Shetland Horse

Origin: Northern Scotland — Shetland and Orkney Islands.

Height: Average 9.3hh, should not exceed 10.2. The smallest recorded specimen was 6.2hh (26in).

Color: Any, including piebald, skewbald, and dun. Black and dark brown are the most common.

Character: Very gentle disposition, with great courage and character

Easy to train, sure-footed, and adaptable, it makes an ideal first pony for a child and is also excellent for driving and light carting.

Physique: For its size considered the strongest of all breeds, capable of pulling twice its weight (twice the power of most heavy horses). Headsmall and sometimes with a concave face. Eyes large and kind, ears small, muzzle small with open nostrils. Abundant mane, with thick tail often long enough to sweep the ground. Very heavy winter coat, summer coat fine and sleek. Back short, strong, and deep through the girth. Legs very hard, with short cannon bones and small feet, and straight, light action.

The Shetland is an ancient breed. The earliest remains found on Shetland Island are dated about 500 BC when the pony was domesticated. The breed has remained unchanged apart from some cross-breeding with the now-extinct, small, black Lofoten pony of Norway, which was brought to the Shetlands by Norse settlers about 1,000 years ago and was also adapted to island life. It is extremely hardy, having bred for millennia in acold, exposed land with no trees and very little shelter. It is used by the Shetland islanders for all working purposes and in the mid-19th century was much in demand as a pit pony to work in the coal mines of northern England.

The Shetland’s strength is legendary. A nine-hand Shetland is recorded(1820) as having carried a 170-lb man 40 miles in one day. The ReverendJohn Brand, writing in 1701, was also impressed with the Shetland’sstrength:

Some are not so high as others prove to be the strongest, yea there are some, whom an able man can lift in his arms, yet will they carry him and the woman behind him eight miles forward and as many back.

Theories about the origins of the Shetland conflict, one authority claiming that it came down from the Tundra during the Ice Age, crossing the frozen Norwegian Sea before the retreat of the ice fields from the British Isles; that the island isolation and inbreeding of the following millennia caused the pony’s size to be reduced from an original height of around 13.2hh.Another theory is based on recognizable “Shetlands” which appear in Old Stone Age paintings in the caves of the Dordogne and Altamira.

It proposes that Shetlands may have been the first equines brought to Britain by the human agency since one of the earliest waves of human immigrants came to Britain from the Biscay area, and suggests that Shetlands were probably a dwarf variety, split off from the main body of ponies of Exmoor type. This second theory seems the more acceptable since ponies would have had a hard time of it on the Tundra during the Ice Age and it seems more probable that a northward rather than a southward move into the tough conditions of the Shetland Islands would have stunted the ponies’ size.

See more: Shagya Arab Horse


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