What’s an American Shetland like

The American Shetland Pony is a far cry from the original Shetland Pony from the Shetland Isles. Just like with almost anything else brought to America, the original Shetland had to conform to American tastes. If you want a small, flashy Hackney Pony, or a large Miniature Horse, then the American Shetland is for you. But if you are looking for a Shetland Pony, be sure it’s not an American Shetland. (Even the so-called “Classic” American Shetland is just an American Shetland).

It wasn’t just moving to the New World that radically changed the chunky, sturdy Shetlands into the American Shetland prima donnas we see today. American breeders took a core breeding group of 75 Shetlands and added a liberal amount of Hackney, small Thoroughbreds and small Arabians to the mix. The American Shetland Pony Club opened in 1888.

General Appearance

Only standing about ten or eleven hands high at the shoulder, the American Shetland looks exactly like a very trim little Hackney or American Standardbred. They have luxuriant manes and tails, tend to lack a “pony potbelly” and come in a wide variety of colors, including pinto patterns. They often are often shown with docked tails and made to stand parked out instead of naturally. Some have slightly dished faces and many will step very high like a Hackney.

They blur the line between horses and ponies as they do not have the usual pony build (which looks like a tiny drafter). They have horse proportions more than pony proportions, including a sleeker body and longer neck. They don’t grow the thick weatherproof coat of the original Shetland in wintertime. They have to live in a stable. They will not survive stuck in a field.

Tricky Temperament

Although there are many American Shetlands with a relatively steady temperament, there are just as many that will eat you alive. These are highly intelligent, inbred animals that are bursting with energy and need to be active. Since they know they’re cute, they know that they can get away with a lot.

This is not a breed that this writer can whole heartedly recommend for children or for adults that don’t have much experience with horses. I have worked with stallions, mares and geldings from many breeds, but the most vicious horse I have encountered was an American Shetland colt nicknamed Studly.

Supreme Show Horse

American Shetlands generally live to be used in the show ring, generally pulling carts or sulkies because they are too small to be ridden by their adult owners and handlers. There are classes open in halter, English and Western under saddle, but the child riders need to be experienced in the wily ways of Shetlands.