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The Shetland Pony is one of the world’s strongest equines. They are also highly intelligent and capable of devotion. Humans equally bond and many have said it is impossible to outgrow their love of their childhood pony. Shetlands often live to 30 years and beyond.
The Shetland Pony likely came from Scandinavia as long as 10,000 years ago, prior to the recession of the ice fields, and the breed still possesses the large nasal cavities which allow air to warm before entering the lungs, a trait common in equines of northern latitudes.
On the Shetland Islands, north and east of Scotland, an inhospitable environment governed the character and smaller stature of the Shetland Pony. There are no trees and the land abounds with rock with thin and acid soil. There is only a little rough grass and stunted heather, but seaweed is mineral rich!
Since Shetlands are to be seen in old Stone Age cave paintings near the Biscayan coasts of France and Spain, perhaps since one of the earliest waves of human immigration into Britain came from this region, coasting along the Atlantic shore of France and up to the Irish Sea, it is a possibility that the Shetland represents the first equines to be brought to Britain by human agency. At least this pony could have fit into the boats!
Use of the equine in the Shetland Islands themselves was limited and the Shetland Pony did every kind of work on the Islands. Virtually roadless, with no point very far from the sea, the islands could for most purposes be best served by boat. But not for all: in a treeless land, the binging of turf for fuel down to the coastal settlements from the moors was an essential chores; so was the carrying up of seaweed from shore to the small enclosed fields for manure, and also the carrying of burned seaweed (kelp), the product of the islands primitive chemical industry. All this work was done with pannier on a wooden pack saddle.
The original Shetland Pony stood 9 hands (0.96m), four inches lower than the maximum height for inclusion in the Shetland Stud Book. Actually, the Pony is measured in inches rather than in hands. The average height is 40 inches (101cm), but the best in terms of conformation are usually 1-2 inches (2-5 cm) smaller.
In proportion to their size, the Shetland Pony is one of the world’s most powerful equines and can carry with equal ease the weight of heavy panniers or the weight of a man and with agility over rough country.
The head of the Shetland Pony is sensible and well shaped, with small, neat ears and a broad forehead. This pony is highly intelligent and capable of devotion. The neck is crested and strong and muscular in proportion to the size of the pony. The chest is broad between the forelegs, never narrow, and he shoulders are strong and well laid, not upright. The girth is one of great depth.
Black is the foundation color, but brown, chestnut and gray are common as well as skewbald and piebald. The coat changes according to the season, smooth in summer but a thick and wiry double coat in harsh winter weather. The mane and tail are very full and even more so in winter.
The body of the Shetland Pony is thickset, deep-ribbed and displays a short back with very muscular loins. The tail is well set on the broad quarters and the gaskins are well developed also. The limbs are short and set at each corner with large, defined joints and strong, flat bone. The hooves are hard, blue horse with pasterns that are sloped, not upright.
Shetland ponies are naturally hardy and constitutionally strong, often living to 30 or more years of age and move with a quick, free action, straight behind and in front, with a lift in the knee and hock joints, which is no doubt a long product of originally developing in rock strewn terrain.
The Shetland Pony was once in demand for pit work and was also often seen in public parks and private grounds. Today’s Shetland is a popular children’s mount and they go well in harness, hitches and competition for all ages of humans. There are very competitive shows in England for hitches and in hand classes. Their popularity is world renown and it is said that an adult can never outlive or outgrow their love of this pony!