Welsh Pony and Cob

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Everyone knows the Welsh Mountain Pony, also known to breeders and fanciers as Section A, and everyone seems to have a story about the Welsh–lots of superstars in the Aussie horseworld learned to ride on Welshies and they still have a soft spot for them.

The Section A’s are the best known–they are the really pretty, lovable little fellows that you see at shows in the breed ring, or going around in the under 12hh ridden, the leading rein and first ridden classes and at Pony Club.

But what’s a Welsh B, C and D? What’s a Welsh Cob and what’s not? To get a real handle on this, we need to go way back in time. About 2000 years ago, when the Romans arrived in Britain, small ponies of around 11-12 hands (the same size as a modern Section A) were common throughout the island but after years of occupation, the British tribes who did not want to come to terms with the invaders were pushed in to the wilder and less accessible parts in the West of the country–into Wales–and they took their ponies with them.

So the Welsh Mountain Pony has been around for millennia. It seems that they have always been useful, hardy and highly prized, and many account for this hardiness by the fact that they were left to run wild in the hills until caught and broken to ride or drive and used for all sorts of jobs on the farms.

They are also recognised as probably the most beautiful of all the native breeds of ponies...one story has it that the great Welsh wizard Merlin wove a special spell to create the lovely ponies. There were other influences, including infusions of Eastern blood in to the ponies from time to time, which probably accounts for the fact that many Welsh Mountain ponies look like beautiful Arabians in miniature.

After the Romans left Britain, wave after wave of raiders followed; the Angles, Saxons and Jutes and then the Danes and the Norsemen. But in the hills of Wales, comparatively untouched by the invaders from the Continent, the pony herds flourished and the Welsh developed tremendous pride in them.

During the Age of Chivalry, knights who wore increasingly heavy armour needed ever larger horses to carry them into battle and in tournaments. Out in the mountains and valleys of Wales, horse breeding went in to top gear with the Welsh horsemen selecting larger animals from amongst the pony stock for sale as war horses.

Knights returning from the Crusades brought back larger stallions from Spain to what is now the Middle East, and these were crossed over the mountain ponies to produce chargers. These bigger, stronger animals still retained the pony character of the smaller types and became known as “Powys horses’; they formed the basis of what became known as the Welsh Cob, now Section D.

Centuries later, the English King Henry VIII was determined that horses in his kingdom should all be big and strong. Legend has it that a 14 hand pony buckled at the knees when His Majesty climbed aboard to go hunting so Henry decreed that anyone breeding their mares to stallions smaller than 14.2 would be fined and ordered the slaughter of ponies. The Welsh made sure their ponies were left on the hills instead of being gathered in annually, while the larger cob types were kept closer to home.

Welsh Cob Welsh Cob

Large Cobs were bred over the Mountain Pony mares to provide useful, hardy, smaller cob types and these are now called Section C, or Welsh Ponies of Cob Type. Up until World War II, these strong and attractive ponies were used on farms for light work like harrowing and also pulled vans and small carts for butchers and bakers and on the weekends took the younger members of the family hunting, where their inbuilt good sense and jumping ability made the outing enjoyable for all concerned.

History records that another English king disliked small horses, and the Welsh breeds benefited from this too. George II was really keen on racing with the newly developed ‘Thoroughbred’ horses which were all descended from imported Arabians and Barbs. He decided the sport would be better if the size of the horses was increased. During his reign an Act of Parliament was passed banning ‘ponies’ from the race track. One of these smaller Thoroughbreds, a descendent of the Darley Arabian called Merlin, was purchased by a Welsh family and turned out on the hills in North Wales, where he bred with the local mares to the benefit of the offspring. Descendants of Merlin became known as merlyonnod or merliws, a name which is still in use.

An Arabian known as the Crawshay-Bailey Arab was run with the hill ponies some two hundred years ago–one pony thought to be a direct descendent of his was the very famous Dyoll Starlight, from whom many Section A ponies are descended, including those of the influential ‘Nattai’ stud which is located in Victoria whose ponies are line-bred to Greylight (Imp), a son of Dyoll Starlight.

Just over a hundred years ago, Pony and Cob breeders and fanciers in Wales got together and established a stud book to record the pedigrees of their animals and resolved to work together to improve and promote the breed. By the 1920’s with the development of cars and tractors, it was obvious to them that the days of ‘working’ horses and ponies were coming to an end and that the ‘pleasure’ market was going to be what sustained the breed.

The Welsh Pony & Cob Society of Australia's motto is "The Breed for all the Family".

To meet the growing demand for children’s ponies, the Welsh Society allowed breeders the use of a few stallions which were by Arabian sires out of Mountain Pony mares to produce the type which became known as the Welsh Pony Section B. A lighter, leggier pony was the aim, with a strong emphasis on riding qualities, but the Section B still retains the overall look and character of the other sections. For the last hundred years or so, many Welsh-bred ponies and cobs have been imported to Australia, with a huge number arriving in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There is a strong interest in the Welsh breeds here, with ponies being registered mainly with the Welsh Pony & Cob Society of Australia Inc, who promote the Ponies and Cobs as ‘The Breed for All the Family’. The Society runs shows and other activities in all the states, with the Victorian All Welsh Show being the biggest single-breed pony show in the Southern Hemisphere.

Section A Section A's make ideal mounts for children.

How do you tell which Section is which?

As they all come from the same root-stock, there are a lot of similarities–when you can’t see what size the pony is, a Section C will look pretty much like an A. All the Sections come in any colour except skewbald or piebald, they should all have pretty heads and be well made and vigorous, but here’s a run-down to help you work out which Section is which.

Section A

This is the basis of the breed; up to 12 hands. To breed a Section A, you must use a Mountain Pony stallion over a Mountain Pony mare. Section A’s are very popular as saddle ponies for children, and many of them also make very game and active harness ponies.

Section B

Up to 13.2 hands. You can breed this Section using Section B to another B, or to a Section A. Some Section B ponies do not grow over 12 hands, but these animals are still Section B.

Section C

The Welsh Pony of Cob Type –up to 13.2 hands, but must show the influence of the Cob blood so C’s should be more substantial than Section B. Section C can be produced using C to C, C to D, C to A, or traditionally using a Section D Cob and a Section A Welsh Mountain Pony. As with Section B, there is no lower height limit. These are great all-rounders.

Section D

The grand Cobs, with no height limit but usually between 14-15 hands, they are expected to show great substance, with lots of bone. Cobs are used world wide in carriage driving and as hunter types and also crossed with other breeds to produce big sensible horses with plenty of ‘jump’.

Visit the Welsh Pony & Cob Society of Australia Inc website.

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