The development of the Irish Cob as a breed of horse is curious as it is one of the oldest known “breeds” from Ireland in addition to the Connemara Pont and the Irish Draught Horse, but it is only in recent time is has been given official breed status.
Likely this is because the developers of this breed were not ones for keeping breed books and records. The breeders were gypsies, travelling groups that criss crossed Ireland for many generations, leading to the alternate names of Gypsy cob, or Gypsy Vanner. These popular names were applied by people who would see the gypsies arriving in towns with their distinctive horses, not be the gypsies themselves.
Developed as a compact and powerful draft horse, they are intelligent and willing, highly athletic for a heavy horse and with wonderful endurance. Though some guesswork is involved due to the lack of breeding books, like the local draft and pony breed were crossed to create both the Irish cob and later the Clydesdale. There were initially several sizes and types within the breed though it became one true breed regardless of these different characteristics seen in individuals. Even today, the breed registry classifies the horses by height into pony or horse.
An Irish Cob is ample boned and well-muscled, they are both compact and powerful with possession of a wide range of abilities in different disciplines. They have an imposing appearance with a stocky, explosive body carried proudly. They are agile for a heavy horse, with a high action, an intelligent and wise temperament and an impressive amount of long flowing hair. Their tails will drag on the ground, and their manes and forelocks are also exceptionally long. They have feathering on all legs which reaches the ground, and long hair under the jaw and along the upped neck giving them a sage like appearance. This feathering has been emphasized in modern version of the breed – in earlier days this feathering was seen as more a hindrance to their work whereas today it is a signature show of beauty. Smaller versions tend to display less feathering than the heavier versions.
Eyes are bold, with open eyes set apart, neat ears and neck always arched a high knee action and when in motion all that hair is the stuff of movies. Black and white is most common, but all colours are acceptable except albino white which is a fault. Coloured Irish cobs are becoming more popular with skewbald and piebald varieties, though there is no preferred colour in the show ring. They are lovely horses, good natured with both people and other horses.
Neck is compact but not short, well set into the withers and the start of the back which slopes upwards to a high, generous croup. Hips and spine should be well covered; shoulders are powerful but sloping rather than square.
They are a heavy, powerful breed that moves with a light flowing motion that seems to deny their weight. They trot with a high front action, sometimes slicking their lower front legs to either side when trotting which is acceptable to the breed when being judged.
Like Champagne must come Champagne in France, only Irelands Irish Cob society may name a horse an Irish Cob.
They are beautiful, willing calm horses ideal for young riders and pony club work. They versatile and are seen as show, family or trail ride horses. They are not fragile and can carry good weights regardless of height and their owners are generally happy to have them.