The Shetland pony is a breed of pony originating in the Shetland Isles. Shetlands range in size from a
minimum height of approximately 28 inches (7.0 hands; 71 cm) to an official maximum height of 42 inches
Registered stock must not exceed 42 inches (107 cm) 10.2 hands (42 inches, 107 cm) at the withers. Shetland
ponies have heavy coats, short legs and are considered quite intelligent. They are a very strong breed of
pony, used for riding, driving, and pack purposes.
Shetland Ponies are hardy and strong, in part because the breed developed in the harsh conditions of the
Shetland Isles. In appearance, Shetlands have small heads, sometimes with dished faces, widely spaced eyes
and small and alert ears. The original breed has a short, muscular neck; a compact, stocky body; short,
strong legs; and a shorter-than-normal cannon bone in relation to its size. A short broad back and deep
girth are universal characteristics, as is a springy stride. Shetlands have long thick manes and tails and
dense double winter coats to withstand harsh weather. Different breed registries have different height
standards, but the outside ranges are between 7 and 11.2 hands (28 and 46 inches, 71 and 117 cm)
Shetlands can be almost every colour, including skewbald and piebald (called pinto in the United States),
but are mainly black, chestnut, bay, grey, palomino, dun, roan, cremello, and silver dapple. Registered
shetlands are not leopard spotted (Appaloosa), nor do they carry the champagne gene, though these colours
are sometimes seen in Shetland-sized crossbreds.
Shetland ponies are generally gentle, good-tempered, and very intelligent by nature. They make good
children's ponies, and are sometimes noted for having a "brave" character. They can be very opinionated or
"cheeky", and can be impatient, snappy, and sometimes become uncooperative. Due in part to their
intelligence and size, they are easily spoiled and can be very headstrong if not well-trained.
For its size, the Shetland is the strongest of all horse and pony breeds. It can pull twice its own weight
under circumstances where a draft horse can only pull approximately half its own weight, as well as many
being able to carry up to 9 stone 130 pounds (59 kg). Shetland ponies are found worldwide, though mainly
in the UK and North America. In general, UK ponies tend to preserve more of the original characteristics of
the breed and are often stockier than their American cousins.
Many ponies are long-lived; it is not unusual for a Shetland pony to live more than 30 years. Conversely,
their small size also predisposes some individuals to a greater probability of heart problems than in larger
animals, on occasion leading to early death. Shetland ponies, like many hardy small horse and pony breeds,
can easily develop laminitis if on a diet high in non-structural carbohydrates. Therefore, owners must pay
careful attention to nutrition, being careful to regulate feed quantity and type.
Shetland ponies originated in the Shetland Isles, located northeast of mainland Scotland. Small horses have
been kept on the Shetland Isles since the Bronze Age. 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, carrying peat, coal and other items, and plowing farm
land. Then, as the Industrial Revolution increased the need for coal in the mid-19th century, thousands of
Shetland ponies traveled 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.
The Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society of the United Kingdom was started in 1890 to maintain purity and
encourage high-quality animals. In 1957, the Shetland Islands Premium Stallion Scheme was formed to
subsidize high-quality registered stallions to improve the breeding stock.