Name of breed: Norman Cob
Country of origin: France
Breed origin: The Norman Cob is named after the French region of Normandy where it was first developed. A light draught horse, it descends from the now-extinct Carrossier Normand, or Norman horse. The Carrossier Normand was a strong, hardy, big-boned horse with fantastic stamina and a noble appearance. It was used for pulling artillery and carrying armoured knights in wartime and for farm work, long-distance hauling, carriage pulling and riding in times of peace. Over time, it became lighter and more refined as Arabian, Barb, Mecklenburger, Gelderland, Danish and Norfolk Trotter bloodlines were introduced.
In 1806, Napoleon founded the National Stud of Saint-Lô, which, along with one other stud in northwestern France, became the main breeding centre for the Norman horse. Two types were created: a lighter horse for the cavalry and a heavier type called a ‘cob’ that was used for draught work. The heavier type became known as the Norman Cob, and the lighter type eventually evolved into the Anglo-Norman and the French Trotter. By the 20th century, Norman Cobs were considered to be some of the best carriage horses available. However, the advent of mechanisation, particularly the automobile, put an end to the days of the carriage horse and threw doubt on the future of most draught breeds. The lighter Norman horses pivoted to sport and contributed to the fledgling Selle Français breed, now France’s national saddle horse. The Norman Cob, meanwhile, continued to be used for farm work until the 1950s and was also instrumental in developing the Selle Français. Thanks to the Selle Français breeding program, the Norman Cob remained almost unchanged throughout the decades, while other draught breeds grew heavier and slower due to selection for meat.
In 1992, a new studbook was finally created for the Norman Cob, with selection criteria aimed at preserving the breed’s quality, especially its smooth gaits. Although the population decreased dramatically in the 20th century, in the 21st century it has stabilised thanks to the breed’s increasing popularity for recreational and competitive driving, as well as pleasure riding.
Distinguishing features: A mid-sized horse usually standing between 15.1 and 16.3 hands high, the Norman Cob has the overall appearance of a robust Thoroughbred. This may seem strange for a draught horse, but the breed’s lighter-built ancestors imparted elegance, a square profile, sloping hindquarters and a clean, well-proportioned head. Norman Cobs have a thick, arched, muscular neck leading to pronounced withers, a deep chest and broad, angled shoulders. Their back is short and strong and their legs, although quite fine, have solid bone and plenty of muscle. They are typically bay, chestnut or seal brown. Several types are still recognisable within the breed, and as such, their weight varies from 550 to 900 kilograms! Norman Cobs have a lively, extended trot with long strides and their movements are generally smooth and ground-covering. Their feet are hard, round and wide, which was much appreciated when they were used for long-distance transport along ill-maintained roads. Although they tend to have strong personalities, they are calm, willing and patient. They are more energetic and athletic than other draught breeds – and faster, too.
Modern day Norman Cob: Today, Norman Cobs are still found primarily in Normandy, where they have always been treasured as versatile riding, driving and farm horses. Their speed, stamina, smooth paces and willingness to learn have seen them shine in recreational and competitive driving, and the same qualities make them particularly well-suited to vaulting. Lighter Norman Cobs are used for hunting, and when crossed with Thoroughbreds, they produce excellent all-purpose saddle horses.
Image credits: feature image by BTS Tourisme on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (brightness & contrast enhanced from original), preview image by Édouard Hue on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (cropped from original).