Believed to be one of the smallest and oldest ponies in existence, the Shetland is an equine of true antiquity with some records indicating an origin of 2,000 years. Hailing from the rugged and isolated hills of the Shetland Isles, the breed has evolved its hardiness and forbearance from existing so long on the bleak and changeable landscape.
It is unclear exactly which horses contributed to the development of the Shetland Pony, although there is evidence to suggest that Norse settlers brought their own horses with them to the British Isles, which went on to breed with native stock.
Because of the Shetland’s unrivalled strength and dexterity, it has been utilised in a number of ways over its history, from ploughing the land to transportation. During the 19th century when children were no longer permitted in the coal pits, small ponies became a popular solution to the lack of workforce.
Today, Shetlands are observed at horse shows, carnivals and at seaside resorts for young children to ride. Its common uses are driving and light draught work, as well as showing, therapeutic horseback riding and pleasure riding. The breed is observed in all colours, from solid bays, chestnuts, blacks and roans to piebald and skewbald varieties.
Fossil excavations on the Shetland Isles have found small horse remains dating as far back as the Bronze Age, suggesting a much earlier history for the breed.