If you’re lucky enough to attend the National Pony Finals in Lexington, Ky., you’ll probably notice that one breed seems to appear in the arenas more than others. Which one? The Welsh Pony! Welsh Ponies and Welsh Pony crosses can be spotted all over the Kentucky Horse Park during Pony Finals. This versatile breed seems to pop up everywhere, including cantering around hunter courses, pulling marathon carts around combined driving courses, zipping round barrels and jumping cross-country fences.
Welsh Ponies originated in Wales, a country on the west coast of the United Kingdom. The ponies have roamed the mountains, hills and valleys of Wales for thousands of years. It’s likely that the breed’s ancestors were a combination of hardy, semi-wild hill ponies that had been abandoned or lost by their owners and Arabian-type horses that were left in England by Roman soldiers who left the country and returned to their homes around 410 AD.
Vegetation was sparse in Wales while the breed was evolving. The mountains were covered in rock and in the winter there was little grass for the ponies to eat. Led by their stallions, bands of mares and foals roamed the countryside, making the most of the pockets of shelter and food that they found. Despite the tough conditions, the breed flourished. Welsh Ponies developed into easy-keepers with strong legs and tough hooves.
Welsh Ponies had to survive more than cold, rainy weather and a lack of food. In the 1500s, King Henry the Eighth (the guy with six wives) decided that he would improve the bloodlines of British horses by destroying all stallions that stood less than 15 hands high and all mares less than 13 hands high. Henry’s goal? To only breed horses that were large enough to carry soldiers and their heavy armor into battle. Luckily, Welsh Ponies weren’t easy to find in the rugged Welsh hills, and most escaped being killed. When Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth, became Queen of England, she put an end to this law and Welsh Ponies were once again safe from slaughter—but not for long.
Farmers who lived in the shadow of the mountains didn’t appreciate the ponies coming down and grazing on their land. They would chase the ponies back into the mountains, and some were even hunted down and killed. Eventually a few farmers realized that the ponies could be taught to pull carts and plows and carry postmen through the valleys. Demand grew for the hardy, intelligent ponies and they were rounded up regularly and sold at auctions. People started taking an interest in the ponies and began developing breeding programs. In 1902, the Welsh Pony and Cob Society was formed.
Today there are four types of Welsh Pony: The Welsh Mountain Pony (Section A), The Welsh Pony (Section B), The Welsh Pony of Cob type (Section C) and the Welsh Cob (Section C.)
The Welsh Mountain Pony (Section A)
The Welsh Mountain Pony has a tiny, almost dainty Arabian-like head with large, bright eyes. They have short backs, straight legs and exceptionally hard hooves. Welsh Mountain Ponies cannot exceed 12.2 hands. You might spot Welsh Ponies in lead line classes, carrying tiny riders over hunter courses or pulling marathon carts round combined driving courses.
The Welsh Pony (Section B)
Welsh Ponies share almost all of the characteristics of a Welsh Mountain Pony, but they are slightly burlier than a Section A and can carry more weight. The breed type was originally developed to produce a larger riding pony. Their height cannot exceed 14.2 hands.
The Welsh Pony of Cob Type (Section C)
Section C Welsh Ponies are sturdier and stockier than Section As and Bs. They may not exceed 13.2 hands. They are known for the silky feather on their legs and their powerful hindquarters that make popping over jumps a breeze.
The Welsh Cob (Section D)
Welsh Cobs (Section D) are the largest of all the Welsh Ponies. They are chunky and sturdily built. They have strong legs with lots of feather. They are strong and powerful and can carry adults easily. They are known for their friendly, gentle "pony personalities,” despite many of them being horse sized. Welsh Cobs must be taller than 13.2 hands, but there’s no limit on their height. Many Welsh Cobs are in the 14 to 16 hand range. Welsh Cobs are perfect for many equestrian activities, including cantering on trails, galloping after hounds on a fox hunt and pulling a carriage down a country lane.
Junior Merit Program
The Welsh Pony & Cob Society of America (WPCSA) has a Junior Merit Program which encourages young riders to have fun with Welsh Ponies and Cobs, and it doesn’t matter whether you own a Welsh Pony or not. Sign up for this program and you can earn points by doing things like completing an activity workbook, participating in school or community service, working at a therapeutic riding center or competing in a Pony Club rally. For more information, visit www.welshpony.org/welshpony/youthjuniormerit.php.