Shetland Pony: Facts, Lifespan, Behavior & Care Guide

A Shetland pony or a mix of Shetlands is strong enough for kids to ride and kind enough to be a pet. Shetlands are small, but they are strong, smart, kind, and a little bit sneaky. You can’t deny that they are cute, but don’t let that fool you. These little ponies are tough and can do more work than the biggest draft horse.

Breed Overview

  • WEIGHT: 400–450 lbs.
  • HEIGHT: 7 hands (28 inches) to 11 hands (44 inches), or up to 11.5 hands (46 inches) for American Shetlands.
  • BODY TYPE: Small, with a wide head, thick neck, short legs, and a long, thick mane and tail.
  • BEST FOR: Owners and riders of all skill levels, including kids
  • EXPECTED LIFESPAN: 30 years or more


The Shetland Pony was born on the Shetland Isles, which are 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Scotland. This was about 4,000 years ago, but the Shetland Pony Breed Association was not formed until 1890. They are one of the strongest breeds for their size, able to pull up to twice their own weight and carry up to half their own weight.

They are very popular in Europe as children's horses, driving ponies, companions, and sometimes as service ponies. Their offspring, the German Classic Pony and the American Shetland, are also very popular in Germany and North America, respectively.

Shetland Pony

Quick Facts about Shetland Ponies

Species Name:Equus ferus caballus
Care Level:Easy to average; requires the same basic care as other pony breeds.
Temperament:Intelligent; Willing; Courageous
Color Form:All colors except Appaloosa-like spotting.
Lifespan:Average lifespan of 20-30 years; some live into their late 30s and early 40s. The oldest known Shetland, Twiglet, was approximately 50 when he died.
Size:Height: 28” to 42” tall. Weight: approx. 300 to 500 lbs.
Diet:Mostly forage [grass, hay, sometimes seaweed]; water; minerals; grain or supplements only if/as needed
Enclosure Size:Minimum – 300ft² in “dry” lots, or 1/2 to 2-1/2 acres of pasture [depending on climate/grass quality]; Maximum – as much space as can be provided.

Shetland Pony Overview

There are many theories about where and how the Shetland Pony got to the Shetland Isles, but no one knows for sure where it came from.

The one that is currently most accepted by the Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society is that they came from a cross between the now-extinct "Tundra Pony" type that lived in northeastern Siberia and the now-extinct "Mountain Pony" type that lived in southern Europe. They then traveled through Scandinavia to the Shetland Isles area when land bridges still existed.

This Tundra-Mountain cross was later affected by the arrival of the Celtic Pony, which was a cross between a Mountain pony and a "Oriental" pony and may have come from stock brought by the Vikings when they took over the Isles in the 8th and 9th centuries.

No matter how the Shetland's ancestors got to the Shetland Isles, only those that were small and hardy enough to survive the sparse grass and harsh weather were able to survive and breed, giving rise to the current breed.


Local crofters and fishermen have used the ponies for hundreds of years to help farm the land, carry peat (a fossil fuel found in bogs), seaweed, coal, and other supplies in pack-bags called kishies that were loaded on wooden pack-frames called klibbers, and make fishing lines and nets out of the hair on their tails.

Several mine reform bills were passed in the UK in the middle of the 1800s. This led to a sudden increase in the export of Shetland Ponies from the Isles to take the place of children who used to pack coal out of the mines. Most of the ponies were geldings, but a large number of the best stallions were also exported.

This hurt the quality of the animals that were still being raised in the Shetland Isles, so many breeding farms, or "studs," were set up to fix the problem. The animals were made with a focus on how well they would do in the "pits." In 1890, the people who owned these studs got together and made the Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society.

Shetland Ponies aren't used as much for mining and light farm work as they used to be, but their popularity hasn't dropped like it has with other, bigger draft breeds. Most of the time, they are used as mounts for children and as driving ponies, both for competition and for fun.

How Much Do Shetland Ponies Cost?

There are many things that affect how much a Shetland pony costs to buy, such as its age, conformation, bloodlines, and showing records. Most of the time, this will be between $500 and $3,000. Stallions and performance horses may sell for more than $5,000, though.

Other costs to think about are:
  • Veterinary work,
  • Routine vaccinations and dental care or emergencies
  • Every four to eight weeks, a farrier stops by.
  • Every day, hunt and feed
  • If you don't keep your pony on your own land, you may have to pay boarding fees.
It's hard to say how much these monthly and yearly pony maintenance costs will be because they vary so much from place to place. However, they will usually be less than those of a full-sized riding horse.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

When properly trained, Shetland Ponies are calm and willing, but their intelligence and general lack of fear can make them opinionated, stubborn, and naughty if they are not. But each one will have its own character. Some are better for children to ride, while others do better as driving ponies when an adult is in charge. People say that they can "hold their own" with much bigger ponies.

Appearance & Varieties

Miniature Shetland Ponies are between 28" and 34", while Standard-sized Shetland Ponies are between 35" and 42". Their minimum height is 28", and they can't be shorter than 28" or taller than 43". Most show animals are about 32" tall right now. The lines that are bred for draft or driving tend to have heavier bones than the lines that are bred for riding. However, both types are still Shetland Ponies.

No matter if it is a Miniature or a Standard, the Shetland Pony must have the same general proportions as described in the Shetland Stud-Book:
  • Solid, strong pony with a small to medium-sized head that is the right size.
  • Shoulder that slopes
  • Deep chest and "well-sprung ribs."
  • Muscular build
  • Weak, short legs.
  • Its hooves are supposed to be strong and well-shaped. They were made that way because it has to walk over rough terrain every day in the Shetland Isles.
They can be any color except for spotted like an Appaloosa. Black, chestnut, grey, and bay are the most common colors. They can also have colors like palomino, buckskin, dun, roan, cremello, and mushroom.

Markings that look like pintos are also okay. If they are black and white, they are called Piebald, and if they are most other colors and white, they are called Skewbald.

How to Take Care of Shetland Ponies


The UK's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says that ponies kept on pasture need anywhere from 0.2 to 1.0 hectares (0.5 to 2.5 acres) of grazing per animal if they don't get any other food. However, grazing areas that are only used for turnout can be smaller. Temporary cross-fencing can also be used to divide the large field into smaller sections so that the animals can graze in different places each time.

The fence should be at least 1 meter (3'3") high, and the Shetland Ponies should have some way to block the sun and wind. This could be in the form of trees or hedges, field shelters, or a stable, depending on how you want to manage them.

Ponies shouldn't be kept near Black Walnut trees, which are dangerous. Even though maple trees can be dangerous to horses in other places, the only native U.K. species, the Field Maple (Acer campestre), is not considered to be dangerous to horses. If your pony lives on a property with any imported species, you should be aware of this.

Shetland ponies should have stalls that are at least 3.05m x 3.05m (10' x 10') in size.


Shetland Ponies don't need bedding if they are kept in pastures or paddocks with good drainage. If drainage is a problem, put hay, straw, or wood shavings on the dry ground in problem areas before it rains and those areas are likely to get muddy.

Because these materials are good insulators and can soak up water, the ground can thaw in the spring and early rainwater can be soaked up instead of making puddles. If the bedding is put on top of mud, this won't work. The soft ground will just swallow up the bedding instead of making a nice, dry area.

Make sure that the straw used to bed stalls or make dry spots in turnout is clean and has no hair on it. If wood shavings are used, make sure that they come from non-toxic wood species. You should stay away from anything made of Black Walnut wood because it can kill horses.


The Shetland Isles are very windy and harsh, with winter temperatures just above freezing. However, the ponies do well there because they have thick double coats and thick manes and tails. The guard hairs on the outside of their coat shed water, which helps them stay warm and dry. The rough, hilly areas and peat banks of the scattalds, which are common grazing areas, help them find shelter from the wind.

Do Shetland Ponies Get Along with Other Pets?

Shetland Ponies should usually be kept with other horses that are about the same size. This is because they are herd animals. You can keep them with bigger horses, but because they are smaller, they might get kicked in more dangerous places, like the head or neck. When horses live together, they shouldn't wear metal shoes on their back feet.

If you can't keep them with or near another pony or horse, you should think about getting them a different pet. Goats, sheep, small cattle, or donkeys are some alternative species that could be used as herd mates. Every horse is different, so these species may or may not get along with them.

Dogs can also be a good choice, as long as they are taught not to chase the ponies or bite them. They can also be good riding partners on trails.

What to Feed Your Shetland Pony

People often say that Shetland ponies are "easy to keep." They have a very high feed conversion rate because they have lived for hundreds of years on the poor grazing of the scattalds, which are mostly heather moorland, and on seaweed found on beaches, which is a natural source of minerals that the grasses didn't have.

Most of the time, all they need is a diet that is mostly grass hay (about 1 to 1.75 pounds of moderate-quality grass hay per 100 pounds of body weight) and a ration-balancer or mineral supplement. They shouldn't get much or any grain because the high carbohydrate content of concentrates and richer types of grass or hay can make them gain weight quickly.

Make sure your Shetland pony always has access to fresh, clean water.

Keeping Your Shetland Pony Healthy

The health problems that come from Shetland ponies being too fat are a big cause for concern. Researchers in Australia found that, of all the pony and horse breeds they looked at, Shetlands were the most likely to be overweight.

When horses are overweight, they have a higher chance of getting laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, joint and tendon problems, and heart stress.

Other than that, Shetland ponies are very tough. They should be brushed out before being ridden to keep sweat and dirt from getting between the saddle pad and their fur, which can cause saddle sores, and again in the spring to help them shed.

Every year or every other year, you should take your pet to the vet for vaccinations, a dental checkup (which may or may not involve floating their teeth), and parasite control in the form of a feces egg count and targeted deworming.

Their hooves should be picked out regularly, and farrier appointments should be set up on a regular basis to keep their feet in good shape, whether they have shoes on or not.


The Shetland Islands Premium Stallion Scheme was put into place in 1956. Because the Department of Agriculture gives high-quality registered stallions to seven of the most common grazing scattalds, this Scheme lets breeders know who the father of their foals is.

In 1983, the Premium Filly and Colt Scheme was put in place to help breeders keep their best foals so they can be used for breeding in the future.

In May, mares are moved from their owners' arable in-by land to the scattalds, where they give birth to their foals and run with the registered stallion until September. This lets the foals be born into a natural herd environment and the mares breed in a natural herd environment. Few, if any, people are involved in the process.

Are Shetland Ponies Suitable For You?

The Shetland pony could be a good choice for a child's horse, a driving or light draft animal, a pack animal, or even a friend. It is usually friendly and willing, and its small size and overall toughness make it a good choice for many different people and situations.

There are probably around 100,000 Shetland ponies in the world, so you should be able to find one that fits your needs.

Before deciding which Shetland pony to buy, you should always think about meeting with more than one breeder or seller. Don't forget to bring a friend or horse expert with you, like your trainer, if you're not sure what you're doing when you want to buy a horse.
Princy Hoang
See more articles in this category: Horses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *