The Welsh pony breed itself is probably almost as old as the Romans’ somewhat unsuccessful entry into the British Isles. What we do know is that the Welsh Mountain pony flourished where it landed in the rough countryside and the mountains of Wales long before anyone thought that the fact was worth recording.
The little ponies were certainly survivors. They thrived on those mountainsides in wild bands of mares and foals, each with its own stallion, surviving even the edict of King Henry VII (who ruled England from 1485 – 1509) that proclaimed all horses under 15 hands be destroyed. Those ponies that did survive that order were probably improved by the fact that they were hidden in the wilder parts of the mountains and thus maintained their purity.
They were used in the mines of Wales to pull carts of coal out of what was usually called the pits. They were farm animals and pulled carts of produce to market as well and, in between, were also used for fully grown adults (who back then were not all that big themselves) to ride into the mountains and pack back the animals that were hunted for the table.
In and among all of these mundane chores there developed a good and cheerful little worker with a kind heart and a willing attitude that was much admired among those who dealt with him.
It didn’t hurt that the pony herds were sometimes helped in quality by wealthier admirers of the breed who crossed good small Barb (probably pure Arabian stallions which were the precursors of the later Thoroughbreds) with the Welsh ponies in the 1700s. By the 1890s there were thought to be no less than 10,000 such ponies across a major portion of the Welsh hill country.
The demand for quality large and small ponies in Victorian times for ladies to drive and children to ride later determined the breeding of the Welsh ponies. Lady Wentworth in particular, a noted breeder of Arabian horses and owner of the Polish Arabian Skowronek, was a devotee of the cross of Arab onto the Welsh breed and during the late 1800s and early 1900s did much to create the lovely pony we see today.
During those years the Thoroughbred, in particular a small stallion named Merlin, and the Hackney horse were crossed onto the Welsh as well. What was being created was not so much a breed but the perfect lady’s driving pony as well as the perfect child’s riding pony – and it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that the Welsh Pony and Cob Society was founded in Wales in 1901 and the first studbook was published in 1902, containing the records of 38 stallions and 571 mares.
There were years of great growth for the ponies after that and in 1930 the Stud Book was restricted to registered animals, but with all of the ups and downs of interbreeding, the Welsh pony had become several different ponies with several different heights and attributes. This was addressed by creating four sections in the registry.
Section A stated the Welsh Mountain Pony should top out at 12.2 hands, while Section B’s height limit was 14.2 hands. In Section C, Welsh ponies of Cob type has a maximum height of 13.2 hands and were of a slightly larger and heavier type than the Mountain Pony, while the largest of the registered Welsh was the Welsh Cob, which exceeded 13.2 hands with no upper limit and was capable of easily carrying an adult. The Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America also recognizes the half-Welsh at their shows with a division for ponies that are of at least half registered Welsh blood.
All of the ponies are considered to be of either riding and/or driving type with excellent gaits and are very hardy, but with a sweet and intelligent temperament. Most of them are very capable over fences and it is the rare Welsh pony or cob that doesn’t cross well with almost any other breed and improve the cross with their presence in it.
More information on this breed can be found at wpcsa.org.