In many parts of the world, horses have been an integral part of life for centuries. With the advent of cars, trains, and other forms of transportation, horses have become less of a fixture but still remain important to many. There are numerous horse breeds around the world but one such breed is the Shetland Pony! Many might Shetland ponies from the ‘Dance Pony Dance’ commercial but these ponies have been around and loved for centuries.
Unlike other horses, Shetland ponies are measured in inches and not hands. Hands are, if you’re curious, a type of measurement used to know a horse’s height from the hoof to the shoulder and one hand is 4 inches/10 centimeters. While other horses are measured in hands, Shetland ponies are, as mentioned, measured in inches. Most registered Shetland ponies are a maximum of 42 inches but the American Shetland Pony Club allows for ponies in the US to be a max of 46 inches. The weight of a Shetland pony depends on its height but generally, most ponies will weigh 400-450 pounds.
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 Shetland Islands 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’re able to outwork many horses twice their size and can often pull twice their own body weight. 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.
Shetland ponies have all sorts of colors for their coats and some even have pinto combinations (large patches of white and any other colors). Their coats are often comprised of coarse, outer hair and a silky soft undercoat. Shetlands are also usually the first to grow their very thick, soft winter coats each year and the last to lose those coats each spring.
Like any animal, Shetland ponies require plenty of care and lots of space. 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. Additional care includes worming twice a year and having a farrier care for their hooves every 6-8 weeks. These ponies also tend to have a long lifespan, as they will often live 20-35 years, and there’s even one claim that the world’s oldest pony was a Shetland named Twiglet that lived to be 50 years old! On the Shetland Islands, these ponies are allowed to seemingly roam wild but they’re all owned and cared for by local farmers.
Nowadays, Shetland ponies still live in the Shetland Islands but also call other places around the world home! If you’re planning a trip to the Shetland Islands, there is a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with Shetlands. The Shetland Pony Experience, for example, is a hands-on, picturesque experience for adults and children alike, making it great for families!
If you’re thinking about getting a Shetland Pony, there are plenty of things to consider. Do you have space (ie a large pasture) and the time? Do you have other farm animals? Like other animals, ponies and horses aren’t something you should get on a whim. But for children wanting to learn to ride and care for animals, Shetlands can be really great!