Welsh Pony & Welsh Cob

Educational Information


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Preservation Breeding the Past & The Future        Equine Color Genetics by D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD 

A Reference Guide: Arabian Coat Coloration.


Casmaran Welsh Cobs and Cross Creek Welsh Ponies


In the period around 8000BC Britain was physically attached to both Ireland and Europe and there was free migration of animals from Asia and Africa. It is likely that the Celtic pony took this route and established itself in Wales, Ireland (Conemara) and the Hebrides (Shetland). The large Bronze Age collection of fragments of harness and small (less than 3") bits found in North Wales, indicates that ponies were being used for harness work at that time. Certainly ponies were very much in evidence in Wales during the conquest of Julius Caesar (55-54BC) who wrote about their speed and docility as chariot horses and their activity as riding horses.

The next mention of Welsh Ponies is in 1188A.D. when the Welsh Hills were reported to be "full of ponies". One theory is that much of the final type of the Welsh Pony and Cob was established at this stage through the influence of stallions brought back from the East by the Crusaders, but there is no firm evidence to confirm this.

Welsh Ponies returned to prominence in 1535 when Henry VIII ordered the destruction of all horses under 13hh because they were too small to carry the weight of a knight in a full suit of armour and were eating valuable grazing. Fortunately the inaccessibility of the mountainous areas of Wales prevented this death sentence from being carried out in that area and the law was later repealed by Queen Elizabeth I.

 The harsh climate and continual persecution, not only by Henry VIII, but also by the lowland farmers who drove the ponies back into the hills whenever they went in search of better grazing, led to the development of a very hardy pony with plenty of bone, a thick mane and tail and lots of feather. The ponies were of predominantly dark colors with blacks, browns and dark duns being proven the most hardy.

Founders of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society, recognizing the need to preserve the integrity of the bloodlines of Welsh Ponies and Cobs, Registry decided to exclude those animals with excessive white markings from purebred registration. This was an educated decision to discourage the propagation of Welsh carrying piebald and skewbald coloration and various other traits foreign to original Welsh Mountain Ponies. Those officers, concerned breeders themselves, decided that preserving the original Welsh standard was the Registry's priority, and registration and show rules were adopted which would best serve the preservation of the Welsh pony and cob breed.

Evidence of the existence of the Welsh Cob in the middle ages and even earlier can be found in mediaeval Welsh literature. According to description he had to be "fleet of foot, a good jumper, a good swimmer and able to carry a substantial weight on his back". He had also to be capable of drawing loads of timber from the forests and doing the general work on the upland farms long before the introduction of heavier animals. Both in times of peace and war he has played his part. According to documentation in the 15th century, the Welsh Cob was part of the essential string of mounts for the British knight. A Welsh Cob or "rouncy" was used to lead the mighty fighting horses known as destriers. As the destrier's natural gait was the trot, the Welsh Cobs had to cover great distances matching the warhorse stride-for-stride at the trot. No doubt in 1485 the British throne was gained by Henry Tudor with the help of the Welsh Militia on their cobs which he gathered round him on his arrival from France at Milford Haven as he traveled up the west coast of Wales. And indeed much later the Morgan Horse almost certainly owed his origin to the Welsh cobs left behind by the British Army after the American War of Independence at the end of the 18th century.

The founders of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society in 1901, in their wisdom, decided to register and record this ancient breed together with the Welsh Mountain Ponies and the larger Welsh Ponies in the Welsh Stud Book, dividing them into four sections according to height and type. Essentially the description for each section is similar - the typical short Welsh pony head with small ears, the large prominent eyes and open nostrils, the well-laid shoulder, short back and powerful muscular quarters With gay tall carriage - standing on good clean legs with dense bone on sound feet. The characteristic fast trotting action of the Welsh Cob and Pony of Cob Type like that of the Mountain Pony should be true, bold and free, covering the ground with forceful impulsion from the hocks.

Before the advent of the motor car the Welsh Cob was the speediest mode of transport for the doctor or tradesman and others eager to get from here to there in the shortest time. Business men in South Wales were, known to select a cob by trotting him all the way from Cardiff to Dowlais - some 35 miles uphill all the way. The best would do this in under three hours never slackening or changing pace from start to finish. Before licensing was introduced in 1918 stallions and breeding stock were selected by this kind of test and by means of the old trotting matches which took place with a stopwatch over a measured distance on many roads in Wales. Such names as the many Comets, Flyers and Expresses which abound in the early volumes of the Stud Book testify to their speed and prowess.

In harness, too, the Welsh Cob is spectacular and has recently proved in combined training events under F.E.I. rules that he can compete against all and beat, them. His innate suitability for high school and dressage in the "Lippizaner" manner is being now realized and demonstrated in Austria. He crosses especially well with the Thoroughbred to produce hunters, jumpers and event horses or with the Arab to get a riding pony with more bone and substance. At one time cob mares were in great demand as the foundation for Polo Ponies to obtain the agility and nimbleness necessary.

Any color is allowed - except piebald or skewbald. Chestnut, bay, brown and black are most usual. Greys are rare, but there are a number of duns, palominos and creams. The Welsh Cob is beyond doubt the most versatile of animals in existence and long ago established a reputation as the best ride and drive animal in the world.


Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Barbs and Turks


On the other hand one has to consider the amount of Arabian, Barb and Turk blood introduced into the Welsh thru Thorobreds in the 1600's, 1700's and 1800's, and the propensity of each of these breeds to carry and propagate many traits foreign to the original Welsh ponies and cobs, such as lightness of bone, length of cannon, dropped tail set, changed freedom of movement and Splash  or Splashed White, which is one Overo white pattern and another Overo pattern, Sabino. There have been white TB's in TB breedings for years, it was started with the white Arabian horses. Loudly marked Arabian horses were prized in ancient times (Saqlawi strain), Barbs spread pinto markings in many parts of the world, and the Turks and Akhal-Teke's (which are considered to be different strains of the same breed) were known for a natural metallic bloom to their coat. Trace the bloodlines of many Welsh Ponies and Welsh Cobs and you will find the Thorobred whose ancestors consisted of the above mentioned breeds of animals inbred many times over. Research the coefficient of inbreeding and see how inbreeding in the fifth, tenth, twelfth, fifteenth generation back affects the quality of many ponies and cobs bred today for exactly those traits the original Officers of the WPCS tried so hard to surpress.


Sabino is a color pattern.  It is often characterized by four white feet and legs where the stockings often extend up the legs in ragged formation; belly patches that extend to the body; wide blaze often extending under the chin; and body roaning.  When the sabino pattern is minimally expressed, the horse usually has four white socks and a blaze, you can tell they are not the usual white marks because of the ragged edge or narrow and long extension up the leg. Some sabinos will also have odd white patches on the knee or hock, removed from the main portion of the sock or stocking.  A few sabinos do have a dark foot or two, although most have four white feet.  Minimally marked sabinos are easily confused with truly nonspotted horses. 


When the sabino pattern is in the middle range of expression, they are fairly distinctive and are usually difficult to confuse with other patterns.  Most have white extending from the belly and have roan and flecked areas in addition to white areas.  Some will be nearly entirely roan without white patches.  These could be confused with the true roan horses, although the facial and leg white usually gives these away and they do not have dark heads typical of true roans.


The next stage of expression is patched but not roaned.  These can be confused with frame overos especially if they have at least one dark foot.  Most patched sabinos have smaller, more ragged patches than typical frame overos. The whitest of sabinos are almost all white and may retain color only on the ears while others are all white. Most sabinos that are largely white are very speckled and roaned and can even be confused with Appaloosas. 


In recent time the Thorobred horse registry has accepted and are registering several lines which carry the sabino gene and produce pinto markings. The Thorobred breeders themselves claim that the breed survives mainly due to three original Arabian/Barb stallions though there were many, many Arabians, Barbs, and Turks used in developing the breed; ie: of course the Darley Arabian (whose blood is in 95% of today's thorobreds), the Godolphin Arabian (Barb), and the Byerley Turk, but also Alcock's Arabian, Darcy's Yellow Turk, Place's White Turk, Old Morocco Barb, Fairfax Barb, Leedes Arabian, Harpur's Barb, Akaster Turk to name a few.

Welsh ponies were imported by American breeders as early as the 1889s. George E. Brown of Aurora, Illinois, appears to have been one of the first real Welsh enthusiasts, importing a large number of animals between 1884 and 1910. Principally through his efforts and those of John Alexander, The Welsh Pony & Cob (the word "Cob" was dropped in 1946) Society of America was formed and certification for the establishment of a breed registry was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on July 30, 1907.

By 1913 a total of 574 Welsh had been registered, and the owner-breeder list showed applications coming from Vermont, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Oregon, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York City, and Canada. The popularity of the Welsh was spreading, and his great versatility was already becoming apparent, not only because he was adapting himself well to any geographical area, but because he was being put to many uses, both by children and adults.

It was the concern of early importers and breeders that a "purity of the breed" be maintained, and this subject was regularly discussed with Welsh and English breeders who had established their own registry in 1901. Mr. Brown summarized his views in this way in a report to members of the American Society: "With a correct standard fixed and uniformly adhered to, nothing can block the advancement of Welsh to front rank in their classes."

"......we shall look for the great bold eye, the tiny head, short back, strong quarters, high set of tail, fine hair, hocks that do not turn in, the laid-back shoulder, the straight foreleg, and the short, so very short, cannon bone."

One of the outstanding breeders of Welsh has said: "The bigger the eye, the better; the deeper through the heart, the stronger the prouder the lift of the head, the more courageous; the swifter the action, the more fearless."

The pure Welsh pony may be any color: black, gray, bay, roan, cream, or chestnut. He can never be piebald or skewbald.




When it was made evident that very much larger numbers of mounted infantry were required, the remount agents were instructed to purchase cobs, and to obtain these in quantity it was necessary to go to foreign countries, the United States, ying power, and whose mode of life is the best possible preparation for "roughing it" in South Africa.

Very different is the case with the animals shipped from England. For generations, now, horses for the saddle and lighter draught work have been very largely bred less as necessaries than luxuries; the conditions of their lives are artificial in a high degree, and the constitution which could formerly withstand exposure, hard and continuous work and scanty feed, has been softened by pampering. To take such horses out of their stables where the ternperature is regulated, where they are warmly clothed and regularly fed, and despatch them to endure the hardships of campaigning in countries where hay and oats are unknown or unprocurable, and the forage obtainable is unsuited to English chargers in short, to most severely tax their powers under a set of conditions entirely opposed to those to which they are accustomed is to invite heavy mortality.


Assuming that the peculiar suitability of horses between 14 hands and 14 hands 3 inches for mounted infantry and light cavalry purposes is acknowledged by the authorities, it behooves us to turn our attention to the task of breeding. The high prices obtainable for first-class polo ponies have given a stimulus to pony-breeding, and it may be said the foundations of the industry have been laid. What the present remount market is to the breeder of hunters, so may the market for mounted infantry cobs be to the breeder of polo ponies, but with this difference, that the latter, being handicapped by the height limit of 14 hands 2 inches, will have a larger proportion of ''misfits." What is required is an animal between 14.0 and 14.3 hands; it must be stout and (* See Ponies Past and Present, by Sir Walter Gilbey, Bart. Vinton & Co., Ltd. 3) able to carry weight, capable of covering long distances at fair speed, able to subsist on coarse or poor food for weeks together without losing condition, strong of constitution to withstand the exposure inevitable on a campaign, and the more tractable the better. To get small horses endowed with these qualifications we must look to the breeds which possess them in marked degree, to the ponies of the Welsh Hills, Exmoor, the New Forest, the Fell districts, and West of Ireland. In these we have ponies ranging in height from 12.2 to 13.3 or 14 hands ; they are compact, sturdy, and untiring ; they can carry weights which are out of all ratio to their size ; they live on grass, and the open-air life they lead, year in year out, has made them completely independent of the luxurious " coddling ' bestowed upon other horses.

These ponies lack only the size required in our mounted infantry horse, and these essentials we can obtain from the sire we shall select. what sire is more likely to get the desired pony than the Arab ? We might use a small Thoroughbred with excellent results, but having regard to the rarity with which we find good bone and sound constitution in the Thoroughbred, and also having regard to the inherent soundness and stoutness of the Eastern horse, we shall probably obtain more satisfactory young stock from Forest and Moorland dams if we use the Arab sire. Blood, it is truly urged, gives the superior speed and courage required in the polo-pony, but let us not forget that Arabs were the sires from which all our modern race-horses are descended. The best horses on the Turf today may be traced to one of the three famous sires the Byerly Turk imported in 1689, the Darley Arabian in 1706, and the Godolphin Arabian in 1730: all of them, it may be remarked, horses under 14 hands.

By going back to the original strain we shall obtain all the useful qualities Thoroughbreds possess without those undesired characteristics, greatly increased size, great speed, delicacy of constitution and complete inability to lead a natural life which man's long-maintained endeavours to breed race horses have implanted in them. In a word, we shall obtain a natural and not an artificial horse ; the race-horse is practically everything the mounted infantry cob must not be.

By using the Arab we may expect to obtain the qualities race horses boasted a century and a half or two centuries ago, when they stood 14 hands to 14.3 the famous Gimcrack is said to have measured 14 hands 1 inch. There is much to be said in favour of the policy of returning to the original Eastern stock to find suitable sires for our proposed breed of ponies. Arab breeders have continued to breed for stoutness, endurance and good looks. By going to Arab stock for our sires we might at the beginning sacrifice some measure of speed; but what was lost in that respect would be more than compensated by the soundness of constitution and limb which are such conspicuous traits in the Eastern horse. By crossing the Arab on mares of our forest and moorland breeds we shall obtain the increased size and speed required, while it will be possible to preserve the valuable qualities of the dam.

Those qualities, the hardiness, robustness of constitution, sureness of foot, and ability to thrive on poor feed, are the natural outcome of the conditions under which they have lived for centuries ; and to preserve them in the young stock, it will be necessary to rear the crossbred foals under conditions as nearly natural as their constitution will allow. What those conditions should be circumstances must determine; but it is possible to combine large measure of liberty with a certain amount of shelter from the rigours of winter, such as the foal with Arab blood in his veins would require. To take up the young stock as soon as weaned, stable and feed them artificially, though this course would preserve them from the risks of exposure, would produce failure in other directions. It would encourage undue physical development while undermining that capacity for endurance of hardship which is so essential. Whether, by careful attention to mating and management, it would be possible to establish a breed of small horses as a fixed type is a question only prolonged experience will be able to answer.

It is quite certain that we shall never be able to reckon on getting stock which, when fully grown and furnished, will neither exceed nor fall short of the limit of 14 hands 2 inches, at which the breeder will aim with the prizes of the polo pony market in his mind's eye. But there is sound reason to think that we can build upon an Arab and Forest or Moorland pony foundation a breed of small horses such as we need for mounted infantry. There are difficulties in the way; and not the least is the peculiar care and watchfulness that must be exercised in order to hit the "happy medium" between artificial life, with its attendant drawbacks of probable overgrowth and certain delicacy of constitution, and the free, natural existence, which may prove fatal to the cross - bred youngsters and will certainly check their growth. Having shown the great utility of small horses for work requiring endurance, hardiness, and weight-carrying power, as proved by the writings of authorities who, in several instances, employed them merely because they could procure no other animals, and learned what their qualities are by experience, we may briefly summarise what has been said in regard to the foundation stock we possess. (1) The pony dams of our Forest and Moorland breeds cannot be surpassed. (2) The sire chosen should be a small thoroughbred or an Arab. If a half-breed sire is used his dam should be one not less than three parts thoroughbred. (3) Inasmuch as the forest and moorland ponies owe their small size and soundness to the hardships of the free and natural conditions in which they live, their half-bred produce should (a) Lead a similarly free and natural life as far as climate permits, in order to inure them to the hardships of warfare and general work : (b) Should exist, as far as possible, on natural herbage, as in all cases artificial feeding tends to render them less hardy and enduring.


Equine Color Genetics by D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD



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Welsh Pony History,  Welsh Ponies, Welsh Cobs