Shetland Ponies are quite distinctive and are thought to have lived in Shetland since the bronze age. Later breeders crossed the native ponies with ponies imported by Norse invaders. The islanders domesticated the resulting Shetland Ponies.
The harsh climate of Shetland, and scarce food (Shetland Ponies thrive on a diet of heather) have made Shetland Ponies extremely hardy. Unlike most other ponies and horses, they can remain outdoors during winter. Shetland Ponies are resilient and very strong for their size and also especially long-lived. Shetland Ponies are generally gentle and good-tempered (but they can nip), and very intelligent by nature.
In Shetland, the ponies were used for carrying peat and ploughing. However, in 1842, when the Mines Act prohibited women and children from working in Britain’s coal mines, ponies were ideal substitutes as they could pass through low underground tunnels hauling truckloads of coal. Ponies were exported from the islands and would continue to serve in the mines of Britain and the United States for at least eighty years, and many Shetland Pony dealers became very rich!
However, with the export of Shetland Ponies, the number and quality of stallions in Shetland was greatly reduced. The Shetland Pony Stud Book Society was set up in 1890 to maintain purity and encourage high-quality animals.
Today, Shetland Ponies are used as children’s ponies. There is also a Shetland Pony Grand National, where Shetland Ponies gallop around a course with their young jockeys.
As you travel through Shetland, you will see lots of ponies grazing by the roadside or on the heathery hills, appearing to roam wild. These apparently wild ponies are all owned by local crofters. Ponies can be seen in the West Mainland, Tingwall, Dunrossness and the island of Unst. Shetland Pony breeder farms are called studs – some tour group of Shetland include a visit to Shetland Pony studs, where you can get up close and personal with the ponies.
Shetland Ponies have become some what of an icon recently following the recent advert by Three that sees the Pony Dance. If you want to make a Shetland Pony Dance to your own tune you can use the Pony Mixer provided by Three.