Welsh breeding: how it has been a massive influence in sport horses and ponies over the years *H&H Plus*

  • Robust, versatile and trainable, Welsh breeds continue to have a strong influence in the flashiest of sports ponies, both here and on the Continent, finds Madeleine Silver

    “Not only is it common for performance ponies to have some Welsh breeding, it’s almost inevitable,” says Lucy Sheldrake, studbook manager of the Sports Pony Studbook Society (SPSS).

    You don’t have to look far on the team sheets from recent pony European Championships to find the flag flying for Welsh breeds; take British dressage rider Holly Kerslake and her 2017 team bronze medal-winning Welsh section D Valhallas Zorro, or British eventer Ibble Watson and Bookhamlodge Pennylane who won the 2019 individual silver and team gold medals, another handsome section D.

    Perhaps less obvious are the likes of British dressage rider Izzy Lickley’s 2019 Euros ride Mister Snowman – passported as a German Riding Pony, he is by the Welsh section B The Braes My Mobility, with a section D damsire to boot. Similarly, German dressage rider Rose Oatley’s palomino German Riding Pony Daddy Moon, who took the team gold medal at the 2020 Euros, has a Welsh part-bred great grandsire (Oakley Bubbling Bobbety).

    158 - Isobel Lickley (GBR) & Mister Snowman - CH-EU-P-D - FEI European Championships Ponies - Strzegom 2019

    Isobel Lickley and Mister Snowman

    Wind back the clock, and it’s clear that the influence of Welsh breeds on sports ponies is nothing new.

    “It would be difficult to find a top performance pony without Welsh blood,” says Meirion Jones, who bred the now legendary section D Machno Carwyn (see below ). “The Continentals recognised the significance of the Welsh breeds early on and so lots of quality breeding stock was exported to the Continent in the early 1970s and ’80s and has continued to do so.”

    by crossbreeding native ponies (particularly the Welsh section Bs) with Arabs and thoroughbreds – the aim to produce warmblood talent and movement with pony character and intelligence.

    “From our point of view as a studbook, what’s interesting is that everything is cyclical; the clever Germans come over, look at what they need, take it back, improve what they had and sell it back to us for a premium,” says Lucy. “And they never rest on their laurels and say: ‘OK, we’re done now. We’ve bred the ultimate sports pony.’ They realise that’s not how the marketplace works, things move on.”

    With the advent of stricter FEI measuring rules introduced at the beginning of last year, section Bs are in high demand to “fight the height issue,” says Lucy.

    “A lot of the German ponies have big warmblood blood in them, which means they’re constantly battling against ponies being over 148cm. So, they’re back over here buying proper, athletic section Bs.

    “Cadlanvalley ponies, for example, have been popular in Germany recently, especially the cremello section Bs because they breed their golden ponies.”

    With a feeling that more emphasis needs to be put on getting natives back into our sports ponies on home soil, there is something enviable about the efficiency with which they have been used on the Continent.

    “I think one of the reasons the Europeans and particularly the Germans have been so successful in utilising the Welsh bloodlines is the fact that they have a more structured approach [to breeding],” says Jo Filmer, who breeds section Bs at Longhalves Stud in East Sussex and is the organiser of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society’s annual Performance Awards.

    “There is no question that if your breeding programme is evaluated closely then you eliminate the inferior and promote animals with natural aptitude, and I think we could learn a lot from that.

    “However, you have to combine this with the breed society focus on animals being bred that have the attributes and breed type as laid down in the breed description. If this is lost, then the characteristic and essence of what is special in the Welsh breed will disappear. It’s a balance. But the Welsh breeds’ unique qualities are the key ingredients in breeding versatile performance animals of the highest calibre.”

    Farleaze Lord Prenwyn

    Deciphering what makes the Welsh “ingredient” in sports ponies so covetable is far-reaching, it can feel like an exercise in celebrating all that is great about our native breeds. For Claire Moreton, who is aiming her home-bred Welsh section D stallion Farleaze Lord Prenwyn, by Machno Carwyn, at an eventing career, it is their movement that stands out.

    “They have an incredible engine in their hindquarters which obviously helps with the movement but also the jump,” she says. “And then there is their temperament. I suppose especially with the Welsh cob, everybody seems to associate the word ‘cob’ with a traditional, sensible, easy plod, when actually the Welsh cob is not that dope on a rope.

    “They’re very trainable but they’re also sensitive and incredibly intelligent, which really helps when it comes to being a top-class competition pony. It means they have that little bit of spunk about them that you need, as well as a robustness,” Claire explains.

    As Lucy says: “They are workmanlike but with quality. Not wanting to pick one native breed over another, you have to look at what it is that you’re wanting to add. If you’re lacking jump, then I’d say look at a Connemara because they will jump all day long and try their heart out for you to leave the fence up. But if you’re wanting to get that bit of workmanlike quality, then look for the right section B.

    “Like all of these things, there’s been a divergence of various native breeds; you have the more ‘showy’ section Bs, and then you have those that really pick their legs up, sit on a hindleg and actually move.”

    The cremello section B Langwedh Sunny Jim, owned by Penny Walster at Bathley Hill Farm Stud in Nottinghamshire, is an example of one that’s in high demand, says Lucy.

    “He’s a proper, quality section B that’s also got big movement. I know that there are a lot of breeders who are using him on big horses, not necessarily to breed ponies even but just to breed smaller dressage horses. Warmbloods have got bigger and bigger and there are an awful lot of smaller riders who don’t need a 17.2hh. If you want a nice 15.2hh that has all the same qualities but is much easier on the ground to handle, that’s a good place for a nice quality section B to come in.”

    Temperament and trainability are what endear the Welsh breeds to Jo Filmer.

    “Providing you’ve selected the correct bloodlines, their temperament means they have a little bit of something about them – they have the necessary exuberance, but they are also kind,” she says.

    Of Holly Kerslake’s Euros ride Valhallas Zorro (who was sold to Louise Hooijen from the Netherlands last autumn), Jo adds: “He isn’t a flamboyant warmblood, but he is solid and dependable; not unpredictable. And that’s a real plus point. It doesn’t matter how showy a pony is, if their brain is not engaged, they won’t perform to their potential.”

    Add to all of this what is perhaps the Welsh breeds’ ace card, hardiness, and it’s easy to see why their influence on the performance pony shows no signs of waning.

    “With a pony like Lemonshill Falcon [Jo’s section B stallion who has produced the 2020 SPSS mare grading supreme champion, Hammerwood Flamingo], you could take him for a day’s hunting with no shoes on and you’d know he’d come back without filled legs or side effects, and the next day he’d come out of the stable totally sound. And that cannot be underestimated. If you’ve spent thousands over the years on training, it’s imperative that the animal remains sound throughout its competition career.”

    The super-hot stallion: Machno Carwyn

    Mancho Carwyn

    AT the 2019 pony European Championships, there were three offspring by the bay section D Machno Carwyn (pictured) competing across two disciplines and representing three different nations. In the showjumping was Makuba 21 (Oliwia Platek) for Poland and Marcello (Mathilda Mercuri) for Italy, as well as Romica (Olga Arzhaeva) for Russia in the dressage.

    But this is the tip of the iceberg of this iconic stallion’s list of offspring laden with silverware; across Europe there have been national showjumping champions and strings of grand prix winners.

    Bred by Meirion Jones, of the Machno Stud in north Wales in 1992, Machno Carwyn was sold as a five-year-old and became a double pony Euros individual gold medallist representing Switzerland in the showjumping. During a career that began in 1997, he was placed more than 25 times in international grands prix, of which he won seven, and he has often been lauded as the best showjumping pony stallion in Europe.

    Considered something of a refined section D, with his section B granddam, it is a combination of qualities that have made him the success he is, according to Meirion.

    “Physically, he gets incredible spring from his hocks. He is also super-careful, has a big heart and is bold,” he says.

    “This has given him a performance record that is second to none as a showjumping pony stallion. All of his progeny are really good off the hocks and careful, with the sense of a fifth leg that was passed to him from Carregcoch Bleddyn.”

    Also published in H&H 4 March 2021

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