Perhaps the oldest breed of horse in the United Kingdom is
the Shetland Pony that was named after the Scottish islands
where the breed originated. It is one of the most popular
and well-known ponies in the world today and is recognized
as the strongest Equid relative to its size in existence.
The Shetland Islands lay off the northern coast of Scotland
and are mostly barren with a harsh climate. For centuries
the Shetland Pony lived in the open islands, protected from
the weather only by shaggy thick hair, long mane, and forelocks.
The harsh environment also contributed to the Shetland having
a thick neck, short ears, and strong hooves. The Shetland
Islanders domesticated the ponies and used them to carry peat
from the bogs that was used as fuel in the cottages; and to
haul seaweed from the shore to the fields that was used as
Americans fell in love with Shetland Ponies the minute they
arrived from the islands over 120 years ago and that love
affair continues today.
The Shetland Pony's origin goes back to equines that were
larger than the modern breed and that lived in the Shetland
Islands as early as the as the 8th and 9th centuries, during
the Bronze Age. When the Norsemen invaded the Shetland Islands,
they brought ponies with them which were the ancestors of
the modern Dole Pony. These ancestral ponies were crossed
with native stock which created the Shetland Pony that is
similar to the breed as known today. The isolation of island
life allowed them to become a distinct breed all on their
When the coal mining industry became extensively developed
in Britain in the 1800's, Shetland Ponies were imported in
great numbers to haul coal cars in the pits. Many of these
ponies were born in the mines, lived underground and died
in the mines. Some never saw daylight. Many Shetlands were
subsequently exported to the United States to work in the
coal mines but by the mid-1900's mechanization rendered the
pony inefficient. In the American Midwest, Draft Shetlands
are still common and compete in weight-pulling contests at
the county fairs similar to those in which heavy draft horses
There are four varieties of Shetland Ponies in the United
States. The American Shetland Pony Club recognizes two distinct
types of Shetland Ponies: the Classic Shetland Pony and the
Modern Shetland Pony. Additionally, there are registries for
the two types of allowable Shetland pony crosses: the American
Show Pony and the National Show Pony. The ASPC's goal is to
have a pony suited to almost everyone's needs. Overall, Shetland
Ponies are athletic, quick learners and extremely hardy. They
generally have excellent hooves.
The Classic American Shetland Pony is the original breed
that dates back to the Shetland Islands. These ponies were
brought to the United States in the 1800's and were first
registered by the American Shetland Pony Club (ASPC) that
was founded in 1888 to preserve the bloodlines of the Shetland
Pony, while improving and refining the breed. After having
been in the United States for more than 120 years, it has
been selectively bred for refinement which resulted in a sturdy,
versatile, yet elegant, pony.
No larger than 46" (11.5 hands), the Classic American Shetland
is the perfect starter size pony for a child. In contrast,
the British Shetland is smaller and stands an average of 9.3
hands, and does not exceed 10.2 hands. Since the ponies were
bred to pull ore carts in the coal mines in the mid 1800's,
Classic Shetlands excel at driving and halter classes. Classic
American Shetland Ponies have been used in therapeutic riding
programs for the physically and mentally challenged. The love
and devotion that a Shetland Pony can offer is giant-sized.
The Modern Shetland Pony combines the hardiness of the Classic
Shetland Pony with an outcross of an animated and superiorly
refined breed. However, just what this "superiorly refined
breed" was has not been mentioned in the literature. Whatever
this cross was, it produced a long shapely neck and a fine-boned
sophisticated pony with extreme action and spirited that works
well in the show ring. Like all Shetlands, the Moderns come
in all colors. They can be no taller than 46" and are shown
in two height divisions: the under 43" class; and the 43"
to 46" class and in breeding/halter classes along with performance
classes, which include roadster, harness and pleasure driving.
The Modern Shetland is agile and quick thinking, and can
be used for everything from gymkhana ponies to hunter/jumpers.
This equine has the high action and elegance of a carriage
horse and the hardiness of a pony.
American Show Pony are similar to the Modern Shetland Pony,
however the American Show Pony is allowed to be a maximum
height of 48" (12 hands) at the withers and are the result
of a cross with the Hackney. The American Show Pony can be
of either Shetland or Hackney breeding or a combination of
both. These larger, flashy ponies are especially suited to
driving and tend to draw a lot of attention in the shows.
The newest equine in the Shetland Pony family is the National
Show Pony. These are required to have one purebred Shetland
parent and can measure up to a full 14.2 hands at the withers.
Again, there is no mention of the breed(s) used or allowed
in the cross that creates the National Show Pony. Show divisions
for hunters, western, and driving are currently being developed
and integrated into Shetland Pony shows and these larger National
Show Ponies will enable growing children to enjoy riding a
pony with Shetland attributes over a longer period of time
in their lives. The National Show Pony can be used by adults
as a larger carriage pony.
Because of their small size and hardiness, Shetland Ponies
are often the choice for young children to ride. But their
short legs give them a very rough, bouncy trot that is difficult
to sit. Moreover, most Shetlands can be very difficult, stubborn
and hard-headed; they like to do things their own way, and
in their own time. So, young children can be discouraged from
riding when their pony is rude; has a bouncy trot; or refuses
to do as their owner says. This all makes them more suited
to adults, but it has been said that if a child can learn
to master the Shetland, they can ride anything later.
About the Author
Crystal Eikanger is a writer for www.HorseClicks.com,