Shetland ponies are among the smallest of horse breeds (not including miniature horses). Their diminutive size belies their physical and mental hardiness, however. First developed in the Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland, these ponies adapted to the harsh climate and limited food supply. Perhaps the best-known use of the sturdy Shetland was in the coal mines of Britain in the 1800s, where their strength and small size made them ideal for hauling coal underground.

Shetland Ponies were first imported to the U.S. in the late 1800s. These imported ponies were eventually crossbred with other breeds, resulting in a slightly taller, more refined animal. Today’s American Shetland Pony still has the hardiness and stamina of its Scottish ancestors, with a bit more height and elegance.

What Does an American Shetland Pony Look Like?

The original Shetland Pony is distinguished by his relatively thick bone, short stature and heavy winter coats. In general, American Shetland Ponies are more refined than the traditional Shetland, with a longer, thinner neck, a less stocky body, longer legs, a sloping shoulder and well-developed, muscular hindquarters.

The American Shetland Pony Club Registry includes four main classes:  Foundation, Classic, Modern, and Modern Pleasure. Each offers a slight variation in body type while staying true to the breed and good conformation. These classifications are used to determine in which classes a particular American Shetland Pony will compete.

Shetland Ponies come in a wide variety of coat colors from black to bay to chestnut to gray, and many have white markings on the face and legs. Pintos are also fairly common.

Today’s Shetlands are most often used for driving and as children’s ponies. They can be found at horse shows in both Western and English riding classes, as well as many other competitive events such as carriage driving and gymkhana. For more information, visit