Skip to Content

10 Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About Shetland Ponies

10 Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About Shetland Ponies

Shetland Ponies hold a special place in the hearts of equestrians worldwide. Because of their small size and friendly nature, they are often a young horse rider’s first pony.

The Shetland Pony originates from the Scottish Shetland Isles, located 105.6 miles (170 km) northeast of the mainland. This fluffy pony breed is easy to recognize from its short legs, deep girth, and springy stride.

Often called “Shetties” in the horse world, they can be of any color except spotted. The most common colors in the breed are black, bay, chestnut, and pinto.

Shetland Ponies are equally suitable for riding and driving and are still used as pack ponies on their native islands.

Here are ten facts about Shetland Ponies:

The Shetland Pony Breed Is Thousands Of Years Old

Researchers believe the ancestors of Shetland Ponies have roamed the Shetland Isles since the Bronze Age (3300 BC – 1200 BC).

It’s believed Shetland Ponies are descended from Celtic and Norse settler Ponies brought to the Shetland Isles between 2000 and 1000 BC. This makes them one of the oldest horse breeds in the world.

Due to the Shetland Isles relative isolation, Shetland ponies are one of the purest breeds in existence.

Shetland Ponies did not influence modern horse breeds and still retain their original looks from thousands of years ago.

Three Shetland Ponies standing at the side of a dirt road in the Shetland Isle moors
Eleanor Scriven / Shutterstock.com

Every horse lover has heard of the adorable and cheeky Shetland ponies. They have been exported to all parts of the world and are widely used as kids’ riding ponies.

According to current estimations, there are 100,000 Shetland ponies in the world today. Out of the whole population, a surprising 50,000 ponies live in Holland and 15,000 in Britain.

Around 1,000 ponies live on the Shetland Isles, bred by 150 Shetland Pony breeders.

Did you know that Shetland Ponies are allowed to roam free on some of the islands? However, this doesn’t mean they are wild, as the ponies belong to local land owners or “crofters” who care for them.

Also Read: 15 Native British Horse and Pony Breeds

The Maximum Height Of Shetland Ponies Is 42 inches (107 cm)

The Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society limits the height of registered Shetland Ponies to 42 inches (107 cm). This makes Shetland Ponies one of the smallest horse breeds in the world.

In the United States, Shetland Ponies can be up to 46 inches (117 cm) tall. However, American Shetlands are different from the original Shetland Pony as they were influenced by several horse and pony breeds.

Shetland Ponies Are Very Strong For Their Size

Shetland Ponies are small but strong. These compact little horses can pull up to twice their body weight, which is 400 to 450 pounds (181.4 to 204.1 kg) on average. (Source: Animal-World)

Shetland Pony pulling a small cart with two people in it.
James Hime / Shutterstock.com

Due to their impressive strength and ability to travel on rough terrain, Shetland Ponies used to carry peat in large saddlebags, an abundant fuel source in the Shetland Isles. Today, the islanders mainly keep them as riding and driving ponies.

Shetland Ponies Are Extremely Tough

The Shetland Isles are not exactly a welcoming place for horses to live. The climate here is cold and windy most of the year, the winters are harsh, and the landscape is rugged with scarce vegetation.

All native animals living here must be extremely tough and resilient to survive, such as the Shetland Pony.

Over the last few thousand years, the ponies have adapted perfectly to their hostile environment. They became small, strong, and developed thick double winter coats. Their long manes and tails also keep them warm when the temperature drops.

Another superpower of Shetland Ponies is that they can survive on little forage. They are the ultimate good doers and have excellent conversion rates for food. The ponies also nibble on the seaweed that washes up on the beaches, an excellent source of minerals to supplement their diet. (Source: Shetland.org)

Shetland Ponies Used To Work In Mines

Shetland Ponies were originally used for farming, carriage driving, and carrying peat and other materials. Their strength, good work ethic, and economical upkeep made the ponies a valuable workforce to local islanders.

Shetland Pony in the Shetland Isle moors
Doubleclix / Shutterstock.com

Since the 1840s, a new law in Great Britain banned the employment of women and children in coal mines. As a replacement, miners used Shetland Ponies that could easily transport coal through the small underground tunnels.

As the demand for “pit ponies” increased, thousands of Shetlands traveled to mainland Britain. The United States also imported Shetland Ponies to work in coal mines on the east coast. This new role has boosted the breed’s popularity and increased the number of Shetland Ponies worldwide.

However, life in a coal mine is far less than ideal for a pony. Many pit ponies worked underground for their entire lives, never catching a glimpse of the sunlight.

Due to protests throughout the 20th century, operations using ponies started to shut down, and the last pony mine in the US closed in 1971.

The Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society Formed In 1890

As the demand for Shetland Ponies increased from the mid-19th century, locals started to breed them in Shetland. In 1890, they founded the Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society to keep track of breeding operations and maintain the purity and quality of the breed.

In 1957, breeders launched the Shetland Islands Premium Stallion Scheme to encourage the use of high-quality stallions. The purpose of the scheme was to improve the existing breeding stock further.

The Shetland Pony played a vital role in the foundation of several pony and miniature horse breeds. These include the Pony of the Americas, American Shetland Pony, German Classic Pony, American Miniature, and Falabella breeds.

From the late 19th century, the need for small working ponies increased in other parts of the world. The first Shetland Ponies made their way to the United States in 1885.

Three years later, the American Shetland Pony Club was formed to record Shetland Ponies in the country and develop a distinct breed.

The American Shetland Pony is more refined and lighter in build than the traditional version. This is due to crossbreeding with Welsh Ponies, Hackneys, and the Harness Show Pony.

Shetland pony with a long mane and forelock
Doubleclix / Shutterstock.com

Shetland Ponies Live Long Lives

Similar to the Haflinger and Fjord Pony breeds, Shetland Ponies are also famous for their long lifespan. Scientists believe this is due to more efficient regulation of the respiratory system during exercise and a denser bone structure. Ponies also live a generally “slower” life than horses, contributing to their higher life expectancy.

It’s typical for a Shetland Pony to live beyond its 30th birthday. The oldest pony on record was a 10 hand Shetland cross Exmoor gelding called Sugar Puff.

Included in our oldest horses in history guide, Sugar Puff lived to be 56 years old, approximately 145 in human years!!

Sugar Puff was owned by Sally Botting from West Sussex, England, since he was 29 years old. Sally’s daughter, Claire, even learned to ride on him!

He was a safe, reliable pony – we used to teach children to ride on him at school fetes. He was also an old hand at gymkhana and Pony Club,” she told Horse and Hound.

Riding Schools all over the world use Shetlands as their young riders’ first pony. Its small size and laid-back temperament make the breed ideal for introducing children to the world of horses. Although, you could argue that Shetland Ponies can be cheeky and stubborn, they are rarely dangerous.

Children as young as 2.5 years can ride ponies, according to the Shetland Pony Club in Surrey, England. By this age, most children have developed the core strength necessary to sit upright in the saddle and can start riding under careful supervision. Shetland Ponies can comfortably carry children up to 5′1″ (155 cm) tall and 105 pounds (47.6 kg).

Small young boy riding a Shetland Pony in a sand ménage
cynoclub / Shutterstock.com

However, Shetland Ponies are not exclusively for children. Adults can show them too at horse shows and driving competitions. Shetlands can also be trained for therapeutic riding and even as guide ponies!

Also Read: How much do Shetland Ponies cost?

There Are Shetland Pony Races

Who would’ve thought that Shetlands could turn into racehorses, too?! In the United Kingdom, the Shetland Pony Grand National is held at several major equestrian events each year.

The Shetland pony races always attract huge crowds and are the highlight of the Olympia Horse Show in London and the Liverpool International Horse Show, for example.

The young jockeys competing in the Shetland Pony Grand National must be between 8 and 14 years old and less than 5 ft (152.4 cm) tall. The Shetland Pony Grand National is the first step towards becoming a professional jockey for many children who make the team.

Seb Garner, who organizes pony races across the UK, told Pony Magazine that children train very hard before setting foot on the racetrack. They need to be experienced riders and demonstrate good control of their ponies before they can race.

The ponies really do go very fast so we need riders who have plenty of experience are used to riding at speed, jumping, and turning tight corners on small ponies!Seb Garner revealed in Pony Magazine.

The Shetland Pony Grand National organizes both jump and flat races for children. Moreover, Junior Harness Racing in Queensland, Australia, provides children aged 6-16 an opportunity to drive their Shetland Ponies under race conditions.

Watch these young riders race down the track on the Grand National below:

Karen

Thursday 28th of October 2021

although most of your facts are correct there are a few mistakes,they are not known as shetties, they may sometimes be called Shelties, there are 22,920 residents in the Shetland Islands, you will only find ponies roaming free in a few isles in shetland, we no longer use them as pack ponies and Shetland is not cold and windy all year round.

Henrietta Szathmary

Sunday 7th of November 2021

Hi Karen,

Thank you for your input. In some parts of the world, Shetland Ponies are called "Shetties" or "Shetty" in singular form, including where I live. If you google either word, you can see for yourself. We have updated the article with the rest of the information 😊

Diane Morgan

Wednesday 27th of October 2021

Great information...love the Shetlands

Leona Gear

Wednesday 27th of October 2021

There are 23k peoole in Shetland. There are around a 1000 ponies bred by around 150 pony breeders, or studs. Ponies do not outnumber shetland people. Leona Gear Owner of Hiorwick Shetland Pony Stud, Foula, Shetland Islands.

Henrietta Szathmary

Sunday 7th of November 2021

Hi Leona,

Thank you for the information, we have now updated the article.

Johan Henderson

Wednesday 27th of October 2021

Just been reading your blog re Shetland Ponies, not sure where you get your information from but currently the population of Shetland is approx 23,000.Regarding the number of ponies I cannot comment,could be right,also as far as Iam aware noone uses ponies for transporting peats or anything else. Before printing articles like this I suggest you do your research.

Henrietta Szathmary

Monday 1st of November 2021

Hi Johan,

Thank you for your feedback. As a matter of fact, this article has been well researched and these are the facts that we found. If you could please cite the sources of your information, then we can look into it and make corrections. Thanks!