In the period around 8000BC Britain was physically attached to both Ireland and Europe and there was free migration of animals from Asia and Africa. It is likely that the Celtic pony took this route and established itself in Wales, Ireland (Connemara) and the Hebrides (Shetland).
The large Bronze Age collection of fragments of harness and small (less than 3″) bits found in North Wales, indicates that ponies were being used for harness work at that time. Certainly ponies were very much in evidence in Wales during the conquest of Julius Caesar (55-54BC) who wrote about their speed and docility as chariot horses and their activity as riding horses.
The next mention of Welsh Ponies is in 1188A.D. when the Welsh Hills were reported to be “full of ponies”. One theory is that much of the final type of the Welsh Pony and Cob was established at this stage through the influence of stallions brought back from the East by the Crusaders, but there is no firm evidence to confirm this.
Welsh Ponies returned to prominence in 1535 when Henry VIII ordered the destruction of all horses under 13hh because they were too small to carry the weight of a knight in full armour and were eating valuable grazing. Fortunately the inaccessibility of the mountainous areas of Wales prevented this death sentence from being carried out in that area and the law was later repealed by Queen Elizabeth I.
The harsh climate and continual persecution, not only by Henry VIII, but also by the lowland farmers who drove the ponies back into the hills whenever they went in search of better grazing, led to the development of a very hardy pony with plenty of bone, a thick mane and tail and lots of feather. The ponies were of predominantly dark colours with blacks, browns and dark duns being proved the most hardy.
By 1892 between 1,000 and 1,500 ponies were counted on the Longmynd Hills and this number can probably be multiplied by 10 to account for the ponies in the Brecon Beacons, the Denbeigh beacons, Eppynt and Carmarthen.
Once they had been captured many of these ponies were sold to the mines as pit ponies. However there was also an increasing demand for them as smart harness ponies and as children’s ponies for the wealthy nobility of England and Wales, apart from the fact that farmers were using them extensively as pack and shepherding ponies.
In the nineteenth century many attempts were made to glamorise the “cobby” hill ponies. There were several examples of Arab stallions being turned out onto the hills. It is possible that a grey, arab stallion turned out by Mr. Williams of Aberpergwm was an ancestor of Dyoll Moonlight, the dam of Dyoll Starlight, the stallion credited with introducing the grey colour into the hill ponies.
Another animal which had much influence during this period was a small thoroughbred stallion Merlin, who was turned out with a Welsh herd on the Ruabon Hills by his owner, Sir William Watkins Wynn.
From 1884 it had been possible to record the parentage of Welsh Breeds in the Hackney Stud Book and from 1899 in the Polo Pony Stud Book as well. However in 1901 the Welsh Pony and Cob Society was founded with 248 members under the presidency of Lord Tredegar.
Vol. 1 of the Stud Book was published in 1902 and contained records of 38 stallions and 571 mares. It should be noted that there has been a Section B of the Stud Book right from the beginning. Farmers had developed a shepherding pony which could also be used for cattle herding, rounding up wild mountain ponies, riding to stock fairs and taking part in pony races. This Section B was originally developed by crossing Mountain Pony mares with small, quality Cob stallions.
In 1908 the Commons Act was passed which restricted the turning out onto Common Land of entire animals. Only approved stallions, whose owners were paid a premium, could be turned out with the mares and they soon started producing “uniform mobs of typically fixed animals” (Wynne Davies)
In 1911 it was decided to ban hackneys from registration into the Cob Sections of the Welsh Stud Book as there had been several incidences of pure Hackneys competing and winning at National Welsh Pony Shows.
In 1918 the Horse breeding Act was passed. This meant that every breeding stallion had to be licensed annually after a veterinary inspection.
By the late 1920’s it was realised that there was a tremendous demand for quality children’s ponies and it was decided to allow two stallions of eastern blood into the Stud Book. These were Tan-y-Bwlch Berwyn (by the Barb stallion Sahara) and Craven Cyrus (by King Cyrus a son of the polish Arab Skowronek). Many of the resultant larger mares were crossed either with Hackneys for harness ponies or thoroughbreds and arabs to produce the famous partbred ponies which are so popular today. However it must also be noted that these stallions figure largely in the ancestry of several influential Sec. A and Sec. B sires and dams.
In 1930 the Stud Book was restricted to Registered animals. In 1931 the maximum height limit for Sec. As was fixed at 12hh because experience had proved that ponies of this height and less were best able to survive in the hills.
The 1930s were the time of the great depression and for four years no premiums were paid to stallion owners until in 1934 the Race Horse Betting Control Board came to the rescue with a premium grant which has continued until this day. The Depression and the 2nd World War had resulted in very few purebred animals being registered so the Foundation Stock scheme was introduced. This scheme was for unregistered mares who were accepted after inspection. Their female progeny by Registered stallions were accepted as FS1. Their female progeny by a Registered stallion became FS2 and the resulting female progeny, again by a registered Stallion were accepted as registerable stock.
By 1950 Sec. A of the Stud Book was closed and by 1960 there was enough breeding stock available to close the Stud Book to any further FS registrations. In 1990 only 7 FS2 fillies were registered.
The present day classification of Secs A, B, C & D was accepted in 1949 and the Welsh Partbred Register was approved in 1950.
In 1951 the Stud Book classification was revised and the practice of entering any registered pony between 12hh and 13.2hh as either B or C depending on type or owners preference was stopped. From this date classification was purely on breeding. Thus any pony with A x B = B, A x C = C, B x C = C/D (depending on height), B x D = C/D (depending on height), C x D = C/D (depending on height).
In 1960, as an experiment several premium stallions were judged in public at Glanusk Park. This proved so popular that from the following year all premium stallions were judged there. By 1969 the show had expanded so much that it moved to permanent showgrounds at Builth Wells, where it has become a shop window for potential buyers, particularly from overseas. Ponies from Wales have been exported all over the world, with the majority of exports being to the USA and Australia and more recently to Holland and Germany.
History of the Welsh Pony in South Africa
In 1948 Mrs. Rosalie Lasbrey, on an extended visit to U.K. took the opportunity to look at different breeds of Mountain & Moorland Ponies with the idea of starting a small stud for breeding children’s ponies in South Africa. She was very impressed by Tan-y-Bwylch Berwyn at the Horse of the Year Show and set out to buy some in-foal Sec. A mares and a stallion. She eventually bought five mares, Criban Dun Bee, Revel Black Style, Revel Silver Spray, Coed Coch Perten, and the mare she considered her best foundation mare, Criban Sara. She also managed to buy the stallion Coed Coch Seryddwr, a son of Coed Coch Glyndwr, and father of the famous Coed Coch Madog.
1956 saw another vital import to South Africa when Ida Illingworth, also with the idea of improving children’s ponies in this country went in search of a stallion, not necessarily Welsh. She was fortunate that Mrs. Griffiths was looking for a home for Valiant, where he would be used to his full potential. Valiant had won the Sec. B stallion class at Royal Welsh in 1955, being one of few ponies ever to beat his famous sire Criban Victor.
South Africa started its Welsh Pony breeding with the best possible Sec. A & B bloodlines. Subsequent influential imports have included Mr. Streicher’s Sec. A Coed Coch Nerog and the Sec. B stallion Bannut Larkspur imported by Mrs. Vale & Miss Illingworth.
Among the first Cobs to be imported were Mrs. Kinnersley-Browne’s Sinton Gilbert, and Mrs. Moore’s Sec. C Filkins Kernel. Since then Mr. Streicher has imported several Sec. D stallions and mares including Persie Nimrod and Parc Crusader.
The South African Society was formed at a meeting held in Middelburg, Cape on 4th March 1957. The first elected chairman was Mr. J.B. Grobbelaar and the first secretary was Mrs. C.C. Grobbelaar. Miss Ida Illingworth was proposed and accepted as the first member of the Society, which was called the Welsh Pony Society of South Africa.
The Society held its first AGM on 5th Sept. 1957 with 11 registered members. By 1958 50 Purebreds had been registered and 11 Partbreds recorded with the Society. At the AGM of 7th March 1960 Mr. Grobbelaar was able to report that the Society had been affiliated to S.A. Studbook Association and its Constitution accepted. By the tenth anniversary in 1967 there were 55 members with 192 Purebred and 214 Partbred ponies.
The 21st AGM on 3rd April 1978 saw some major changes. The classification of the Sections was brought into line with the U.K. Society and Sec. D Cobs were accepted. The name of the Society was changed to the Welsh Pony and Cob Society of South Africa.
In 1982 the first volume of the Stud Book was published to co-incide with the 25th anniversary of the South African Society. On 12th September 1987 the new constitution was passed at a special meeting in Bloemfontein. It came into effect on 1st January 1988, at the same time as the first published edition of the Show Rules.