FAQ Horse Care Other

All About Shetland Ponies (facts, lifespan, care, etc.)

shetland pony at sunset
Written by Susie W.

See why these pint-size ponies steal so many hearts

Shetland ponies, originating off the coast of Scotland, have been around for thousands of years. They are a well-recognized breed with many outstanding characteristics. Known for their strength and intelligence, Shetland ponies excel in both under saddle (when ridden by children) and in-harness work. In the 1800’s, the ponies were used extensively for mining. Today, the ponies are a popular tourist attraction. They are known across the globe, but are especially sought-after in England, Scotland, and the United States.

Shetland ponies are a hardy breed that evolved in harsh conditions. They are smart, loyal, and excel in a variety of events. The breed comes in an assortment of colors and stands between 28 and 42 inches tall at the withers. Keeping a Shetland pony is fairly similar to any other horse or pony—they require shelter, fresh water, forage, and possibly a concentrate for any vitamins or minerals they may be missing in their diet.

About the Breed

What is a Shetland Pony?

Shetland ponies come from the Shetland Islands, off the coast of northern Scotland. While the exact origin of these ponies is unknown, ponies have roamed these islands for approximately 4,000 years. The island’s harsh winters and limited grazing has resulted in ponies that have evolved to be small yet strong. In 1890, the Shetland Pony Studbook Society was created to help maintain breed standards.

shetland pony in shetland

source: canva

What are Common Shetland Pony Characteristics?

Shetland ponies are known to be quite strong for their size. They are between 28 and 42 inches high at the withers and have a thick winter coat with long, straight manes and tails. While they are generally friendly, brave, and good-tempered, they are also intelligent which may translate into stubbornness.

shetland pony book

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Why are Shetland Ponies So Small?

Shetland ponies evolved for thousands of years on the Shetland islands. The environment was harsh, with scarce food, which created a small yet hardy breed that could thrive off limited forage.

What are Shetland Pony Colors?

Shetland ponies come in many colors—including pinto. The only coat pattern that is not found in registered Shetlands are leopard spots, similar to an Appaloosa. Common colors include: bay, black, brown, buckskin, chestnut, cream, dun, gray, roan, and palomino.

shetland ponies standing together

source: canva

Are Shetland Ponies Friendly?

Shetland ponies are intelligent, friendly, and loyal. They are strong for their size and may take advantage of more timid beginner riders—because of their size, it can be difficult for an adult trainer to hop on and “fix” problems.

I remember riding a Shetland pony early on in my riding career. He was incredibly intelligent and would make you work to ride him! It made me a better rider for it.

At What Age Do Shetland Ponies Stop Growing?

Shetland ponies, similar to horses, are not considered to be fully grown until they are five years old.

shetland pony with foal

source: canva

Caring for a Shetland Pony

What to Feed Shetland Ponies

Shetland ponies evolved in a very harsh environment and are quite hardy animals. They don’t need nearly as much feed as a full-sized horse. High quality forage is important. Ponies need 1 – 1.5 lbs of forage per 100 lbs of body weight each day. So, a 400 lb Shetland pony would require 4-6 lbs of forage per day (this could be hay or pasture).

It may be helpful to add a concentrate (grain) to compensate for any nutrient deficiencies in your forage. Be sure to evaluate your pony’s body condition and feed appropriately to maintain a healthy weight. Ponies tend to be “easy keepers” and may not need many extra calories, so a balancer feed like Nutrena’s Empower Balance or Purina’s Enrich Plus might be good options.

Can You Feed a Shetland Pony Carrots?

Carrots are generally a healthy horse snack. You should always ask permission before feeding someone else’s horse or pony.

Shetland Pony Lifespan

Age is dependent on a lot of factors—genetics, nutrition, workload, and some luck. The average Shetland pony lives between 20 and 30 years, but some can live to be older.

winter shetland pony

source: canva

How Much Land Does a Shetland Pony Need?

You will need approximately one acre per Shetland pony.

Can Shetland ponies live alone?

Horses are herd animals and do best in groups. If you only have one pony, another animal such as a goat, llama, or cow may make for good company. You could also board your pony at a horse stable for optimal social interaction.

Are Shetland ponies expensive to keep?

Ponies tend to be hardy and require less feed than horses, making them a less expensive alternative. That said, you still need to feed them, provide regular farrier care (every 6-8 weeks), and plan for minimum annual veterinary visits.

Owning a Shetland Pony

Should I get a Shetland pony?

There are many factors to consider when deciding which breed is right for you. If you have young children and are looking for a suitable pony, Shetland ponies can be a great choice. If you are unsure which breed is best for you, consider working with a trainer or equine professional to find the best match for you.

A horse (or pony) is a big investment! It is best to do as much research as possible up front.

shetland pony in stall

source: canva

How Much Does a Shetland Pony Cost?

Pony price tags can vary significantly based on the animal’s age, training, conformation, and lineage. A registered animal is generally worth more. Shetland ponies can range from $500 to upwards of $10,000 depending on these factors.

What are Shetland Ponies Good for?

Shetland ponies are very strong, hardy animals. They can be used as children’s mounts in a variety of disciplines, including jumping, trail riding, and Western events. Shetland ponies are also able to pull a cart, which is a great way for adults to enjoy them as well.

What Do You Need for a Shetland Pony?

Shetland ponies need shelter, quality hay and grain, and clean water. Always be sure to purchase, or use, properly fitting tack on your pony.

What Size Rug is Good For a Shetland Pony?

Blanket sizing can vary pony to pony—we suggest measuring your Shetland pony for the best fit. To measure, start at the center of the chest and measure around to the middle of the tail. This measurement should translate into the right sized blanket. Here’s a great Shetland Pony blanket option.

What Size Halter is Good For a Shetland Pony?

Most Shetland ponies will fit into a Pony sized halter. The Horze leather pony halter is a great place to start.

Shetland Pony Training

What age can you break a Shetland pony?

Shetland ponies may not be fully grown until five years old. The longer you can wait for a pony (or horse) to finish growing, the better. While you are waiting, it’s great to teach younger animals how to lead, lunge, tie, groom, load in a trailer, and even do in-hand trail obstacles.

Can you lunge a Shetland pony?

Yes, lunging can be a good exercise and training tool for any horse, including a Shetland pony.

Can Adults Ride Shetland Ponies?

Very small adults may be able to ride a Shetland pony, however they are more suited for children. Average Shetland ponies weigh between 400 and 450 lbs, so the maximum recommended weight for them to carry would be 80-90 lbs.

Adults would be better off using the Shetland pony to pull a cart, as they are very strong and suited for this.

What Size Bit is Good For a Shetland Pony?

If you are unsure what size bit you need, we recommend starting with a 3.5-4” snaffle bit. If that is too small, you may need to go up to a 4.5” bit.

Interesting Facts About Shetland Ponies

Did you know there is a Shetland Pony Grand National series? It’s very popular, and for good reason! In this event, children ride Shetland ponies over steeplechase jumps.

Shetland ponies were exported in large quantities during the 1800’s, when it was illegal for women and children to work in the pits. Ponies were very strong, but small, making them ideal for small spaces. They were also thought to have a “sixth sense” to warn the miners of danger.

Shetland ponies are the smallest of the pony breeds in Britain.

pair of shetland ponies

source: canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Shetland ponies have health problems?

Shetland ponies are small, sturdy, and can make great pets. They’re a hardy breed that can easily live to be 30 years old. Because of the harshness of the region where they evolved, they developed to be strong and withstand tough conditions.

While they generally don’t have many health issues, because of their diminutive size, they are more susceptible to overeating.

Eating too much can lead to laminitis (a hoof problem) or hyperlipemia (a liver condition). Shetlands can also have heart problems.

The best way to help your Shetland stay healthy is to watch his diet and give him plenty of exercise.

What causes sudden death in horses?

There are many things that can cause sudden death in horses, and cardiac arrest is a big one. In horses, heart failure is usually caused by bacterial or viral infections, tumors, drugs, or some diseases.

Horses can also suffer from a brain aneurysm, which is when a weak-walled blood vessel in the brain bursts. More commonly, a horse will have a ruptured aorta, which is like a heart muscle aneurysm.

The ingestion of toxins can also cause sudden death. Poisonous plants in the pasture are the most common source, followed by bacteria in drinking water.

Parting Thoughts

Shetland ponies are intelligent, resilient, and hardy. If you are looking for a quality pony as a child’s mount, we encourage you to check out this breed!


https: //www.shetland.org/visit/do/wildlife/ponies
https: //equine-world.co.uk/info/about-horses/horse-pony-breeds/shetland-pony
https: //www.horseandhound.co.uk/features/shetland-pony-facts-673878
https: //www.northlinkferries.co.uk/shetland-blog/ten-fascinating-facts-about-shetland-ponies/
https: //www.purinamills.com/horse-feed/education/detail/feeding-basics-for-horses-miniature-horses-and-ponies
https: //shetlandponyclub.co.uk/can-i-keep-a-shetland-pony-in-my-garden-tv232/

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About the author


Horses are not just my passion; they're my first love, an enduring connection that has shaped my life. Growing up, I embarked on my equestrian journey through 4-H, a foundation that kindled the spark of a lifelong devotion to these majestic creatures. This journey led me to my college equestrian team, where I continued to hone my riding skills and forge connections within the equestrian community.