For many, a Shetland Pony is their first introduction to riding. Most of us think of them as a child’s mount. But if you grew up in or near the Shetland Isles from which they come, you may already know that they are so much more than that. Check out these fascinating facts about this amazing pony breed.
#1 – An old breed
The Shetland Pony is thought to be developed from a cob-type pony from Southern Europe and a pony brought to the islands by the Celtic people. (www.shetlandponystudbooksociety.co.uk)
#2 – Originally a farm horse
When you live on a tiny, harsh island, you don’t need a giant draft to get your work done and it might be hard to keep one if grass is scarce. The Shetland Pony was the perfect size for the farmers on the isles, who used them for pulling carts, carrying peat and even plowing the farm land.
#3 – Made for that harsh climate
The Shetland Pony adapted well to their wildly beautiful home. They have “good conversion rates for food” and they even eat the seaweed that washes up on the beach to get nutrients such as minerals to supplement their scant diet. (Shetland.org) They also have a double coat in winter, which protects them against the harsh winds and cold.
#4 – Used in the coal mines
In the mid-1800’s, the Shetland Pony was put to use in underground mines once the use of women and children was outlawed. These ponies rarely saw daylight and had a hard life –though it is said that their handlers treated them with “much affection.” (www.shetlandponystudbooksociety.co.uk)
#5 – They shouldn’t be taller than 11.5 hands
Though most of us consider anything under 14.2 a pony, the Shetlands are actually much smaller than that. The UK Shetland Pony Stud-book does not allow any registered stock that are taller than 11 hands. In America, the tallest allowed 11.5 hands.
#6 – The American Shetland is different from the pony on the Isles
Aside from height, the American Shetland has a very different look than the Shetland Pony from the isles. The American Shetland – which is further divided into four breed types – are lighter in bone, with more refined features like that of an Arabian. This is the result of cross breeding with Hackneys, Welsh, and the Harness Show Pony.
#7 – A tiny race horse
This breed is truly an-all around equine, even being used for racing! In Europe, they hold the Grand National race where children jockeys race the ponies. And in Queensland, Shetlands are used in Junior Harness racing to give kids ages 6-16 an introduction to the sport.
#8 – They roam free, but not wild
If you get the chance to visit the Shetland Isles, you will see hundred of the small ponies wandering all over – but they are not wild. They are all owned and are tended to by local land tenants or “crofters.” (Shetland.org)
#9 – They can be any color except….
Spotted. Shetland ponies are allowed to be any color in the horse gene pool except spotted. No Shetland pony should have Appaloosa-type coloration.