Choosing a Shetland Pony

The Shetland pony has been known for years as Scotland's little giant. Diminutive in size, this pony has lots of character and spunk. Though commonly seen as a mount for small children, the Shetland is also a wonderful light draft horse, pulling carts and being driven in harness.

History and Origin

As the name implies, the Shetland pony hails from the Shetland Islands of Scotland. These remote islands are located in the far northeast of mainland Scotland. It is believed that the Shetland is one of the oldest known breeds, and the origins can be traced to the small pony stock found in Scandinavia, Iceland, Ireland and Wales.

Centuries ago, Scottish land owners were looking to develop a small pony with the strength necessary to pull carts over rough terrain. Eventually, the diminutive, hardy and strong Shetland pony was developed. In the 18th century, these ponies were bred in large numbers on the island and very few were exported. In fact, the breed was virtually unknown outside of northeastern Scotland. This continued until the mid 19th century.

During the nineteenth century, children had been employed by the coal mines to pull coal tubs. Since the mine shafts were small, the children could pull the tubs much easier than adults could. But in 1847, an act of parliament prohibited children from working in the coal mines, and coal miners began looking for alternative methods to pull the tubs.

This one act of parliament thrust the Shetland into great popularity. Suddenly there was a great demand for Shetland ponies, and they were exported all over Europe and to the United States. By the 1850s, a Shetland pony could bring a lot of money. This led to indiscriminate breeding and the quality of the ponies began to deteriorate.

By the late 1800s, the first Shetland pony stud book was developed. Despite the efforts of reputable breeders, the gene pool was narrowing. Stallions and male colts were the most popular export for work. This lack of males threatened to continue the deterioration of the breed. Another cause for concern was that in the Shetland Islands, grazing ground was considered common. Ponies were allowed to graze together and indiscriminate and haphazard mating occurred.

In an attempt to promote and improve the Shetland pony breed, the Department of Agriculture in Scotland passed the Crofters Act in 1955. This act regulated the use of grazing land and allowed only registered and approved stallions to run on the common land.

Additionally, even to this day, selected stallions are sent to the island for a breeding season to help improve the quality of the breed. As time passes, more and more excellent stallions are owned by breeders on the islands, resulting in fewer horses being imported.


The most striking aspect of the horse's appearance is his small size. Standing a maximum of 10 hands, the Shetland may be the smallest of all pony breeds, but is also one of the strongest horses in relation to size.

The Shetland has a small but well carried head with a broad forehead. The eyes are dark and intelligent and the ears are small and erect. The muzzle is broad and the nostrils wide open. This pony has a strong deep body with a short back. The loins are muscular and the hindquarters broad and strong. The feet of the Shetland are round, tough and well shaped.

The coat of the Shetland is available in a variety of colors, except spotted. In winter, the pony grows a double coat to protect the skin from the weather. Regardless of time of the year, the mane and tail are full.


Even though the Shetland pony is well adapted to living a life on a remote island with a harsh northern climate, this pony is inherently kind and gentle. His small size and gentle disposition have led him to be a popular first mount for children.

Unfortunately, the small size and cuteness of the Shetland results in some people spoiling them. Intelligent and strong willed, the Shetland will readily take advantage of this situation, leading to a reputation of being rebellious and often misbehaving. However, the pony is no more rebellious than any other spoiled horse and if trained correctly, is a wonderful horse.

Abilities and Aptitudes

The Shetland pony is an excellent riding pony for children as well as a strong and hardy light draft horse. Known for a long life span with sound feet and legs, the Shetland can carry half his weight for many miles without adverse effects.