The word “Cob” in the UK
Many people have asked why the term “Cob” is used for the Gypsy Horse in the United Kingdom.
The word “cob” defines a type of horse, rather than a breed. It comes from an archaic English word meaning a solid, rounded mass, and is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a powerfully built, short-legged horse.”
A number of equine registries use similar definitions. Britain’s Coloured Horse and Pony Society, for example, describes a cob as “A short legged animal [that] should have substance, bone and be able to carry substantial weight.” So, given these descriptions, is a cob essentially a short-legged draft horse?. Not at all. A cob’s heavy bone and powerful muscling shows the influence of draft breeds, but there are distinct differences. Unlike draft horses, cobs were developed to be both harness and riding animals, and as riding horses, they must have the ability to move at greater speed and with more agility than draft horses. Their conformation reflects this. A draft horse, for example, generally has low withers and an upright shoulder, perfect for leaning his weight into a collar. A cob, on the other hand, has more prominent withers and a more open shoulder, plus a neck with more length and flexibility than a draft horse’s for balance at faster gaits
Like most riding horses, cobs will be slightly higher at the withers than at the hip, while draft horses display a more “downhill” silhouette, with the hips higher than the withers.
Another difference? A draft horse, bred to pull weight at a slow pace over soft ground, often has relatively upright pasterns. In contrast, cobs, especially Gypsy Cobs, have more sloping, shock-absorbing pasterns, since they were bred to trot the hard roads of Europe. Gypsy Cobs, in fact, are legendary for their ground-covering trot.
What about size? Draft breeds range from 1,600 to 2,000 lbs. and between 16 and 19hh, but though most cobs have some draft horse ancestry, they tend to be significantly smaller.
Gypsy Cobs are rarely, however, pony-sized. Some people have the mistaken impression that they are, possibly because the Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America has a cob division. The WPCSA standard states only that a Welsh Cob must be over 13.2hh, with no upper height limit.
Gypsy Cobs are similar in size, ranging from 14-15.2hh.
So, we have a description of a “cob” as an equine measuring approximately 13-15.2hh, powerfully-built, heavily-boned, relatively short-legged, but with conformation more like a riding horse than a draft breed, and with the ability to both pull heavy loads and carry a rider with speed and agility. This is a perfect description of the abilities, strength and conformation of the horses in our registry.