Origins of the Shetland Pony
The Shetland Pony originates from the Shetland Islands, a group of islands lying approximately 100 miles off the north coast of Scotland. It is believed that Shetland ponies may be the descendants of the Tundra Ponies which came to Britain during the last Ice Age. Over the centuries, the harsh environment and sparse vegetation of the Shetland Islands has caused the ponies to decrease in size from about 13.2 hands down to the maximum 42 inches of today. Today there are about 100 Shetland ponies on the islands, but their popularity is such that they are bred extensively in mainland Britain, as well as in Australia, North and South America, and Europe.
As has been mentioned, Shetland ponies are small, with a maximum height at the wither or 42 inches. They are very strong and hardy, with a short strong back and a relatively deep barrel. The legs are short and fine and the feet are hard. The mane and tail are luxuriant and the pony grows a very thick winter coat to protect him from the harsh island winters. The most popular color is black, but Shetland ponies may be any color, including piebald (black and white) and skewbald (any other color and white).
The original use for the Shetland Pony was as a pack animal for the crofters, or farmers, on the islands. In the 1800’s many Shetlands were exported to mainland Britain and were used as pit ponies in the collieries.
Nowadays, Shetland ponies are popular as pets, companion animals and are also used as children’s riding ponies. In the show ring, they can often be seen in the Leading Rein classes, known as Short Stirrup in the United States. I even saw a program on The Animal Planet a week or so ago about the Shetland Pony Grand National, held every year at the Olympia International Horse Show in London.
The American Shetland
The American Shetland is used as a harness pony and resulted from crosses with the Hackney Pony. It is very different in appearance from the original Shetland Pony, being finer in build, with a high, showy leg action.