The History of Welsh Ponies and Cobs
The first written references to ponies and cobs in Wales appeared in the laws of Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good), ruler of Deheubarth, written in the year 930. As a result of these laws, Wales was the only nation in Europe to have a National Literature (as distinct from Latin) and this literature mentions three types of horses and ponies in Wales:
(a) the Palfrey, i.e. the riding pony
(b) the Rowney or Sumpter which was the pack horse
(c) the Equus Operarius or working horse, the light able bodied working horse that pulled the sledge or small gambo i.e. Cob rather than Shire horse.
Several references and descriptions of ponies and cobs are found in Welsh literature of the 15th and 16th century and these will be described later.
Available evidence tends to show that the Welsh Mountain Pony has existed, in all fundamental respects very much as we know it now, since prehistoric times. For hundreds of years they ran wild throughout the country and became such a nuisance to the hill shepherds and others engaged in agriculture that they brought unto themselves considerable persecution. King Henry VIII (1509-1547) considered that only animals capable of going to war were of any value and ordered the destruction of all stallions under 15 hands and mares under 13 hands. Fortunately some animals escaped slaughter by escaping into the hills of Wales and, like many other persecuted races, managed to survive and increased its intelligence and inherent virtues, a characteristic which it passes on when used as foundation stock for the breeding of other kinds of horses and ponies.
Welsh Ponies and Cobs have a decidedly Arab like appearance in their make up and although alien blood has been introduced within the existence of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society, from the references to the type of animals existing over many centuries, it is more likely that the Arab like appearance has been here since the Roman occupation, these accompanied the Romans from the African campaigns and were abandoned wholesale in the United Kingdom when they withdrew in 410 AD.
Some discreet infusion of Thoroughbred, Eastern and Hackney blood may have occurred from that date, but the greatest measure of improvement has been brought about by the intelligent and careful selection within the breed itself.
About the year 1700 AD farmers began to realise that ponies and cobs could be an asset when grazed on the Welsh hills with sheep and cattle and a market gradually developed for the ponies along these lines and for the cobs to do light farm work. The demand for these animals increased and hundreds changed hands singly or in droves in the big autumn Fairs, more people took an interest in their breeding and the stallions were more carefully selected.
In 1901 a number of landowners, farmers and enthusiasts formed the Welsh Pony and Cob Society and the first volume of the Welsh Stud Book was printed. Members amounted to about 200 (compared to the present day 8,000) and the animals very soon became world famous with surprisingly large numbers e.g. 100 to 200 being exported around the year 1920 to countries as far as the USA and Australia.
WELSH MOUNTAIN PONIES Section A
In volume 1 of the Welsh Stud Book the Welsh Mountain Ponies were allowed to be up to 12 hands 2 inches and every entry had to be inspected and passed, both by an Inspector of the Society and (for stallions only) by a Veterinary Surgeon. Entries amounted to 9 stallions and 273 mare; of the stallions one was grey, the others were dark coloured, mainly bays and browns, of the mares 66% were bay/brown/black, 14% chestnuts, 8% roan, 4% creams/duns and others of unrecorded colour (only two mares). An old Welsh verse reads:
Y coch ywr lliw i bara, fe ddeil y coch ei liw
Rhowch chware teg ir coch, maer coch yn siwr o fyw
which loosely translated means that the bay colour is very hardy and a very persistent colour in future generations.
The grey stallion was the famous DYOLL STARLIGHT (foaled 16th May 1894), bred by Mr H Meuric Lloyd (Dyoll is Lloyd read backwards), the Lloyds of Danyrallt and Cynghordy being one of the oldest Welsh families. DYOLL STARLIGHT began a dynasty of beautiful ponies, amongst his sons and daughters being GREYLIGHT (exported to Australia), BWLCH QUICKSILVER (owned by Mrs Pennell), BLEDDFA SHOOTING STAR, GROVE KING COLE, GROVE STAR OF HOPE, LADY STARLIGHT etc. DYOLL STARLIGHT had a magnificent showring record e.g. first prizes each year at the Royal Show 1898 to 1901 and when he was retired in 1912 (aged 18) he was placed at the Royal Welsh Show and awarded a silver medal. Mr Lloyds health began to fail in 1919 (he died in 1922) and STARLIGHT went to spend the rest of his days with Lady Wentworth at the Crabbet Park Arab Stud, where he sired the noted WENTWORTH SPRINGLIGHT amongst others of note. It was a condition of sale that STARLIGHT should not be sold from Crabbet but it is not known that he was sold with mares to Spain about 1925 and died there at the age of 35 years.
The 1908 Commons Act led to the formation of a number of Pony Improvement Societies who were able to receive grants from the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. The pioneers of this scheme were the Carmarthenshire Black Mountain Pony Society, Church Stretton and Eppynt. The first premium shows were held on 23rd April 1913 and the premium shows continue to this day with some 60 stallions competing for premiums for 13 areas covering the whole of Wales and some border areas.
Another stallion to have had a tremendous influence on the Welsh Mountain Pony was COED COCH GLYNDWR (foaled 1935, died 1959), who had two strains of DYOLL STARLIGHT on his dams side.
WELSH PONIES Section B
The Section B animal registered in Volume 1 of the Welsh Stud Book was a most useful type that would carry a shepherd on his days work. With the increased popularity of riding by children since 1930 a finer, lighter type of pony has been developed with strong emphasis being laid on keeping the true Welsh characteristics. The typical Welsh Section B pony of the present is the current Working Hunter Pony.
To bring this about a few stallions of slighter type containing at least 50% of the best Welsh blood were admitted to the Stud Book, the two most influential being CRAVEN CYRUS and TANYBWLCH BERWYN.
CRAVEN CYRUS (foaled in 1927) by KING CYRUS (Arab) out of IRFON LADY TWILIGHT (foaled 1913) by DYOLL STARLIGHT. The most influential present day line of this family via DOWNLAND LOVE IN THE MIST (STAR SUPREME x CRAVEN SPRIGHTLY TWILIGHT); STAR SUPREME being a son of LADY CYRUS (foaled 1941) daughter of CRAVEN CYRUS. STAR SUPREME and LADY CYRUS were bred by Mr A.L. Williams of Blanetwrch where CRAVEN CYRUS spend his last days.
TANYBWLCH BERWYN (foaled in 1924) by SAHARA (Barb) out of BRYNHIR BLACK STAR by BLEDDFA SHOOTING STAR. BERWYN is represented via his sons and daughters COED COCH BERWYNFA, COED COCH ERLEWYN sire of TANFFYNNON TWM SHANCO (a noted sire in Mid-Wales), COED COCH SIABOD a Royal Welsh Section B Champion before being exported, TANYBWLCH PENLLYN grand-dam of CLAM PIP, BRYN GWYN grand-dam of TREHARNE TOMBOY etc.
CRIBAN VICTOR (foaled 1944) provided a useful outcross, he was sired by CRIBAN WINSTON and gained his height from his dam CRIBAN WHALEBONE, of Cob parentage. CRIBAN VICTOR spent most of his active life at the Gredington Stud and left a great mark on Section B ponies throughout the Stud Book.
The main expansion of Section B occurred in 1958/1959 when progeny of FS2 mares were born i.e. four very influential sires who between them laid a very firm foundation.
(i) SOLWAY MASTER BRONZE (foaled in 1959)
(ii) BROCHWELL COBWELL (foaled in 1959)
(iii) DOWNLAND DAUPHIN (foaled in 1959)
(iv) CHIRK CARADOG (foaled in 1958) and his full brother
CHIRK CROGAN (foaled in 1959)
WELSH PONIES (COB TYPE) Section C
At the turn of the century when the Stud Book was founded, there were several good sires between 12 hands and 13 hands 2 inches and these were classified into Section B of the Welsh Stud Book. Typical amongst these was KLONDYKE (foaled 1894), bred and owned by John Thomas of Trerddol in Mid-Wales. KLONDYKE was purchased by Mr W.S. Miller for his famed Forest ponies during the years 1906-1910. KLONDYKE was also the sire of TOTAL (foaled 1904) a chestnut stallion and sire of the Ceulan Studs first pony SEREN CEULAN (foaled 1908) Section C Champion Royal Welsh Show in 1928, and dam of CEULAN COMET Champion Section C Royal Welsh Shows three times 1931-1933 before being exported to Australia.
Just after the second world war, Section C of the Welsh Stud Book had dwindled to dangerously small numbers. Stallions existed only in the form of WELSH PATRIOT (foaled in 1939) owned by Mr A.L. Williams, his sons, WELSH ECHO (foaled 1944) also owned by Mr Williams and TEIFY BRIGHTLIGHT (foaled 1949) owned by Peter Davies and Son.
From these small beginnings emerged a position of strength due to this breed being such a useful family pony and at the 1989 Royal Welsh Show 200 Section C animals competed in 8 classes and the standard was very good throughout.
Notable amongst the sires were:
(a) LYN CWMCOED (foaled 1960) by COED COCH MADOG, Section A from PIERCEFIELD LADY LILIAN (a famous line of Section C ponies), bred and owned by Viscountess Chetwynd.
(b) SYNOD WILLIAM (foaled 1969) bred and owned by Mr and Mrs Cerdin Jones.
(c) NEBO BRENIN (foaled 1971) who has headed the progeny competition on several occasions, bred and owned by Mr & Mrs Geraint Jones.
WELSH COBS Section D
Gutorr Glyn, a famous poet of the 15th century, describes the pedigree of a Welsh Cob stallion:
Mab ir Du, ymhob erw deg, O Bryndyn o bai redeg
(He is son of Du o Bryndyn, He would win a race in any fair field.)
Tudor Aled, a famous Welsh poet of the early 16th century, wrote several poems describing a Welsh Cob stallion called THE ABBOT OF ABERCONWY:
Llygaid fel dwy ellygen, Llymion bywn llamun i ben
(He has the outlook and gait of a stag, Eyes like two ripe pears, Bulging and
dancing in his head, A dished face, a wide forehead, his coat like new silk )
There are several pages of verse which describe the Welsh Cob as if it were an animal of today.
Four sires which have had a tremendous influence on the Welsh Cob breed are:
(a) TROTTING COMET (foaled 1836), brown, 15 hands 2 inches by FLYER out of a chestnut Cardiganshire trotting mare about which very little is known.
(b) CYMRO LLWYD (foaled 1850), dun, sired by an imported Arab from a very fast Welsh trotting mare, he is largely responsible for the many creams and duns gracing our showrings today. The noted LLANARTH BRAINT has over a dozen lines of CYMRO LLWYD blood in him.
(c) ALONZO THE BRAVE (foaled 1866), bay, 15 hands 3 inches. He was of Hackney parentage, but the Hackneys of those days were much heavier and hard working than the present day animal bred for the showring.
(d) TRUE BRITON, best known affectionately in Wales as ceffyl du Twm Masiwn (the black horse of Tom the mason). TRUE BRITTON (foaled in 1830) was sired by a Yorkshire Coach horse called RULER, his dam was called DOUSE. Rumour has it that she was an Arab mare bought from the Gipsies, but her painting by Sawrey Gilpin RA (1803) tells a different story, she looks a true Welsh Cob and if she had a longer tail it could well be the painting of the 1977 Royal Welsh Show Champion mare!
If one surveys the sires of the Royal Welsh Show Male Champion Welsh Cobs 1947-1976 one finds (figures in brackets representing the number of champion animals sired) MATHRAFAL (4), PENTRE EIDDWEN COMET (3), LLANARTH BRIANT (2), BRENIN GWALIA (1), CAHN DAFYDD (1). A similar investigation with Welsh Cob female Champions reveals: CAHN DAFYDD (3), MATHRAFAL (2) and PENTRE EIDDWEN COMET, LLETHI VALIANT, BLAENWAUN TRUE BRITON, BRENIN GWALIA and VALIANT FLYER following with one apiece.
The Welsh Cobs have recently come into their own as riding animals and also as winners of International Driving competitions. They may not be as fast as some overseas harness breeds but usually beat them on suppleness and soundness.