The term Cob may be used either with reference to a specific breed such as the Welsh Cob or as a type of horse in its own right. Cobs are popular riding animals due to their combination of sturdiness, intelligence and comfort. They can also make quality show horses.
The Cob was arguably a fact of life long before it was a recognized horse type. In the days before mechanization many people valued animals which could work hard in the fields (and later in other industries) but still make a decent riding or driving animal. The Cob was often the ideal balance between strength for work and capability under saddle or in harness. Cobs were also used as racehorses. The working classes could not afford Thoroughbreds, which were expensive both to buy and to keep, so they raced their own animals instead. This became, indirectly, a way of improving the bloodlines since the best-quality animals were the most successful at the races and therefore became the most popular breeding horses.
The early part of the 20th Century took its toll on Cobs as it did in many parts of life in the UK. Huge numbers were requisitioned for war work, with predictable consequences. After the war period, the term horsepower increasingly began to refer to mechanical horses rather than flesh-and-blood ones. Fortunately an increase in leisure riding from the 1950s onwards kept the Cob alive. Although pure-bred Cobs are unlikely to be successful as top-level sporting horses (although their crosses are often very successful); there is still a huge market for sensible, everyday riding horses, who can take their owners out hacking and bring them home safely and tranquilly. Cobs are also excellent choices for families or sharers since they can be trusted with novice riders but still have enough athletic ability to keep more experienced and adventurous riders happy.
With the exception of the Welsh Pony of Cob Type (Welsh Section C), Cobs stand at horse height, albeit at the lower end of it. The British Show Horse Association allows Cobs to stand up to 15.1HH. Welsh Cobs (Welsh Section Ds) are exempt from this restriction, although in practice they too rarely exceed 15.1. Although horses in height, Cobs are far more like ponies in appearance. They have small heads with the short ears and large, intelligent eyes typical of ponies. Everything about them is compact, powerful and sturdy. They have deep chests for speed and strength under harness and muscular quarters for jumping. Like ponies their legs are short relative to their bodies, but they have strong bones and dense hooves. Cobs are generally sure-footed animals. Welsh Cobs may be any whole colour, broken colours are permitted on other Cobs. Indeed piebald and skewbald cobs are often considered very attractive and hence very popular.
Welsh Cobs are known for their canny, but kind, natures. They have the resourceful tenacity of ponies and an honest, hard-working approach to life. As Cobs in general are a type rather than a breed, they are all individuals but since they tend to have a substantial percentage of the calmer horse breeds amongst their ancestry, they usually have docile natures and a healthy dose of common sense. After that it becomes a question of determining each horse's individual outlook on life. Some are more laid back and others more outgoing. They are often highly intelligent, curious about life and playful. A well-treated Cob is generally a pleasure to be around and will be a good friend as well as a capable mount (or harness horse).
One of the benefits of the pony-like nature of Cobs is that they are typically robust and hardy animals. Many are perfectly capable of living out all year round and they tend to be very good doers. This, however, can also be a point of concern. It is very easy to over-feed a Cob and this can create a whole variety of issues. The first sign of an overfed Cob is often unwelcome exuberance or out-and-out silliness. After that excess weight can become visible, this may very well slow the animal down both physically and mentally. Cobs are also vulnerable to laminitis in the same way as ponies are. In summer this can be the result of simply leaving them unrestricted access to grazing on rich grass without giving them any hard food at all, even when they are being worked. As Cobs have dense leg bones and hooves any sign of lameness or discomfort during spring or summer is often a pointer to laminitis rather than injury and the vet should be brought in promptly. All of these issues can be easily avoided by ensuring that the animal has a healthy and appropriate diet and, if necessary, has its grazing restricted in summer. If hard food does need to be given, it is often best to look for non-heating pony mixes (i.e. mixtures without oats) rather than using mixes intended for horses.
Caring for a Cob
One of the reasons for the enduring popularity of the Cob is that in spite of their quality they are very economical and undemanding little horses. Generally speaking they grow pony-like long coats over the winter, which means they can live out if need be. Some of them also grow feather on their legs for added protection against the elements and injury. Having access to a stable is, however, hugely useful. In addition to being a way to keep a Cob off the grass in summer, they mean that an animal can be clipped in winter. This means that it can be worked much harder. Unclipped horses need to be exercised with great caution since any sweat will be trapped in their thick coats and leave them vulnerable to chills and worse. Unclipped Cobs also need to be checked for injury particularly carefully since cuts and bruises can easily be hidden by the thick hair and, if left untreated, minor injuries can become infected and turn into major problems.
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