what is a shetland pony

What is a Shetland Pony? [small in size but mighty in spirit. is it a horse?]

The Shetland pony is a small horse breed well-known for its stocky body and docile nature.

The Shetland pony originated as a small horse breed native to the islands northeast off the coast of Scotland. It became a workhorse during the Industrial Revolution when its breed became popular. Today, the Shetland pony is a children’s horse, pet, and attraction favorite. 

Although it is only between 28-46 inches tall, the Shetland pony is not a miniature horse, being too tall for that classification. This good-natured pony is strong, stout, and intelligent.

how old are shetland ponies

History of the Shetland Pony

Small horses have long called the Shetland Isles their home. In fact, based on archaeological excavations, small horses have been on these islands since the Bronze Age (2000 years).

The harsh winters on the Isles have made the Shetland pony hardy.  Often, winters meant the food was scarce and the cold bitter. Only the strongest and most adaptable survived.

History of the Shetland Pony

The Isles’ isolation meant that there wasn’t interbreeding for a good portion of the Shetland pony’s history until the Norse settlers arrived on the islands.

Early Shetland Pony History

Mountain ponies probably wandered from Southern Europe onto the Shetland Isles along the icefields and land masses over 2000 years ago. 

The land masses submerged and the ice fields melted leaving the horses in isolation for several hundreds of years.

Around 2000 to 1000 BC, Norse settlers brought Celtic ponies to the islands. These were Oriental horses bred with the same type of Mountain horse that already lived on the Isles. 

The Celtic ponies interbred with the horses on the islands creating a hardy breed, with strong legs that later become known as the Shetland Pony.

Shetland Ponies as Coal Miners

Shetland islanders used the ponies to pull carts of peat, seaweed, and other items during much of this time. Their thick mane hairs were often used as fishing lines. 

They were also used to help with the cultivation of farmland.

During the Industrial Revolution, the need for coal rose astronomically. In 1847, laws were passed prohibiting women and children from toting coal up from the coal pits. 

What is a Pit Pony

What is a Pit Pony?

Due to their small physical size, the Shetland pony became essential in hauling coal. These docile horses also adapted well to the dark environment and became sought after as pit ponies. 

A Pit Pony (mining horse) is a horse that is used, below ground, to haul mining carts in and out of the tunnels. 

They were often led by boys and brought supplies down to the miners as well as hauling materials out.

Shetlands were transported by the thousands to Britain and North America to pull carts of coal up from coal pits. This was grueling work.

Many of these horses lived short lives and rarely saw the surface.

When Did Shetland Ponies Come to The United States?

There actually is some documentation stating that the first Shetlands arrived in the United States in 1885. 

An enthusiast named, Eli Elliot, is credited with being the first person to bring Shetlands to the USA. It is said he imported more than 70 of these amazing horses.

When Did Shetland Ponies Come to The United States

The American Shetland Pony Club was formed in 1888 to help formalize standards to maintain the purity of the breed and to promote the horse.

These popular horses were a big hit and their numbers grew rapidly. In the mid-1990s it was estimated there were well over 50,000 American Shetlands.

Shetland Breeding

At the end of the 19th Century, breeders formed the Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society. 

The popularity of the Shetland pony and the need to breed more led to the development of this society.

Many of our modern Shetland ponies can trace their heritage to stock listed in these first few volumes of the Stud Book. 

These early breeders took their unregistered stock and began breeding them to create the modern Shetland pony.

Modern Shetland Ponies

Due to their short stature, Shetland ponies are often kept as children’s mounts. They are popular at petting zoos. 

Shetland ponies participate in foxhunting, carriage rides, horse shows, and equine-assisted therapy.

The Shetland Pony Grand National is an event where Shetland ponies compete on a racecourse. Shetland ponies also provide sideshows at large horse sporting events.

What are Shetland Ponies Like?

Shetland Pony Appearance

Shetland ponies are well-known for their sturdy builds. They have muscular, stocky bodies with small heads and ears, short muscular necks, and a thick lush mane.

Shetland Pony Appearance

Shetland Pony Size

These small-size horses weigh approximately 400-450 pounds. Shetlands are not considered miniature horses, but a breed of shorter horses. However, there is a Miniature Shetland Pony.

The Shetland measures around 7 to 11 hands tall (approximately 28- 46 inches).

They have a double coat that comes in a wide variety of colors. These features were essential to surviving the harsh weather in the Shetland Isles. 

Their hides are rough and their manes and tails are long and thick. 

Shetland Pony Colors

The Shetland comes in a variety of colors including the following:

  • Black
  • Bay
  • Piebald
  • Brown
  • Skewbald
  • Chestnut

Shetland ponies require regular grooming due to their thick coats. They also need extra care for their hooves, especially if they are carrying a lot of weight.

Shetland Pony Personality

When you look at a Shetland pony, you can’t help but think how absolutely adorable they are, but they are workhorses.

Although gentle by nature, these horses are very intelligent. They can easily become spoiled, so it is important to train them properly. 

Shetland Pony temperament

They are confident and courageous, which is what made them so good for working in the coal mines. Shetland ponies are strong.

Shetlands are also social creatures and become depressed if kept alone.

Shetland Pony Health Issues

For the most part, Shetland ponies have few health problems. They are hearty and usually live about 30 years or more. Yet, their small bodies can make them more prone to heart problems.

Since they are often used to carry carts or small children, they can also get some serious hoof infections. Make sure that you are regularly cleaning their hooves to prevent these infections.

They are also susceptible to many of the common problems that larger horses get. Parasites are an example of this. Make sure that you are getting your horses dewormed often.

Related Shetland Pony Questions

Can you ride a Shetland pony?

Yes. Children often ride Shetland ponies. They are a favorite attraction at petting zoos and fairs. 

Can adults ride Shetland Ponies?

Once a child reaches 12 years old, he or she will want to discontinue riding them so as not to strain their backs. So, no, an adult should not try to ride a Shetland Pony.

What do you need for a Shetland pony?

Shetland ponies need about one acre of land per pony for roaming, but they like to be in groups.

They also need shelter, such as a barn or shed including ready access to hay and fresh water. 

In addition, you will also need tack, blankets, grooming gear, and regular vet and farrier visits for your Shetland Pony.

Are Shetland Ponies good for beginners?

Shetland ponies are gentle animals in general. They are also very frequently used with children, making them a great fit for beginners.

How much does a Shetland pony cost?

The cost of a Shetland Pony will vary according to how old the horse is and its training. 

It is not uncommon to find an older Shetland for as little as a few hundred dollars or up to $3000 and more for a well-trained animal.

What other pony breeds are there?

Here is a short list of some other pony breeds.

  • Asturcon
  • Bosnian
  • Connemara
  • Dales
  • Dartmoor
  • Eriskay
  • Exmoor
  • Fell
  • Garrano
  • Hackney pony
  • Karakachan
  • New Forest
  • Pony of the Americas (POA)
  • Quarter Pony
  • Sport Pony
  • Welsh

Shetland Ponies are Unique and Beautiful Horses

Shetland ponies are beautiful, strong, hardy animals that also possess a docile personality. 

This small horse breed is used to surviving harsh conditions and is famous for being hard workers and courageous. 

They stand on their own up against their large horse counterparts. For someone with enough land and time, these Scottish island natives are a wonderful pet to own.

Learn more about the Shetland Pony at the Shetland Pony Studbook Society. You can also access a list of Shetland Pony breeders at the Pony Breeders of Shetland Association website.

What is a Shetland Pony

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