For decades, Canadian Welsh Pony breeders have been responsible for producing some of the best ponies for the North American market; many have introduced outside breeds to produce crossbreds that excel in the pony hunter rings without watering down the essence of the Welsh breed.
Performance vs. Type
To meet the needs of riders and trainers who want hunter ponies that resemble mini-Warmbloods, are extremely trainable, and have a quiet disposition, breeders often introduce British Riding Pony, German Riding Pony, Warmblood, or even Thoroughbred blood into their programs. Tracy Dopko of Daventry Equestrian in Darwell, AB, stands several WPCSC (Welsh Pony & Cob Society of Canada) national champion Welsh stallions and breeds both traditional Welsh and crossbred ponies for the hunter ring. She acknowledges the important distinction – and also the widening gap – between the characteristics of traditional Welsh ponies and the desired traits of performance hunter ponies. “If you read through the various descriptions and history of each of the Welsh types, you can see that it differs greatly from what is valued on the pony hunter circuit,” she explains. “The traditional Welsh breeders have very different goals and they are breeding for a very different type of pony than someone who is interested in selling their ponies as pony hunters. For example, the hunter circuit wants an even topline, low head and neck set, and little-to-no knee action at the trot and canter, whereas traditional Welsh ponies are bred to have high knee action, suspension, and carriage. Most “true-to-type” Welsh ponies do not fit into the mold of the ideal North American hunter pony.”
Alvesta Farm in Jarvie, AB, owned and managed by Brenda Podolski and her daughter Karen, has been breeding Welsh ponies for over 40 years. They have amassed an impressive list of WPCSC national championships, and Karen maintains that it is of utmost importance to preserve the Welsh Pony’s breed standards. “Wherever you go, from Britain to Australia to the US to Canada, Welsh type should be easily discernible,” she says. “For us, the goal is to always stay true to type: not American type, not Canadian type, but true Welsh type, and breed type over the fads of nations and provinces.” She firmly believes that breed standards remain intact despite the pressures that buyers and judges put on the breed due to performance trends and market fluctuations.
One of the changes that concerns her most is the tendency for people to buy and breed ponies at the top end of the height scale; ponies that can navigate the jumping lines easily and carry progressively larger North American children. “For instance, in Britain, a Section B Welsh Pony may reach only 13.2 hands; in Canada, the restriction is 14 hands; in the States, it is 14.2 hands,” Podolski explains. “As soon as the people in charge of breed standards start allowing increased height limits, people start breeding for height. The taller the animal gets, the less Welsh type it has, which, by our code of breeding, is unacceptable.”
With wins at the biggest horse shows in North America, both on the line and in the performance rings, Prue Richardson’s Northwind ponies are hot Canadian exports. Richardson long ago made the decision to introduce outside breeds – predominantly the British Riding Pony – to her program, which is now almost exclusively crossbred. “I really enjoyed showing pure Welsh for many years, but when I wanted to breed hunters I did not want to change the Welsh characteristics,” she explains. She is a also a staunch believer in education to protect the Welsh breed, and encourages breeders to be mindful of breed types and not to change standards to fit performance trends. “My fear for the Welsh is irresponsible breeders and incorrect judging, which would ultimately lead to the eradication of the true Welsh type by the breed standards. If judges keep placing the incorrect type, breeders will breed that type to win – which is understandable – and type will be lost. I have seen this happen to our lovely Section A’s.”
Kirsten Brunner of Beaverwoods Farm in Hillsburgh, ON, is mindful of maintaining the tradition and type of the Welsh. She has been producing Welsh and Welsh crosses for decades that have excelled both on the line and in multiple performance disciplines. “We can proudly say that we have five and six generations of Welsh bloodlines on the farm,” she says. “I can look at pedigrees and see the same traits coming through in my weanlings now, but you have to work for those qualities. The breeders in England spent a lot of time perfecting these characteristics and we have to honour that.” Brunner also establishes performance success with her stallions, competing them all in the open hunter or FEI driving classes.
Breeding Welsh crossbreds is not a new phenomenon, she points out. “I had the half-bred Welsh registry number 18 in 1982,” she says, laughing at the suggestion that it is a fairly recent trend dictated by the hunter ring. “In the “60s and 70s” there were a lot of Welsh bred to Thoroughbreds and Arabs, and now the British and German Riding Pony are becoming more popular as we breed for a larger pony. The results are lovely and are seeming more popular now because of the internet and the ease with which you can quickly analyze bloodlines.”
Darlene Morton of Morton Stables in Sharon, ON, has been breeding Welsh and crossbred ponies since 1967, following in her parents’ footsteps. Her current band of over 30 breeding stock includes two Supreme Champion imported section B welsh stallions and several Supreme Champion Welsh imported section B broodmares. In addition to Morton’s Jaguar (see photo pg 44), Morton-bred ponies achieving success at the 2013 Royal Winter Fair included Morton’s Bronwyn, who was reserve champion part-Welsh and winner of the two-year-old Sportpony class; and Morton’s Betty Boop, second in the Sportpony mare class.
Morton is the Canadian representative for the North American Sportpony Registry. Her Rosedale TopCat is an imported British Riding Pony who was recently named the NASPR’s first foundation sire (see page 72). “At one time we were strictly purebred Welsh breeders and initially purchased all our foundation stock in the UK, but the markets and the economy have evolved. We want to breed what is current. We started importing the British Riding Pony to cross with the Welsh mares and we’ve ended up with extraordinary trainability. They are elegant, they are fabulous movers, they are eye-catching, and they have good brains.”
The measure of success
The success of a particular bloodline or pony cannot simply be measured in show ring results, notes Podolski, who adds that the most important job of many of her ponies is their role in producing progeny that will continue the success of their predecessors. “Success is such a difficult thing to quantify. Certainly, many Alvesta ponies have gone on to be fantastic ridden or driven ponies. They’ve gone on to be a child’s best friend and teacher, and they’ve gone on to win top accolades in the show ring. Those must all be considered as successes. However, some of what we consider to be our most successful animals are those who may not have been in the limelight, but stayed behind to produce the animals who later would be. Breeding stock are very important and are not without jobs, though their jobs are obviously very different than the performance animals.”
Canada’s geography poses unique challenges to the commercial success of pony breeders. “Canada is successful in breeding Welsh and Welsh crossbreds; however, our market is much smaller and our climate dictates that we cannot keep our young stock for too long,” explains Richardson. “Ponies are usually sold before their value has increased significantly, as the cost of raising a baby and getting it to the top levels is very expensive. Breeders need good trainers, good riders and a lot of patience. Many breeders have ponies in their fields that have never been shown and are excellent quality, but they are just not able to pay the huge prices or travel the large distances.”
One of Brunner’s favourite success stories is a testament to her breeding program. “I have a lot of people who like to buy babies just because they are familiar with the broodmare or the bloodline. Almost 20 years ago, I sold one of my FEI combined driving ponies that I had taken to Germany to compete. The buyer is now 72 and came back to me because she wanted the same bloodline – her grandchildren are now three-day eventers. She bought a four-year-old mare this spring. Most important to me is that we produce a well-trained and kind pony that makes the family happy, as that is the best advertising anyone could ever ask for.”
Learning from the masters
The only way to ensure Canada continues its reputation for producing quality ponies is if breeders continue to exact strict standards of quality on the ponies they choose to breed. “I think it’s important that we attempt to mirror an almost European-like approach to the standards that are acceptable to breed,” stresses Brunner. “People are always trying to give me broodmares that are pretty, but for one reason or another didn’t have a performance career. In my mind, anything that you breed needs to be proven to have the mind to work.”
“A lot of people also seem to think you fix a toed-in mare with a straight-legged stallion. The standards need to be high, and we need to be accountable.”
Jenna Ponzo is leading the charge of the next generation of Welsh and crossbred pony breeders at her Crown Ridge Farms in Collingwood, ON, where she stands two section B Welsh stallions and one British Riding Pony/Welsh-cross at stud. Her 2013 season culminated in a fantastic Royal Winter Fair: Crown Ridge Jovita won the weanling Sportpony class; Crown Ridge Madoc won the Canadian-bred youngstock class and Welsh section B foal/yearling class, and was junior champion; and Crown Ridge Annah won a three-year-old-and-over half-Welsh class. “Starting up in the business of breeding Welsh and hunter ponies has been made easier due to the guidance I’ve received from experienced breeders along the way,” she explains of the learning process. “Researching generations of pedigrees, looking at hundreds of photos, and deciding which bloodlines cross well with each other are just some parts of becoming a successful pony breeder. I have been fortunate enough to have been guided by a few wonderful mentors as I continue this journey further into the pony breeding world.”
Whether purebred or crossbred, the influence of the Welsh Pony cannot be underestimated. “The Welsh Pony is arguably the most beautiful pony breed in the world,” states Podolski. “With their eager-to-please and workmanlike attitude, wonderful temperament, and awesome movement, all of which has evolved through the dedication of conscientious breeders over the last century and longer, their sterling reputation is well-deserved. This is the legacy we should all, as breeders, be passionate about passing on to future generations of ponies and breeders.”