The Shetland is a breed of pony that is found worldwide but originated from the Shetland Isles, northeast of Scotland. The breed is believed to be developed on the islands by settlers who crossbred the native horses with ponies imported by the Norse. In addition, it is also believed the Celtic Pony also had influence to the Shetland between 2000 and 1000 BC.
The harsh climate of the islands developed the Shetland into a tough breed and were first used for pulling carts which carried peat, coal and other items as well as plowing farmland. In the 1800s, thousands of Shetlands were exported to the mainland for use as pit ponies for the coal industry, working underground in the mines. The United States also imported Shetlands for use in coal mines until the last one closed in 1971.
Today, Shetlands are used for children and small adults to ride as well as show and harness. They are also used in riding schools, fairs, carnivals and petting zoos. Miniature Shetland ponies are sometimes used to replace guide dogs for the seeing impaired.
The Shetland has a small head with wide-spaced eyes and small ears. The neck is short but muscular. The body is stocky and short with a short broad back and strong legs. The mane and tail are thick and in the winter the coat is dense to provide protection from the harsh weather conditions. The height of the Shetland can range from 28 and 46 inches and can be almost any color — most commonly black, chestnut, bay, gray, palomino, dun, roan, cremello, or silver.
The disposition of the Shetland is gentle, mild tempered and intelligent. They are also a brave breed sometimes being impatient and uncooperative, but if properly trained can be an ideal companion and easily spoiled.
The Shetland is considered the strongest of any pony breed, can pull twice their weight and can carry as much as 130 pounds. They have a long lifespan, living for 30 years or more with proper nutrition.
The American Shetland often have a longer neck, a more refined body and are all under 42 inches in height. The are used in show jumping, harness racing and other events.
Image Caption: American Shetland Pony. Credit: Firesongponies/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)