The Shetland Isles have been the home of small ponies for around 2,500 years. The Shetland pony originated from these barren islands north of Scotland. Excavations of the earliest settlements yield 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 were ridden as 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’ 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.

How heavy is a Shetland Pony?

Most Shetland ponies weigh between 28 and 32 Stone which is between 180 and 200 kilograms (or 400 to 450 lbs.)  They have short stocky bodies with broad heads, thick necks, short legs, lush manes and tails. They are very strong for their weight.

How much weight can a Shetland pony carry?

Between 36 and 40 kilograms (80 to 90 lbs.). Most horse owners know and obey the 20% rule; a horse or pony can carry up to 20% of its own weight including tack. Most Shetland ponies weigh between 180 and 200 kilos (400 to 450 lbs) as mentioned above, and so the maximum weight they can carry by the rule of thumb is between 36 and 40 kilograms (80 to 90 lbs).  For its size, the Shetland is the strongest of all horse and pony breeds. It can pull twice its own weight under circumstances where a draft horse can only pull approximately half its own weight.

What do Shetland ponies eat?

The best food for ponies is good quality prairie grass. Generally speaking, ponies probably don’t need the nutrition provided by alfalfa or clovers. These fodders, which are standard fare for work horses are rich food for Shetlands. During the winter, Shetlands dine on hay that is good quality grass bailed in the summer. They can eat treats like apples and carrots but sugar mints can become a choking hazard for most ponies and Miniature horses.

Because Shetland ponies are small, it’s easy to feed them too much.  If they get too much grass they can put on weight and be too lively for small children to ride.  A healthy diet with a regular exercise routine helps ensure  Shetland ponies are good for children to ride.

How do I take care of a Shetland pony?

In addition to a steady diet of grass in the summer and hay in the winter, the people who care for Shetland ponies also practice unique grooming techniques. The maintenance includes washing, brushing, and combing the pony’s thick coat regularly in order to keep it smooth, clean, and healthy.

Extra attention must be paid to a Shetland Pony’s hooves, especially after providing rides or carrying extra weight. The animals hooves require cleaning with a hoof pick and hoof brush to remove dirt, rocks, and other debris that could become irritants or affect its gait. This also ensure there are no injuries which need attention.

How much land does a Shetland pony need?

To keep a single Shetland pony happy you’d need about six thousand square meters of land or one acre for it to graze and roam about and not feel confined. One pony will never be happy though, for it would desire companionship and thus your spatial requirements are doubled. The land is not for grazing as much as just roaming free. You can always supplement the natural grass with hay or other feed but the animal’s need for exercise means it needs lots of room for its daily run.

Anyone thinking of getting Shetland ponies will probably also need to erect a small barn on site to give the animals shelter in the winter and to store hay in the loft. There would need to be fresh running water for drinking and a place to store blankets, tack and grooming implements.

How tall is a Shetland pony?

Maximum height allowed for registration as a Shetland pony is 10.2 hands (104 centimeters). All Shetland ponies measure over 8.2 hands (83 centimeters) because any ponies under that height are considered Miniatures.

Can you ride a Shetland Pony?

Children ride Shetland ponies all over the world and they are popular at petting zoos in pony rides at fall fairs.  Most child riders two or older have the ability to sit upright and balance and thus enjoy a ride on a Shetland pony. Older children can ride larger Shetland ponies until they are about 12 years old.

What are Shetland Ponies used for?

Modern Shetlands are in high demand as riding ponies for children all over the world. Traditions abound in Scotland where they appear in horse shows and are used in foxhunting, and for carriage driving. In North America one is more likely to encounter them in petting zoos and equine-assisted therapy or therapeutic riding facilities.

A famous crowd-pleasing event is the Shetland Pony Grand National, where feisty 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.

Is a Shetland Pony also a Miniature Horse?

No. They are fundamentally different animals. Both have small bodies, but Shetland ponies are taller than Miniature horses. This is a common belief because most modern Miniature horses in North America contain Falabella lineage, a small breed of selectively-bred offspring of small Shetland ponies crossed with small Thoroughbreds developed in Argentina beginning in 1845 and imported to California in 1962. They were bred with an eye on creating the smallest horse possible.

Today, Shetland ponies have a more compact and muscular body than Miniature horses.  Shetland ponies have shorter necks than Miniature horses. Shetland ponies have rough, long, and prominent manes and tails, whereas Miniatures have smooth manes and tails. The Shetland pony has rough and thick hide while the Miniature horse’s coat is smooth. Their uses are different, as Miniatures are more like indoor pets, but Shetland ponies are outdoor workers.

How do Shetland ponies behave?

Shetland ponies have small heads and ears, with dark, intelligent eyes. A notable characteristic of the Shetland pony is their confident, courageous, and sometimes “cheeky” temperament. Because they’re so intelligent, they need to be well-trained or they can be spoiled.

Horses and ponies are herd animals and used to living as part of a group. They feel more secure in the company of other equines and in familiar surroundings.

For more information, visit:
Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society