Shetland pony
The Shetland pony is a breed of pony
A pony is a small horse . Depending on context, a pony may be a horse that is under an approximate or exact height at the withers, or a small horse with a specific conformation and temperament. There are many different breeds...

 originating in the Shetland Isles. Shetlands range in size from a minimum height of approximately 28 inches to an official maximum height of 42 inches (10.2 hands
Hand (unit)
The hand is a non-SI unit of measurement of length, now used only for the measurement of the height of horses in some English-speaking countries, including Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA. With origins in ancient Egypt, it was originally based on the breadth of a human hand...

, 107 cm) at the withers
The withers is the ridge between the shoulder blades of a four-legged animal. In many species it is the tallest point of the body, and in horses and dogs it is the standard place to measure the animal's height .-Horses:The withers in horses are formed by the dorsal spinal processes of roughly the...

. (11.2 hands for American Shetlands) Shetland ponies have heavy coats, short legs and are considered quite intelligent. They are a very strong breed of pony, used for riding, driving, and pack purposes.


Shetland ponies originated in the Shetland Isles, located northeast of mainland Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

. Small horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

s have been kept on the Shetland Isles since the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

. People who lived on the islands probably later crossed the native stock with ponies imported by Norse
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 settlers. Shetland ponies also were probably influenced by the Celtic Pony, brought to the islands by the Celts between 2000 and 1000 BCE. The harsh climate and scarce food developed the ponies into extremely hardy animals.

Shetland ponies were first used for pulling cart
A cart is a vehicle designed for transport, using two wheels and normally pulled by one or a pair of draught animals. A handcart is pulled or pushed by one or more people...

s, carrying peat
Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter or histosol. Peat forms in wetland bogs, moors, muskegs, pocosins, mires, and peat swamp forests. Peat is harvested as an important source of fuel in certain parts of the world...

, coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

 and other items, and plowing farm land. Then, as the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 increased the need for coal in the mid-19th century, thousands of Shetland ponies traveled to mainland Britain to be pit ponies
Pit pony
A pit pony was a type of pony commonly used underground in coal mines from the mid 18th up until the mid 20th century.-History:Ponies began to be used underground, often replacing child or female labour, as distances from pit head to coal face became greater...

, working underground hauling coal, often for their entire (often short) lives. Coal mines in the eastern United States also imported some of these animals. The last pony mine in the United States closed in 1971.

The Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society of the United Kingdom was started in 1890 to maintain purity and encourage high-quality animals. In 1957, the Shetland Islands Premium Stallion Scheme was formed to subsidize high-quality registered stallions to improve the breeding stock.


Today, Shetlands are ridden by children and are shown by both children and adults at horse show
Horse show
A Horse show is a judged exhibition of horses and ponies. Many different horse breeds and equestrian disciplines hold competitions worldwide, from local to the international levels. Most horse shows run from one to three days, sometimes longer for major, all-breed events or national and...

s in harness driving
Driving (horse)
Driving, when applied to horses, ponies, mules, or donkeys, is a broad term for hitching equines to a wagon, carriage, cart, sleigh, or other horse-drawn vehicle by means of a harness and working them in this way...

 classes as well as for pleasure driving outside of the show ring. Shetlands are ridden by small children at horse shows, in riding schools and for pleasure. They are seen working in commercial settings such as fair
A fair or fayre is a gathering of people to display or trade produce or other goods, to parade or display animals and often to enjoy associated carnival or funfair entertainment. It is normally of the essence of a fair that it is temporary; some last only an afternoon while others may ten weeks. ...

s or carnival
Traveling carnival
A traveling carnival is an amusement show that may be made up of amusement rides, food vendors, merchandise vendors, games of chance and skill, thrill acts, animal acts or sideshow curiosities. A traveling carnival is not set up at a permanent location, like an amusement park, but is moved from...

s to provide short rides for visitors. They are also seen at petting zoos and sometimes are used for therapeutic horseback riding
Therapeutic horseback riding
Therapeutic horseback riding is used to teach riding skills to people with disabilities...

 purposes. In the United Kingdom, Shetlands are also featured in the Shetland Pony Grand National, galloping around a racecourse with young jockeys.

Junior Harness Racing was founded in Queensland
Queensland is a state of Australia, occupying the north-eastern section of the mainland continent. It is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean...

 by a group of breeders to give young people age 6 - 16 an opportunity to obtain a practical introduction to the harness racing industry. The children have the opportunity to drive Shetland ponies in harness under race conditions. No prize money is payable on pony races, although winners and place-getters receive medallions.

Miniature Shetlands have been trained as guide horse
Guide horse
A guide horse is an experimental mobility option for blind people who do not wish to or cannot use a guide dog. They are provided by The Guide Horse Foundation, founded in 1999 to provide miniature horses as assistance animals to blind users living in rural environments.There are several perceived...

s to take the same role as guide dogs. This task is also performed by other miniature horse
Miniature horse
Miniature horses are found in many nations, particularly in Europe and the Americas. The designation of miniature horse is determined by the height of the animal, which, depending on the particular breed registry involved, is usually less than as measured at the last hairs of the mane, which are...



Shetland Ponies are hardy and strong, in part because the breed developed in the harsh conditions of the Shetland Isles. In appearance, Shetlands have a small head, sometimes with a dished face, widely-spaced eyes and small and alert ears. The original breed has a short, muscular neck, compact, stocky bodies, and short, strong legs and a shorter than normal cannon bone in relation to their size. A short broad back and deep girth are universal characteristics as is a springy stride. Shetlands have long thick manes and tails and a dense double winter coat to withstand harsh weather. Different breed registries
Breed registry
A breed registry, also known as a stud book or register, in animal husbandry and the hobby of animal fancy, is an official list of animals within a specific breed whose parents are known. Animals are usually registered by their breeders when they are still young...

 have different height standards, but the outside ranges are between a minimum of 7 hands and 11.2 hands (28 to 46 in (71.1 to 116.8 cm)).
Shetlands can be almost every colour
Equine coat color
Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings. A specialized vocabulary has evolved to describe them.While most horses remain the same color throughout life, a few, over the course of several years, will develop a different coat color from that with which they were born...

, including skewbald
Skewbald is a color pattern of horses. A skewbald horse has a coat made up of white patches on a non-black base coat, such as chestnut, bay, or any color besides black coat. Skewbald horses which are bay and white are sometimes called tricoloured...

 and piebald
A piebald or pied animal is one that has a spotting pattern of large unpigmented, usually white, areas of hair, feathers, or scales and normally pigmented patches, generally black. The colour of the animal's skin underneath its coat is also pigmented under the dark patches and unpigmented under...

 (called pinto
Pinto horse
A pinto horse has a coat color that consists of large patches of white and any other color. The distinction between "pinto" and "solid" can be tenuous, as so-called "solid" horses frequently have areas of white hair. Various cultures throughout history appear to have selectively bred for pinto...

 in the United States), but are mainly black
Black (horse)
Black is a hair coat color of horses in which the entire hair coat is black. Black is a relatively uncommon coat color, and novices frequently mistake dark chestnuts or bays for black. However, some breeds of horses, such as the Friesian horse, Murgese and Ariegeois are almost exclusively black...

, chestnut
Chestnut (coat)
Chestnut is a hair coat color of horses consisting of a reddish-to-brown coat with a mane and tail the same or lighter in color than the coat. Genetically and visually, chestnut is characterized by the absolute absence of true black hairs...

, bay
Bay (color)
Bay is a hair coat color of horses, characterized by a reddish brown body color with a black mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs. Bay is one of the most common coat colors in many horse breeds....

, grey
Gray (horse)
Gray or grey is a coat color of horses characterized by progressive silvering of the colored hairs of the coat. Most gray horses have black skin and dark eyes; unlike many depigmentation genes, gray does not affect skin or eye color Their adult hair coat is white, dappled, or white intermingled...

, palomino
Palomino is a coat color in horses, consisting of a gold coat and white mane and tail. Genetically, the palomino color is created by a single allele of a dilution gene called the cream gene working on a "red" base coat...

, dun, roan
Roan (horse)
Roan is a horse coat color pattern characterized by an even mixture of colored and white hairs on the body, while the head and "points"—lower legs, mane and tail—are more solid-colored. The roan pattern is dominantly-inherited, and is found in many horse breeds...

, cremello, and silver dapple.
Silver dapple gene
The silver dapple gene is a dilution gene that affects the black base coat color. It will typically dilute a black mane and tail to flaxen, and a black body to a shade of brown or chocolate. It is responsible for a group of coat colors in horses called "silver dapple" in the west, or "taffy" in...

 Registered shetlands are not leopard
Leopard complex
The leopard complex is a group of genetically-related coat patterns in horses. These patterns range from progressive increases in interspersed white hair similar to graying or roan to distinctive, Dalmatian-like leopard spots on a white coat. Secondary characteristics associated with the leopard...

 spotted (Appaloosa
The Appaloosa is a horse breed best known for its colorful leopard-spotted coat pattern. There is a wide range of body types within the breed, stemming from the influence of multiple breeds of horses throughout its history. Each horse's color pattern is genetically the result of various spotting...

), nor do they carry the champagne gene
Champagne gene
The champagne gene is a simple dominant allele responsible for a number of rare horse coat colors. The most distinctive traits of horses with the champagne gene are the hazel eyes and pinkish, freckled skin, which are bright blue and bright pink at birth, respectively...

, though these colours are sometimes seen in Shetland-sized crossbreds.

Shetland ponies are generally gentle, good-tempered, and very intelligent by nature. They make good children's ponies, and are sometimes noted for having a "brave" character, but can be very opinionated or "cheeky", and can be impatient, snappy, and sometimes become uncooperative. Due in part to their intelligence and size, they are easily spoiled and can be very headstrong if not well-trained.

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
Draft horse
A draft horse , draught horse or dray horse , less often called a work horse or heavy horse, is a large horse bred for hard, heavy tasks such as ploughing and farm labour...

 can only pull approximately half its own weight, as well as many being able to carry up to 9 stone – 130 pounds (59 kg). Shetland ponies are found worldwide, though mainly in the UK and North America. In general, UK ponies tend to preserve more of the original characteristics of the breed and are often stockier than their American cousins.

Many ponies are long-lived, it is not unusual for a Shetland pony to live more than 30 years. Conversely, their small size also predisposes some individuals to a greater probability of heart problems than in larger animals, on occasion leading to early death. Shetland ponies, like many hardy small horse and pony breeds, can easily develop laminitis
Laminitis is a disease that affects the feet of ungulates. It is best known in horses and cattle. Symptoms include lameness, and increased temperature in the hooves...

 if on a diet high in non-structural carbohydrates. Therefore owners must pay careful attention to nutrition
Equine nutrition
Equine nutrition is the feeding of horses, ponies, mules, donkeys, and other equines. Correct and balanced nutrition is a critical component of proper horse care....

, being careful to regulate feed quantity and type.

The American Shetland

The first Shetland ponies for which there are written records were imported to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in 1885 by Eli Elliot. These ponies provided the foundation stock for the development of the American Shetland, and were crossed with ponies of other breeds, including the Hackney pony
Hackney pony
The Hackney pony is a breed of pony closely related to the Hackney horse. Originally bred to pull carriages, they are used today primarily as show ponies. The breed does not have its own stud book, but shares one with the Hackney Horse in all countries that have an official Hackney Stud Book...

, Welsh pony
Welsh Pony
The Welsh Pony and Cob are closely related horse breeds including both pony and cob types, which originated in Wales in the United Kingdom...

, and Harness Show Pony. The breeding of the ponies was mainly centered in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.

In 1888, the American Shetland Pony Club was formed and now has two studbooks: Division A and Division B. Division A registers ponies with 12.5% or less outcross (non-Shetland) blood, and Division B is open to any pony with 12.5% or more outcross blood. Foundation Certification is also available for ponies from 4 generations of Division A breeding. As of 2009 A and B designations are no longer on Registrations.

American Shetland Ponies are more refined than the traditional Shetland. They often have a long, thin, "hooky" neck, a more refined body, and longer legs. The breed tends to be long and narrow through the back, with broad and muscular hindquarters and high withers. The shoulder has good slope, allowing for extravagant action. These ponies are most often used for harness work and as children's ponies. They can be seen show jumping
Show jumping
Show jumping, also known as "stadium jumping," "open jumping," or "jumpers," is a member of a family of English riding equestrian events that also includes dressage, eventing, hunters, and equitation. Jumping classes commonly are seen at horse shows throughout the world, including the Olympics...

 in classes for young riders, at horse show
Horse show
A Horse show is a judged exhibition of horses and ponies. Many different horse breeds and equestrian disciplines hold competitions worldwide, from local to the international levels. Most horse shows run from one to three days, sometimes longer for major, all-breed events or national and...

s in both Western
Western riding
Western riding is a style of horseback riding which evolved from the ranching and warfare traditions brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors, and both equipment and riding style evolved to meet the working needs of the cowboy in the American West...

 and English riding
English riding
English riding is a term used to describe a form of horse riding that is seen throughout the world. There are many variations in English riding, but all feature a flat English saddle without the deep seat, high cantle or saddle horn seen on a Western saddle nor the knee pads seen on an Australian...

 classes, as well as many other competitive events, including gymkhana
Gymkhana (equestrian)
Gymkhana is a term used in the United Kingdom, east coast of the United States, and other English-speaking nations to describe an equestrian event consisting of speed pattern racing and timed games for riders on horses...

, novelty harness racing
Harness racing
Harness racing is a form of horse racing in which the horses race at a specific gait . They usually pull a two-wheeled cart called a sulky, although racing under saddle is also conducted in Europe.-Breeds:...

, and shown at halter
Halter (horse show)
"Halter" is a term used to describe a type of horse show class where horses are shown "in hand," meaning that they are led, not ridden, and are judged on their conformation and suitability as breeding stock...

, Costume.

The American Shetland Pony Club recognizes four types of Shetlands-Modern, Pleasure, Classic and Foundation. Modern Shetland are typically the tallest of the breed; they are shown with a high head set, ribbon braids in their manes, tail sets and have high stepping action. Pleasure ponies have similar breeding though their action is more subdued. Classic Shetlands are the most typical type and are known for their refinement and gentle nature while lacking most of the action of the Modern ponies. Finally, Foundation ponies do not have any Hackney influence for four generations and are all under 42" tall. Their looks are most reflective of their British ancestry.

However, the compact "classic" type of Shetland is still more prevalent in overall numbers in the USA, though such ponies are not always registered.

Standards in the USA and the UK

There are several major registries for Shetland ponies, the Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society (SPSNA), both based in the USA. Shetland ponies registered with the SPSBS cannot be taller than 42" at maturity. ASPC Shetlands range in height from about 30"(rare) to 46" (the breed is measured in inches, not in hands
Hand (unit)
The hand is a non-SI unit of measurement of length, now used only for the measurement of the height of horses in some English-speaking countries, including Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA. With origins in ancient Egypt, it was originally based on the breadth of a human hand...

). The Shetland Pony Society of North America was formed to honor the traditional Shetland Pony of island type. Any pony registered with other American, British, or Canadian registries can be cross-registered if it meets the pedigree and conformation standards of the SPSNA.

See also

  • Shetland animal breeds
    Shetland animal breeds
    Shetland has long had its own distinct animal breeds because of the area being made up of remote islands. Below is a list of Shetland's domesticated animals.- Shetland Pony :The Shetland pony is a very small, robust breed of pony...

  • List of domesticated Scottish breeds
  • List of horse breeds
  • Pony
    A pony is a small horse . Depending on context, a pony may be a horse that is under an approximate or exact height at the withers, or a small horse with a specific conformation and temperament. There are many different breeds...

  • Mountain and moorland pony breeds

External links

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