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The word Cob is used to describe in general terms, a small horse with short legs that is slightly heavy and coarse of build i.e. lacks any Thoroughbred breeding, and with a strong musculature. However, it is more complicated than that. There are really three sorts of cob, one is a type and two are breeds. And they are:-
1. The Welsh Cob or Section D which is a defined Welsh breed, the largest of the four sections with its own Studbook.
2. The traditional cob which refers to animals of varying frames and conformation but most commonly characterised by their colouring – they are usually piebald or skewbald – and that they are kept with long manes and tails and fully feathered on all four legs.
3. The cob or show cob. A small horse of character which is usually hogged so without any mane and with no feathering on the limbs.
One thing is for certain, these three types are all very different. Cobs are often identified as suitable horses for beginners or first time horse owners as many cobs are docile of temperament and quite placid. However not every cob is like that; the Welsh Section D for example, can be quite fiery and a sharp ride and would not be classified as an ideal choice of mount for a less than capable or confident rider. So there are cobs and cobs.
Welsh Cobs have their own Studbook and a long and proud lineage supported by the Welsh Pony and Cob Society. They are naturally an animal with a lot of presence and plenty of quality which refers in no small part to their Arab and Thoroughbred ancestry. They have an eye catching, free moving action and like all of the Welsh breeds, they are very popular. The Welsh Pony and Cob Society is the organisation that looks after all of the Welsh breeds and more information can be found on their website.
The traditional cob is not a new creation at all but it is only in the last decade or so that a coloured horse or pony with plenty of feather has found such huge favour and popularity with owners and riders. Originally some thirty or forty years ago, skewbald horses and ponies were not popular at all; the colouring was associated with low quality horses and ponies that were more suited to pulling a cart than as riding animals. Gradually, the popularity of coloured horses started to increase and two societies were formed specifically for them – the British Skewbald and Piebald Association – the BSPA and, the Coloured Horse and Pony Society – CHAPS. These societies have always recognised and included what today is classed as a traditional animal but such has been the increase in their popularity that a new organisation has been formed specifically for them and one which has no bar on colour – the Traditional Gypsy Cob Association.
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The TGCA describe traditionals as a breed not a type and any colour can be included although many are skewbald or piebald. The TGCA is the only association for Traditional Gypsy Cobs and hold a huge Studbook with horses registered not only in the UK but across Europe and even further afield – Brazil and Australasia. The TGCA has its own identity distinct from the coloured associations and four registration sections based on height, A, B, C and D although these are not to be confused with the Welsh breeds. The TGCA have no requirement for lineage or pedigree in order to accept a horse for registration but there is a breed standard which is detailed on their website.
The third type of cob is perhaps best described as a show or hunting cob. Again this is an animal that does not exhibit thoroughbred conformation or breeding but nonetheless, has a quality and a character. There should be a freedom and quality of movement from the shoulder which would be distinct from the traditional cob and the Welsh Section D both of which can exhibit a higher knee and hock action. These cobs tend to be hogged, so with no mane and no feather on the leg. Welsh Section Ds as a breed are always shown as “natives” so with full mane and tail and any feathers, and the traditionals of course make a real feature of the hair with tails often touching the floor and an abundance of white feather on the legs.
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One of the reasons that cobs of all types are so popular is that by and large, they have good temperaments and appeal to a range of riders. They are good doers so are hardy and thrive well in all conditions. They are versatile across all the disciplines so appeal to leisure riders through to the more serious competitor. You will find cobs in all areas of equestrian life both under saddle and driven as they also make excellent driving animals, a nod to their heritage as many owe their origins to a former life between the traces.