The Shetland Pony


It is believed that the Shetland has its origin in the Cob type of Tundra and the Mountain Pony type from Southern Europe which migrated via the ice fields and land masses, with later introduction of a pony brought to the islands by the Celtic people which had evolved from crossing the same Mountain Pony type with the Oriental horse.

Owing to its island existence the pony has evolved with relatively few importations and those that did arrive were by necessity small owing to the difficulties of transportation by sea. Two significant types established themselves within the breed, the heavier boned animal with a longer head and the lighter one with high tail carriage and small pretty head, and these have remained distinct characteristics which has stood the pony in very good stead for its changing roles in the service of mankind.

Today the Shetland pony no longer has the hard-working life of its ancestors, as nowadays the main employment is for a child’s riding pony or for carriage driving, and it is hugely popular world-wide.

The two types established within the breed from the ponies origins and which retain distinct characteristics today make it highly suitable for either function, the heavier boned draught animal with powerful chest and shoulders for driving and the lighter free moving pony with high tail carriage and pretty head for riding.

Their temperament is superb for both riding and driving but it is essential that even though they are small they are broken in exactly the same way as for larger equines, being long reined, mouthed and backed. Their docile nature is ideal for a child’s first pony and they can hold their own amongst much larger ponies. They are driving ponies par excellence given their high intelligence and courageous disposition and for their size they are the strongest of all the horse breeds.

The height limit for adult ponies is 42 inches, ponies over 34 inches are standard and ponies 34 and under are known as miniatures.

Both should have the same characteristics and comply with the breed standard on all points. Ponies as small as 26 inches have been recorded centuries ago in the islands which were just as hardy and thrifty as their larger relations but breeders are not encouraged to breed too small and the popular height for miniatures in the show ring is around 32 inches.

Shetland ponies may be any colour known in horses except spotted. A double coat in winter with guard hairs which shed the rain and keep the pony’s skin completely dry in the worst of the weather and, in summer a short coat which should carry a beautiful silky sheen. At all times the mane and tail hair should be long, straight and profuse.

The head should be small, and in proportion. Ears should be small and erect, wide set but pointing well forward. Forehead should be broad with bold, dark, intelligent eyes. Muzzle must be broad with nostrils wide and open. Teeth and jaw must be correct.

The neck should be properly set onto the shoulder, which in turn should be sloping, not upright, and end in a well defined wither. The body should be strong, with plenty of heart room, well sprung ribs, the loin strong and muscular. The quarters should be broad and long with the tail set well up on them.

Their forelegs should have good, flat bone, strong forearm, short balanced cannon bone and springy pasterns. The thighs of the hind legs should be strong and muscular with well-shaped strong hocks. When viewed from behind, the hind legs should not be set too widely apart, nor should the hocks be turned in. The feet need to be tough, round and well shaped. Action should be straight and free, using every joint and tracking up well.

A most salient and essential feature of the Shetland pony is its general air of vitality (presence), stamina and robustness.

Further information can be obtained from the UK Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society at