The Welsh Pony probably comes from ancient Celtic stock, as it was already roaming across Wales at the time of the Roman invasion. It was always a strong, hardy little pony, and it must have received approval from the Roman conquerors, since it was sometimes used to pull chariots in the arenas.
After the Romans departed, however, the Welsh Pony was largely left to its own devices. It ran wild in the mountains, where it competed with domestic sheep for pasture and earned itself a reputation for being a nuisance.
In the early 1500s, King Henry VIII decided to put some effort into improving the heavy horses still used in war. He ordered that all horses under 15 hands high be killed, leaving only larger horses to breed. His edict resulted in the death of many Welsh Ponies, but he could not exterminate the breed. Hunting ponies in the mountains of Wales was too arduous a task to be undertaken for sport, and many Welshmen did not consider it a duty, either.
By the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the drawbacks of breeding large horses exclusively had become apparent. Not all land could support heavy horses, and many pastures were gradually being ruined. The queen rescinded her father’s edict in 1566. Welsh farmers gladly went back to keeping ponies.
The turn of the 18th century marked a new prosperity for the Welsh Pony, as it proved its versatility. Larger ponies were crossed with draft horses to produce a strong, stocky type that was big enough to plow a field but small enough to make a comfortable saddle horse. This type became known as the Welsh Cob, while the original version was known as the Welsh Mountain Pony. An intermediate type also emerged, now called the Welsh Pony of Cob Type.
Toward the end of the 1800s, a fourth and final type of Welsh Pony evolved as a refined riding pony. This type was influenced by Hackneys and a small Thoroughbred. After the 1930s, it was bred specifically as a children’s pony. This variety is simply known as the Welsh Pony.
Welsh Ponies of all types started coming to America in the 1880s. The breed proved to be extremely popular until the time of the Great Depression, and again after the economy recovered.
Today, the Welsh Pony can still be found across the United States, although other breeds have surpassed it in popularity. There are over 34,000 purebreds in this country.
Welsh Ponies come in all sizes, making them extremely versatile. They are suitable for children, but some can carry small adults, as well. They can participate in everything from jumping to dressage to endurance riding, and they can even perform well in Western pleasure. Welsh Ponies also make good harness horses.
Crossbred Welsh Ponies share the versatility of their purebred Welsh parent.
Part of the Welsh Pony’s popularity is due to its superb temperament. It is good-natured, and it loves people. It can stay calm under pressure, but it is still spirited and independent. Its wild background has given it a degree of wisdom that makes it both reliable and trainable.
The Welsh Pony is a social animal, and will be happiest if kept with other horses.
Overall, the Welsh Pony is tough and sound. Its main requirements are daily exercise and a diet that is not too rich. The Welsh Cob does have feathering on its legs that requires careful grooming to prevent infection.
One genetic defect found in some Welsh Ponies is cerebellar abiotrophy, a condition in which neurons in the horse’s brain die off, causing incoordination and head tremors.
- Temperament suitable for beginners.
- Disease resistance.
- Feed efficiency.
- Ease of foaling.
- Comfortable gait.
- Excellent stamina.
- Jumping ability.
- Unusual ability to pass on its good traits to crossbred offspring.
- Relative scarcity of larger ponies compared to smaller varieties.
- Grooming requirements of Welsh Cob.