The Shetland Isles have been the home of small ponies for around 2,500 years. Excavations on the islands have revealed the bones of small ponies that existed during the Bronze Age, descended from southern European Cob and Mountain Pony types which migrated across the ice fields. Later, Celtic ponies were introduced, establishing two separate types: a heavier-boned, large-headed animal and a finer one with a small, attractive head and high tail carriage.
The harsh island winters contributed to the hardiness of the breed, with only the toughest surviving. For centuries these ponies were used to cultivate the land, carry peat and seaweed, and as ridden transportation. Hair from their tails was spun into fishing line for local fisherman.
A law in 1847 banned child labour in the coal pits, so the Shetland pony was employed in the mines instead. The breed became popular as a riding and driving pony for children, as well as for Queen Victoria, who owned several pairs to draw her elegant phaetons. At the end of the 19th century, thousands of ponies were exported across the Atlantic and to other parts of the world. The Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society was formed in 1890; their stud book was the first for a native pony breed in Britain.
Shetland Ponies have small heads and ears, with dark, intelligent eyes. Their shoulders, withers, and necks are well-defined, leading to muscular chests and quarters. Manes and tails are abundant, and their coats are double-layered in winter to help keep them dry. Coat colours including black, bay, brown, grey, chestnut, skewbald, and piebald, although spotted patterns are not allowed. Maximum height allowed for registration is 10.2 hands; individuals over 8.2 hands are considered Standard, while ponies under that height are known as Miniatures.
A notable characteristic of the Shetland is its confident, courageous, and sometimes “cheeky” temperament. Because of their intelligence they need to be well-trained or can easily become spoiled.
Modern Shetlands are generally used as riding ponies for children, suitable for horse shows, Pony Club activities and foxhunting, and also for carriage driving, in petting zoos and equine-assisted therapy or therapeutic riding. A crowd-pleasing event is the Shetland Pony Grand National, where fiesty Shetlands gallop around a racecourse with their young jockeys. This activity is becoming increasingly popular in North America as a feature at larger horse shows.
For more information, visit:
Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society