People who lived on the islands probably later crossed the native stock with ponies imported by Norse settlers. Shetland ponies also were probably influenced by the Celtic pony, brought to the islands by settlers between 2000 and 1000 BCE.
The harsh climate and scarce food developed the ponies into extremely hardy animals. Shetland ponies were first used for pulling carts and for carrying peat, coal and other items, and sloughing land.
Then, as the Industrial Revolution increased the need for coal in the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of Shetland ponies travelled to mainland Britain to be pit ponies, working underground hauling coal, often for their entire (often short) lives. Coal mines in the eastern United States also imported some of these animals.
The last pony mine in the United States closed in 1971. It was started in 1890 to maintain purity and encourage high-quality animals.
In 1957, the ShetlandIslands Premium Stallion Scheme was formed to subsidize high-quality registered stallions to improve the breeding stock. A short broad back and deep girth are universal characteristics, as is a springy stride.
It has a long thick mane and tail, and a dense double winter coat to withstand harsh weather. It may be of any known horse coat color other than spotted.
It is not unusual for a Shetland pony to live more than 30 years. Shetland pony “Grand National” in the Today, Shetlands are ridden by children and are shown by both children and adults at horse shows in harness driving classes as well as for pleasure driving outside the show ring.
Shetlands are ridden by small children at horse shows, in riding schools and stables as well as for pleasure. They are seen working in commercial settings such as fairs or carnivals to provide short rides for visitors.
They are also seen at petting zoos and sometimes are used for therapeutic horseback riding purposes. Junior Harness Racing was founded in Queensland by a group of breeders to give young people aged 6–16 an opportunity to obtain a practical introduction to the harness racing industry.
The children have the opportunity to drive Shetland ponies in harness under race conditions. No prize money is payable on pony races, although winners and place-getters receive medallions.
^ The Last Pony Mine, a documentary film, Les Benedict, director, Steve Knudsen, producer, 1972. Shetland Pony Stud Book Society.
^ Elise Rousseau, Yann Le Boris, Teresa Lavender Pagan (2017). Appearing to roam wild across Shetland, the ponies are, in fact, all owned and tended to by local crofters.
During August, the local agricultural shows take place, providing excellent opportunities for visitors to see these wonderful ponies in action. Hardy, resilient and very strong for their size, the ponies could pass through low underground tunnels hauling truckloads of coal.
The export of ponies had greatly reduced the number and quality of stallions in Shetland, threatening future breeding patterns. As a result, the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society was established in 1890 to ensure that purity of the breed was retained.
Named for the islands they have lived for centuries, Shetland ponies are hardy animals that are able to work hard and thrive even in the most difficult conditions. The ShetlandIslands are a large group of nearly 100 islands at the northernmost part of the British Isles (just north of Scotland) but less than 20 are actually inhabited by people.
The Shetland islands are small and close to the sea, which means that during the worst winters, there can be issues for Shetland ponies finding food. Despite the fact that most people (other than some children) aren’t able to ride these ponies, Shetland ponies are hardy and fiercely intelligent animals.
They’ve been used as workhorses by helping to cultivate the land and carry various items over distances. In the mid 19th century, a new law (the Mines Act of 1842) banned children and women from entering coal pits and many turned to Shetland ponies for the work.
Their coats are often comprised of coarse, outer hair and a silky soft undercoat. In addition to clean water and a rock salt block, they need a pasture with plenty of grass and added hay in the winter months.
On the ShetlandIslands, these ponies are allowed to seemingly roam wild, but they’re all owned and cared for by local farmers. They are able to live happily outdoors all year-round, and they prefer the rough grazing which dominates the landscape. Adapting to the harsh climate in several ways, they are small and stout, ranging between 28 and 42 inches, they also have large feet, perfect for negotiating boggy ground, and a double-layered coat of hair ensures they are entirely waterproof, warm and dry in winter.
Hilbert’s description of the winter coat and their sometimes scruffy outward appearance is worth noting. He says that “the long shaggy hair with which he is clothed, has more the appearance of a Polar dress, or of some Arctic livery, specially dispensed to the quadruped of Headland ” He also describes the mane as one that “no comb was applied” and “it was left to nature’s care, ‘ruffled at speed, and dance’d in every wind”.
In the days before our road network, ponies provided good transport overland where a boat couldn’t be used. Black, male Shetland ponies were the ideal ‘small-horse’ for the job as they were very strong, capable of carrying twice their own weight and able to fit into narrow, dark and dusty mine-shafts.
George Low (visiting Shetland in 1774) described them as being “excellent work beasts, capable of enduring much fatigue”. Over the years, thousands of ponies were sent to the mines throughout Britain and America, working underground, hauling carts.
Doctors who travelled with the Dutch fleets encouraged this type of activity for the men who went ashore after months at sea. One incident tells of a tragic accident when one of the ponies failed to stop whilst racing up to the Knob in Berwick.
The Shetland Pony Stud Book Society was formed in 1890 with an aim of ensuring purity and retaining a high-quality animal. Loss (an island off Shetland ’s east coast, at the back of Br essay) was a large pony breeding stud in the 19th century.
Foals are born in May and can be sold at six months old when pony sales are held in October. There is very little money in keeping ponies generally, but some are used as attractions for visitors to see and that helps pay for some of their annual upkeep.
But, most of all, they are kept out of love for the breed and the desire to maintain the lineage bred from Jack of Loss. Despite their small stature and unassuming nature, these small native ponies remain one of the most easily recognizable, iconic creatures, readily associated with Shetland. They want to taste the salt on their faces, smell the sea and bear witness to the wind in their hair.
From archaeological finds dating back to the Bronze Age it is believed Shetland ponies have been in domestic use since that time. The smallest ponies thrived best in Shetland ’s harsh winters, when there was very little to eat, and this natural selection process has resulted in the famous diminutive size and hardiness of the species we see today.
It is legendary that Shetland ponies ate seaweed along the shore and this still happens, albeit to augment their diet, not to ensure survival. Photo: Kim Kendall Shetland ponies kept on the croft were used for pulling plows, carrying peat down from the hill and also as a means of transport.
A Shetland pony can pull twice its own body weight, so they were in great demand, especially the stronger males over four years old. The ShetlandIslands, lying off the northern coast of Scotland, are mostly barren and have a harsh climate.
For many centuries the Shetland Pony lived in the open, protected from the elements only by this thick hair, long mane, and forelocks. The pony carried peat down from the bogs to the cottages for use as fuel.
The Shetland is probably the strongest equine relative to its size, yet even the stallions are gentle and docile. The body of the British Shetland is full of short, muscular legs.
Shetlands are now mostly pets, but compete in weight-pulling events, are shown in halter classes, and put to small vehicles for driving. The Shetland Pony’s ultimate origin goes back to Equips, larger than the modern breed, which lived in the ShetlandIslands as early as the Bronze Age.
The Shetland Pony is recognized as the strongest Equip relative to size in existence. Many Shetlands were subsequently exported to America to work in coal mines.