If you learned to ride as a child, chances are you started on the back of a Shetland pony (or Shetland half-breed). Despite their diminutive stature, the Shetlands are strong, intelligent, gentle, and a little cunning. The cuteness factor isn’t controversial either, but don’t let that fool you. These are strong ponies capable of outperforming the largest draft horses.
weight: 400 to 450 lbs
high: 7 hands (28 inches) to 11.5 hands (46 inches)
Body type: compact body; broad head; thick neck; short legs; lush mane and tail
Most suitable: Owners and riders of all levels, including children
Life expectancy: 30+ years
Click to play to learn more about the hardy and versatile Shetland pony
The History and Origins of the Shetland Pony
The true origins of the Shetland Pony have been forgotten by time. As early as 4,000 years ago, ponies roamed the rugged Shetland Islands near Scotland. Celtic ponies likely incorporated into the breed, as well as potential crossbreeds with Norse settler ponies.
Shetland ponies are resilient and strong, and are used for pulling carts and plowing fields, among other jobs. During the Industrial Revolution, they were sent to mines to help transport coal. They are also popular companions for children due to their gentle temperament and size.
The Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society was established in 1890 to register and track the breed. The Shetland Pony Club of America also registers ponies in the United States.
shetland pony size
A registered Shetland pony has a maximum shoulder size of 10.5 hands (42 inches). In the United States, the Shetland Pony Club of America allows ponies up to 11.5 hands (46 inches). The weight of a Shetland pony depends on its height, but is usually around 400 to 450 pounds.
Breeding and Use of Shetland Pony
Shetland ponies have developed into very hardy animals in the harsh climate, scarce food and rugged terrain of their homeland. They have thick coats that help them withstand cold winters, and their large bodies make them exceptionally strong. In the United States, breeders have improved ponies to be slightly leaner and have longer legs. These American Shetland ponies are more agile and have longer strides than traditional Shetland ponies.
They have been widely used for pulling plows, carts and handcarts. During the 1800s and 1900s, they were known for their work in mines in England and the United States. Today, Shetland ponies are used for recreational driving (pulling carts, carriages, etc.), many as companions in children’s equestrian shows, and only as pets. In addition, bison herds still exist on the Shetland Islands.
colors and markings
Shetland is almost all horse colors, including zebra combinations (white and any other color patch). But registered Shetlands cannot be spotted by leopards like Appaloosa. The most common coat colors include black, chestnut, gray, bay, brown, horse, palomino, buckskin, tan, cream, and champagne—various face and leg markings.
Unique Characteristics of the Shetland Pony
It is said that a pound-for-pound Shetland pony can pull more weight than a gigantic Clydesdale. In addition to the enormous strength of their small bodies, Shetland ponies are also known for their longevity, with many living into their 30s. And, of course, they are known for their small stature. Many other small breeds have Shetland ponies in the background, including miniature horses, national and American show ponies, and Falabella miniature horses.
Diet and Nutrition
It is much easier to overfeed a Shetland pony than to underfeed it. Because the breed has evolved in such harsh conditions and has to find nutrients, the Shetland can thrive on very little food. Shetland rarely needs cereals or concentrates, which can lead to obesity. High-quality hay is ideal for them.
Common Health and Behavioral Issues
Generally speaking, Shetland ponies do not have many health problems. But their size makes them prone to heart problems and laminitis. This is an emergency and the hoof can become inflamed and cause severe pain. There are many causes of laminitis, including overeating grains or grasses.
In terms of behavior, Shetland ponies are generally friendly and gentle. But they can be a bit headstrong and uncooperative, especially if they haven’t been trained.
Shetland ponies develop very thick, soft winter coats. Often they are the first to “put on the coat” in the fall, and the last to take off the winter coat in the spring. The outer coat is thicker and the undercoat is silky soft. They require standard equine grooming with regular cleaning, brushing and grooming. Ideally, their hooves should be checked daily for dirt, debris and any damage.
strong and strong
good with kids
prone to laminitis
Champion and Celebrity Shetland Pony
The longevity of the Shetland pony has led to several claims for the oldest pony in the world. For example, a pony named Twiglet died in 2017 at the age of 50.
These ponies have also appeared on screen. In the 1976 Disney film “The Horse Thief,” three children plot to steal the ponies from the mines after discovering that the mines are mechanized about to kill them. This fits with Shetland’s real history at the mines.
Is the Shetland Pony Right for You?
Grumpy Shetland ponies are suitable for owners and riders of all experience levels, including families with children, although they can be stubborn and require constant training. Because they are so strong and fairly independent, they are usually easy to care for. They do well in cold, rugged climates, such as their native Shetland Islands. But owners must pay attention to their nutrition and avoid overfeeding, which can lead to health problems such as laminitis and obesity.
How to Adopt or Buy a Shetland Pony
The average price of a Shetland pony ranges from $500 to $1,500. Stallions often go up in price, especially when they can trace their thoroughbred lineage.
There are many rescue groups that adopt Shetland ponies. The quality rescue team or breeder should be transparent about the pony’s temperament, health and history. The facility should also be kept clean and provide adequate housing for animals. You should be able to spend time with your pony before choosing to take it home. A hasty decision can be a red flag that the group is not acting in the best interests of the animals.
More horse breeds
If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:
Otherwise, you can view all of our other horse breed profiles.