Anybody who takes Horse and Hound magazine cannot fail to have noticed that in most Hunting pictures featured, where children are mounted, the Shetland Pony is the preferred choice, testimony to the breed's temperament and endurance. Where recalcitrant specimens have been encountered, it is usually attributable the pony not being properly 'broken' initially, but just 'got on, because it was quiet'.
Properly schooled, the standard size Shetland pony has no equal as a safe schoolmaster for children to ride. The Shetland pony's versatility and hardiness are legend, who has not seen them at Shows being driven in harness, as leading rein ponies, or 'first ridden' and of course the Shetland Grand National Finals at Olympia.
Very small Shetland ponies have featured in the Shetland Pony Stud Book since the first edition in 1890. Over the last twenty five years interest has grown in ponies that will mature at under 34inches, an arbitrary height, set to separate 'miniatures' from the 'standard size' Shetland ponies which mature at up to 42inches.
Good stock in any breed will always command good prices, and in the rush to exploit a market that seemed insatiable, some breeders lost the characteristic type, strength and hardiness of the Shetland breed, in pursuit of small first and everything else second. So concerned with the loss of breed type were some of the 'miniature' Shetland breeders, that they formed themselves into an association and Shows were encouraged to put on classes for 'miniature' Shetland ponies. Shows with classes that are affiliated to the Stud Book Society, are judged by Shetland Pony Stud Book panel judges, whose critical assessment, places more importance on breed characteristics than the criteria of height. about 32 inches being the height favoured for 'miniature' Shetland ponies in the show ring. Diligent breeders of 'miniature' Shetland Ponies generally do not aim to breed ponies below thirty inches at maturity because too often, loss of type is the consequence, taking the view that like so many other horses today, these ponies are unlikely to be called upon to do any real work, but they should be physically capable. Responsibility and respect for the breed is the key.
It's worth visiting affiliated Shows to see the type of pony you prefer, whether a standard size or a mini. No breeder will guarantee success for their produce, much will depend on good production of the animal, but the basics, straight active movement, a deep body with plenty of heart room, sufficient, quality flat bone, a neat head, small ears, and a large intelligent eye are essential characteristics if success in the ring is to be achieved.
Showing is not the end all and be all of pony ownership, but if a breeder cannot point to the show successes, if not by them personally, then by others who have bought their stock, then that stock is unlikely to be of good Breed type.
So be wary, all Shetland Pony foals are fluffy and endearing, it's what they grow into that may disappoint.
This article and the accompanying illustrations are kindly provided by Mr G. S. Hart of the South East England Shetland Pony Owners and Breeders Association. For further information on Shetland ponies please visit www.shetland-pony.com