’ horses were partially repealed by a decree by Queen Elizabeth I in 1566 on the basis that the poor lands could not support the weight of the horses desired by Henry VIII because of “their rottenness … [they] are not able to breed beare and bring forth such great breeds of stoned horses as by the statute of 32 Henry VIII is expressed, without peril of miring and perishing of them”, and (fortunately for the future of Britain’s mountain and moorland pony breeds) many ponies in their native environments, including the Welsh breeds, therefore escaped the slaughter.
On the upland farms of Wales, Welsh ponies and cobs would often have to do everything from ploughing a field to carrying a farmer to market or driving a family to services on Sunday. When coal mining became important to the economy of England, many Welsh ponies were harnessed for use in mines, above and below ground.
In the 18th century and 19th century, more Arabian blood was added by stallions who were turned out in the Welsh hills. Other breeds have also been added, including the Thoroughbred, Hackney,Norfolk Roadster, and the Yorkshire Coach Horse.
Before the car was developed, the speediest mode of transportation in Wales was the Welsh Cob.
Tradesmen, doctors and other businessmen often selected ponies by trotting them the 35 uphill miles from Cardiff to Dowlais. The best ponies could complete this feat in under three hours, never breaking gait. Formal breeding stock licensing was introduced in 1918, but before this, breeding stock was selected by trotting tests like these.
In 1901 English and Welsh breeders established a breed registry, called the Welsh Pony and Cob Society
The first stud book was published in 1902. It was decided that the Welsh Stud Book should be separated into sections divided by type and height. Welsh Ponies were originally only classified as Section A, but in 1931, with the rising demand for riding ponies for children, Section B was added. In the first stud books, the Section B was the Welsh Pony of Cob Type, and the Welsh Cob was Section C and Section D. The upper height limit for Section D Cobs was removed in 1907 and in 1931 Sections C and D were combined as simply Section C.
The current standards of Cobs as Sections C and D were finalised in 1949. Until the mid 20th century, the British War Office considered the Welsh Cob so valuable that they paid premiums to the best stallions. After World War II, only three stallions were registered with Section C, but numbers have since recovered.
Welsh ponies adapted easily to the terrain and climate variations they encountered when exported to Canada and the United States. They were first exported to the United States as early as the 1880s, and large numbers of animals were exported between 1884 and 1910.
The United States registry, also named the Welsh Pony and Cob Society, was incorporated in 1906, and by 1913 a total of 574 ponies had been registered. During the Great Depression, interest in the breed declined, but made a comeback in the 1950s.
The population continued to grow, 2,881 ponies had been registered by the end of 1957, and annual studbooks began to be published. All Welsh ponies and cobs in the United States today descend from ponies registered with the UK registry, and over 34,000 have been registered with the US registry as of 2009.
Welsh Foundation lines
The stallion Dyoll Starlight was credited with being the foundation sire of the modern breed, and was a combination of Welsh and Arab breeding. From his line came an influential stallion of the Section B type: Tan-y-Bwlch Berwyn. This stallion was sired by a Barb and out of a mare from the Dyoll Starlight line.
Influential stallions on the Section C and D bloodlines include: Trotting Comet, foaled in 1840 from a long line of trotting horses; True Briton, foaled in 1930, by a trotting sire and out of an Arabian mare; Cymro Llwyd, foaled in 1850, by an Arabian stallion and out of a trotting mare; and Alonzo the Brave, foaled in 1866, tracing his ancestry through the Hackney breed to the Darley Arabian.
All sections of Welsh ponies and Welsh cobs have small heads with large eyes, sloped shoulders, short backs and strong hindquarters. The forelegs are straight and the cannon bone short. The tail is high-set. The breed ranges from 11 hands (44 inches, 112 cm) for the smallest ponies to over 16 hands (64 inches, 163 cm) for the tallest cobs.
Their movement is bold and free and characteristically fast, especially at the trot, with great power coming from the hocks. Their trot has been favorably compared to that of the Standardbred horse.
The Welsh breeds are reputed to be trustworthy, of a good disposition with even temperaments and friendly characters, but spirited and with great endurance, and are known for their stamina, soundness, and high level of intelligence.
Welsh Ponies and Welsh Cobs may be any solid color, but not piebald, skewbald, pinto, or leopard-spotted. Black, greys, chestnut and bay are the most common, but there are also duns and palominos.
However, it should be noted that British equine colour terminology commonly refers to the buckskin colour, which is caused by the same dilution gene that produces palomino, as “dun”, but the true dun gene is extremely rare in the Welsh breed.