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American Shetland

Silver-black American Shetland on blue background

The American Shetland is derived from the same stock as the of Scotland. It has been bred in the U.S. since the late 1800s, and it has several subtypes that are each maintained to their own standards by the American Shetland Pony Club (established in 1888). Other related breeds include the German Classic Pony and the Pony of the Americas (POA).

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Quick Facts about American Shetlands

Species Name: Equus ferus caballus
Family: Equine
Care Level: Easy to average; less space and feed required than a full-size horse.
Temperament: Smart; Inquisitive; Gentle; Stubborn
Color Form: Same as with the Shetland Pony; all colors except for Appaloosa-like spotting are acceptable.
Lifespan: Average lifespan of 20-30 years; some live into their late 30s and early 40s.
Size: Height: approx. 28-46” in U.S.; approx. 28-44” in Canada. Weight: varies based on height; generally around 400-450 lbs.
Diet: Mostly forage [grass and-or hay]; Minerals; Water; some grain, if/as needed.
Enclosure Size: Minimum – 300ft² in “dry” lots, or 1/2 to 2 acres of pasture [depending on climate/grass quality]; Maximum – as much space as can be provided.

American Shetland Overview

The American Shetland comes from the same foundation stock as the Shetland Pony. The two breeds diverged from each other following the creation of different breed-associations being formed in their respective countries — the American Shetland Pony Club (ASPC) being formed in the U.S. in 1888, and the Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society being formed in the Shetland Isles in 1890.

One of the main, early groups of the foundation ponies brought into the U.S. was by Eli Elliot in 1885; it consisted of 75 individuals. A bit earlier than this, in 1861, John Rarey of Ohio is mentioned to have in his possession four full-blooded ponies from the Shetland Isles.

Carriage driving American Shetland
Image Credit: Abramova Kseniya, Shutterstock

Subtypes

Initially, breeders worked with the imported ponies to try to improve quality to match their own standards. The Foundation Classic subtype, which cannot have non-Shetland influence within the four most recent generations of its pedigree, is closest to its original form, but still considered significantly less ‘coarse.’

An infusion of various other pony and small-horse breeds (such as the Hackney, the Welsh, and the Arabian) led to the formation of the other three recognized subtypes — the Classic, the Modern, and the Modern Pleasure. The Classic and the Modern are the two most commonly found.

All American Shetlands, regardless of which subtype they belong to, are considered to be beautifully elegant ponies that retain the work ethic and stamina of their ancestors. They are used primarily as children’s mounts and driving horses, and occasionally as service ponies.

How Much Do American Shetlands Cost?

Most American Shetlands cost between $1,000 and $5,000, though they can be more or less depending on their exact bloodlines, conformation, show results, and other factors. Additional monthly and yearly upkeep costs vary, though include factors such as veterinary examinations, farrier visitation, and any hay, feed, and-or supplements given.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

According to the American Shetland Pony Club, the ponies should be gentle, hardy, spirited, intelligent, curious, and kind. Every pony is an individual, however, and may not perfectly match up to the breed standard — for instance, some are claimed to display a stubborn-streak, while others are far more willing and docile.

Overall, they are highly trainable, tough, and hardy, and are considered good prospects for children’s mounts and driving, whether for show or pleasure.

Appearance & Varieties

The Foundation Classic American Shetlands are the closest of the four types to the original foundation Shetland ponies, though over a century of breeding to a different breed standard has resulted in a more refined animal. They have compact bodies with smooth-muscle and clean legs.

The Classic American Shetlands are somewhat between the Foundation Classic and the Moderns in form. They are not coarse of build, with sharp, well-formed ears, prominent eyes, refined heads, somewhat longer legs, deep chests, and excellent toplines. They are meant to move with “beauty and style.”

The Modern American Shetlands fall into two height categories; under 43” and 43-46”. Their bloodlines include some of the largest percentage of Hackney pony out of all the American Shetland varieties, which lends itself to their more “animated” movement as well as an appearance that is proportionately more “small-scale horse” than it is “pony.” This variety is also informally referred to as “show” American Shetlands. The Modern Pleasure American Shetland variety is very similar to the Modern American in appearance, though its movements are more subdued.

American Shetlands should not be shorter than 26” tall, and average around 42”. All four varieties are allowed to come in any coat color, excluding Appaloosa-like spotting. The most commonly occurring colors include bay, black, dun, and roan.

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How to Take Care of American Shetlands

Enclosure

An American Shetland should be given a minimum of 300 ft² per pony when housed in corrals or “dry” lots. If they are kept on pasture, they should have 1/2 to 2 acres per pony; this pasture-space can be cross-fenced into smaller strips and rotated through, in order to prevent overgrazing.

Field shelters or natural windbreaks, such as hedgerows, should be provided to allow the pony protection from the elements. Avoid allowing horses access to Black Walnut and Maple trees; their seeds and wilted leaves are especially toxic.

The minimum size of a box stall for an American Shetland is approximately 10’ x 10’; stallions, broodmares with foals, and ponies with limited access to turnout will require larger box stalls.

a portrait of Silver-black American Shetland
Image Credit: Abramova Kseniya, Shutterstock

Bedding

Straw and wood shavings can all be used as bedding for American Shetlands. If straw is used, it should be “beardless,” or free from the seed-awns that can irritate the ponies’ skin.

If wood shavings are used, make sure they are from non-toxic wood species; pine, fir, and aspen are most commonly available. Black walnut and maple should be avoided. While cedar is commonly added to wood shavings, its high oil content can irritate horses’ lungs.

Climate

The American Shetland was primarily developed in the Midwest (Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, as well as Kentucky) of the United States. This region has a wide fluctuation in seasonal weather; the temperature can change 100º F or more between summer highs and winter lows. Up to 70” of snowfall can occur, as well as heavy rainfall.

Due to this variation, the American Shetland is rather well equipped to live in almost any part of the United States and Canada, when provided with appropriate access to shelter or windbreaks as required.

Do American Shetlands Get Along with Other Pets?

American Shetlands should be housed with other ponies, due to being social herd animals. When introducing new horses or ponies for the first time, make sure they have enough space to evade each other, should it become necessary while becoming acclimated.

If you do not have another horse or pony available to be a companion for your American Shetland, they can also be introduced to small ruminants, such as sheep, goats, and miniature cattle, or to horse-friendly dogs and cats. Your American Shetland may or may not get along with these other species; it comes down to the individual temperaments of all animals involved in this multi-species ‘herd.’

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What to Feed Your American Shetland

The American Shetland is descended from the ponies of the Shetland Isles and is considered an “easy-keeper.” It should be fed a primarily forage-based diet of low-sugar, moderate-protein hay, paired with a mineral source or ration balancer geared towards ponies.

The American Shetland’s immense feed-conversion ability makes it so that only those in moderate to heavy work, such as with sulky racers or ponies in otherwise high-energy sports, should potentially be given grain. Although higher quality hay, such as an alfalfa-mix, is generally more suitable in those situations due to having lower non-structural carbohydrate levels.

They should have access to fresh water at all times.

Keeping Your American Shetland Healthy

Similar to other related pony breeds, the American Shetland is at high-risk for obesity and its associated health issues; laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, joint and tendon issues, and heart stress, among others. Due to this, it is very important for owners to know how to body condition score their ponies.

As with any other equine, American Shetlands require basic routine healthcare, including vaccinations, fecal egg count with targeted deworming, farrier care, as well as dental examinations and tooth-floating. They should be groomed regularly, to remove dirt and sweat and to keep an eye out for any signs of injury.

Breeding

The main method of breeding American Shetlands is live cover, though Artificial Insemination (AI) is sometimes used as well.

With live cover, the mares are often left to foal in-field and run with the selected stallion, either over the summer or year-round, depending on the individual breeder’s set-up. There are risks of the mare and stallion potentially injuring each other if she is not receptive to his advances.

With AI, it allows the mare to be bred to a stallion that is located anywhere else in the country and eliminates risk of one horse injuring the other. A downside is that it is more common for multiple doses needing to be used compared to natural cover, depending on if fresh, cooled, or frozen is used, which ends up greatly increasing the costs of breeding.

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Are American Shetlands Suitable For You?

The American Shetland may be suitable for you if you are looking for a child’s mount or a driving horse. As a graceful and amicable breed, it is good for both pleasure and competition, if treated appropriately. American Shetlands under 34” have occasionally been used as Service Horses, such as for mobility support or guide-work.

With more than 50,000 American Shetlands living in the country, there is bound to be at least one that meshes with your expectations.

When going to view ponies for sale, bring an experienced horse professional that you trust to help give you an unbiased opinion on the animal; especially if looking for a child’s horse.

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Featured Image Credit: Abramova Kseniya, Shutterstock

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