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Shetland Pony Facts: Height, Colors, and History

Last updated: February 17, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

My friend has a ranch with horses and ponies. His kids’ favorite is a Shetland pony, retired from working in traveling shows, who’s always eager to go on any adventure; however, my Shetland is stubborn and doesn’t like leaving the pasture at all. The differences between these two made me wonder which one of our Shetland ponies is more common.

Shetland Ponies are a small but mighty equine breed that has been captivating people for centuries. These ponies are known for their hardiness, intelligence, and versatility, making them popular for various uses, from children’s rides to pulling carts. They are easily recognizable by their small size and unique color patterns.

This article will explore the facts about Shetland Ponies, including their average height, the range of colors they can come in, and their rich history. Whether you are a horse enthusiast or just curious about these adorable ponies, you will surely learn something new about Shetland Ponies.

10 Facts about Shetland Ponies

  1. Shetland Ponies are a small horse breed, typically standing between 9 and 10.2 hands high at the withers (the highest point of the shoulder blades).
  2. They originated in the Shetland Islands of Scotland and have been used for centuries as workhorses on the islands.
  3. Shetland Ponies worked in coal mines. They were used to haul coal carts through narrow mineshafts, as they were small enough to navigate the tight spaces.
  4. Shetland ponies are good swimmers.
  5. Shetland Ponies have a thick, double coat to keep them warm in the harsh Shetland climate.
  6. They are known for their hardiness and ability to survive in rugged conditions.
  7. Shetland Ponies come in many colors, including black, bay, chestnut, palomino, and silver dapple.
  8. They are known for their calm and docile temperament, making them popular with children.
  9. Shetland Ponies were exported to the mainland UK in large numbers during the 19th century and to other countries, including USA and Canada.
  10. The Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society, established in 1890, is the oldest pony registry in the world.
Picture of a shetland pony grazing.
Shetland ponies grazing

Shetland Pony history

The Shetland Pony is a breed of horse that originated in the Shetland Islands, a group of islands located off the northeastern coast of Scotland. Ponies have been present on the Shetland Islands for over 2,000 years and are believed to have been brought to the islands by the Vikings.

Shetland Ponies have been used for assorted tasks throughout their history, including plowing fields, hauling goods, and working in coal mines. They were also used as pack animals, carrying goods and supplies across the rugged Shetland landscape.

Their small size and hardiness made them well-suited for life on the islands, where food and resources were often scarce. In the 19th century, Shetland Ponies were exported to the mainland UK in large numbers, where they were used for various purposes, including as pit ponies in coal mines.

They were also used as children’s mounts and for driving small carriages. During the early 20th century, Shetland Ponies were also exported to other countries, including the United States and Canada.

Shetland Ponies are one of the most popular breeds of ponies. These adorable small pones have several characteristics that make them stand out from other breeds and are perfect for many different types of owners.

Picture of a Shetland Pony in a field.
Shetland Pony

Shetland Pony characteristics

Shetland Ponies have unique characteristics and personalities, which makes them distinct from others. They are strong and brave. They can survive in extreme weather and with a shortage of food.

These cute animals originated on Shetland islands located in Scotland’s northern isles. Originally they were not well-liked because they were so small and had an unruly temper; however, after many years of selective breeding, Shetland ponies grew to be about 11 hands tall (around four feet), and their temperament became much more docile than before.

Shetland Ponies are easy keepers because their small size means they don’t require much food or hay to stay healthy. Because of this benefit, it can be less expensive to own a Shetland Pony than most other breeds – which is always helpful when starting out with horse ownership.

Their smaller stature makes it easier to care for them but don’t be fooled into thinking their coats are easy to groom. Shetland Ponies have double coats – an outer coat that sheds in the spring and summer seasons to keep them cool, paired with a thick inner winter coat for protection.

If you’re thinking about getting a Shetland Pony, here is some information to help you decide if it’s the right breed for your needs:


Shetland Ponies have sturdy and well-proportioned bodies, long broad backs, and deep girths. Their legs are short and thick, with tiny feet. The head is large in proportion to the body, wide between the eyes, and tapering towards a slightly convex profile from near the nostrils to below the eye.

Shetlands also have muscular, arched necks and alert ears. They are small but strong for their size. They can pull goods twice their body weight and easily carry 130 pounds on their back.

Shetland Ponies are known for their hardiness and ability to survive in rugged conditions. Their small size and sturdy build make them well-suited for heavy work, such as hauling goods and working in coal mines. Their small size also makes them well-suited for working in tight spaces.

In terms of movement, Shetland Ponies have a strong and active gait, with good use of their hindquarters. They are also agile and can move with a good degree of speed when required.

Despite being so tiny, these ponies have excellent stamina levels because they evolved in harsh conditions, making it possible for them to walk over long distances at fast speeds when necessary.

They have a thick coat that helps them survive even at freezing temperatures. And like most pony breeds, they are considered cold-blooded equines.

Below is a cute YouTube video showing a Shetland Pony race.

YouTube video

Shetland Pony Height and Weight:

The height of an average shetland pony is typically between 34-40 inches. Shetland ponies can not be registered with the Shetland Studbook Society if they exceed 44 inches. However, it’s not uncommon to find a Shetland Pony 46 inches tall in the United States.

Depending on their height, their weight can vary. At the same time, an average Shetland pony weighs around 400 to 450 pounds (181 to 204 kg). In contrast, other pony breeds of similar height weigh about half that of Shetland ponies.

Although ponies are small equines, they are not baby horses. In general, fully-grown ponies are under 14.2 hands tall and baby horses, called foals, grow to be full-sized horses over 14.2 hands.

Picture of a Shetland pony in a paddock.
Shetland Pony

Shetland Pony Temperament

Temperament refers to the innate behavioral traits of a breed. Some pony breeds are inherently mean and stubborn, while others are calm and friendly. Shetland ponies tend to be easy-going and adaptable; they are also known to be curious, playful, and patient, making them fun and engaging animals to be around.

Shetland Ponies have a strong bond with their handlers and can be very loyal and affectionate. They can be good with children and with other animals. They tend to be less nervous and more docile than some other horse breeds, which makes them easy to handle and train.

It is important to socialize and handle them from an early age to ensure they grow up well-adjusted; however, like any other animal, each Shetland pony is an individual, and their temperament will vary.

For example, on long trail rides, our Shetland often stops walking and refuses to move forward. We attach a lead rope between him and a lead horse when this happens to get him moving again. My friend Shetland is the opposite; he takes the lead during trail rides with unbounded energy.

Generally, the temperament of Shetland ponies is brave and friendly. They are relatively cooperative and follow their owner’s commands, but sometimes it’s challenging, especially for beginners, to train them. If trained well, they can act as a guide for humans and even protect them.

Are Shetland ponies good pets?

Many people have a love-hate relationship with shetland ponies because, like all animals, they are individuals. Some Shetlands are stubborn and don’t respond well when ridden by inexperienced riders, making them frustrating in the wrong hands.

Shetland ponies make excellent pets. Despite having an independent nature, they are loyal to their owners and have gentle and loving behavior; that’s why they are pretty popular among kids that are beginner riders.

If you’re interested in owning one, I strongly recommend visiting the American Shetland Pony Club’s website to learn more about these wonderful animals.

Shetland ponies are smart.

Some ponies are intelligent, and Shetland ponies are one of them. Usually, ponies are more intelligent than horses. They also have a good memory. They remember the voices and faces of people.

They can recognize their owners even after years. Training them takes time, but they can learn quality tricks.

Some common colors of Shetland Ponies:

You can find Shetland ponies in many different colors, which is why people love them so much since you get to choose one with the color pattern you like best.

The colors of Shetland ponies are similar to other breeds, and you can find them in various equine colors. Standard colors are white, black, brown, grey, bay, chestnut, cream, dun, roan, buckskin, and palomino.

They can have either a solid color or a combination of white with other colors creating unique and beautiful patterns. They can be found in many patterns having unique face and leg markings, excluding leopard spots. In contrast, colors vary slightly in the American Shetland breed vs. the British Shetland breeds.

Health and Life expectancy:

Shetland ponies tend to have a long life expectancy and a quality of life that is very good up until their final years. Most ponies live well into the late teens and early twenties, with some living even longer than that, especially if they are well taken care of and not overworked.

A Shetland pony can live longer than other ponies. It has an average life expectancy of 25 – 30 years. But most of them can live over 30 years because they have few genetic health issues. But still, they can get ill if not treated well.

My neighbor got his Shetland from a pony ride company; they used him to pull kids and carts for years. They believed he outlived his usefulness and gave him away.

At first arrival, he looked old and didn’t have much energy, but after spending a few months in their pasture with other horses and ponies, he recaptured his youth and lived a long, happy life.

Diseases found in ponies are slightly different from that of horses. They can also have heart or liver problems, and laminitis is a common disease. Overeating also leads to some weight problems.

In general, ponies live longer than horses. However, many factors determine a horse’s life expectancy, such as breed, diet, and workload.

Shetland ponies diet.

The Shetland pony is unique, can survive in harsh weather, and has low energy needs. They are fed on natural diets consisting primarily of grass, hay, and grains such as oats or barley for extra protein when vegetation isn’t available.

But like most equines, they are prone to founder if overfed, so monitor their grain intake. If you’re unsure what to feed your Shetland pony, I suggest you read my article about ponies’ diet or talk to your veterinarian.

Picture of a Shetland pony in a pasture.
Old Shetland Pony

Can adults ride Shetland ponies:

One day we were at our neighbor’s watching the kids ride their Shetland pony. A large thirteen-year-old, the size of most adults, wanted a turn, but his father wouldn’t let him ride. I’ve always heard how strong Shetlands are and how they can easily carry an adult, but this isn’t always true.

It is essential to understand that there are different types of Shetlands: miniature, small, medium, and large. Only the largest size – can accommodate an adult rider comfortably on its back. Plus, ponies are individuals, and just because one Shetland can carry an adult doesn’t mean yours can.

Shetland ponies are an excellent choice for kids to ride, but not every adult can ride them. You need to account for the pony’s size and strength and the adult’s weight.

A sizeable healthy Shetland can carry an average size adult for a limited time. But for some adults, their legs can touch the ground while riding, so choosing a suitable pony for their height is a good choice.

How much does a Shetland pony cost?

The cost of a Shetland pony can vary depending on its height, age, color, etc. Prices can also vary from place to place. On average, a Shetland pony costs about $500 to $1500. A well-trained pony in its prime with a good pedigree can cost a lot more.

You can also import them if you can’t find a suitable pony near you. But it can cost some additional cash to make registration documents and to transport them.

Maintenance cost:

Although keeping a Shetland pony is cheaper than some other breeds, it’s still a lot for some. If you don’t have the financial ability or land to provide appropriately for a pony, you shouldn’t own one.

Here are some basic expenses you can expect to pay:

  • Hay: Even though Shetland ponies are easy keepers, you will need to buy hay if it doesn’t have a place to graze. And every year, the cost of a bale of hay rises.
  • Vaccinations and veterinarian bills. You must have a negative Coggins test to travel with your pony.
  • Farrier costs- Shetland ponies have tough feet, so you likely won’t need horseshoes on your pony, but unless you can trim their hooves yourself, you will have to pay for a farrier to do the job.

Another consideration is companions; ponies live in herds, so it’s better to have other equines on your property for them to socialize. Also, timely vaccination is a plus for long life. Apart from the expense, they need time and love also.

Traditional uses of Shetland ponies

Shetland ponies have an interesting history; through the years, they’ve been used for different purposes, including working in coal mines, farming, transportation, and even pulling carts filled with goods through town.

On the other hand, they’ve also been very popular with children because of their smaller size, making them easier to handle than most breeds out there.


Shetland ponies are known for their hardiness, soundness, and calm disposition, making them ideal for the beginner rider or family pet; they can even learn some games, like playing fetch with a ball.

The best part of having one of these lovable companions, though, might be how much fun it will add to your child’s day when you take her on a trail ride for the first time.

Catherine Jackson

Thursday 11th of November 2021

Where is the best place to purchase Shetland Ponies ?

Bil Bradley

Friday 12th of November 2021

Here are two good resources to start your search for a Shetland: Equine Now and American Shetland Pony Club.