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Shetland Ponies Are Equal Parts Fluff and Sass

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They’re the fluffy speed demons eliciting “Awwwws” and squeals in equal measure on pony steeplechase courses around the country.

They’re backyard pets, cart-pulling machines and the preferred mount of pony rides. For a brief moment in Internet history, there was one moonwalking across computer screens the world over.

Shetland ponies are as adorable as they are sassy. This holiday weekend, a small herd of them will by thundering around Devon Horse Show’s famed Dixon Oval as the kick off event of the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series Presented by Charles Owen.

Here’s a few things to about the fan favorite breed, featuring the stars of the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Series.

1. Shetlands are Scottish imports

Shetland ponies originated in the Shetland Isles of Scotland where for 4000 plus years, they roamed the exposed hills and moors in comparative isolation. Like adorable equine Ewoks.

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2. They’re hardy to the core and also rotund in their core

The scarce food and harsh climate of the rough heather clad moorland have made the ponies extremely hardy animals. Shetlands have developed good conversion rates for food and high milk yield for their foals. The downside to that robust metabolism is that they can easily develop laminitis if fed a diet high in non-structural carbohydrates.

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3. Like Skittles, they come in the colors of the rainbow

Shetlands can be almost every color, including skewbald and pinto. Registered breed members can not be spotted or carry the champagne gene, however.

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4. Shetland ponies “got back”

In appearance, Shetlands have small heads, often with dished faces, widely spaced eyes and small and alert ears. A short, muscular neck, compact, stocky body, and short, strong legs with a shorter-than-normal cannon bone characterize the original breed. Universally, they have a short broad back, deep girth and a springy stride—ideal, some might say, for steeplechase racing.

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5. They’re a global phenomenon

Shetland ponies are found worldwide but the biggest populations are in the UK and North America. Fun fact: the UK ponies are often stockier than their American cousins.

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6. “Long hair, don’t care” is basically their calling card

Shetlands are built to withstand harsh weather (see: Moorlands) with long, thick manes and tails and dense double winter coats. But don’t believe everything you see. Socks, the world’s most famous Shetland, wore hair extensions kept in place by 40 hairpins when moondancing to Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere”!

7. Shetland’s are the original #PonyPower

Shetlands were first used for pulling carts, carrying peat, coal, and other items, and plowing farm land. As the Industrial Revolution increased the need for coal in the mid-19th century, thousands of Shetlands were shipped to mainland Britain to be pit ponies, working underground hauling coal. Some were even imported for coal mines in the eastern United States, the last of which closed in 1971. 

Shetland racing came later. ©Jump Media

8. They’re stronger than draft horses! (Comparatively speaking)

Pound for pound, the Shetland is the strongest of all horse and pony breeds. It can pull twice its own weight and carry up 130 pounds (59 kg). A draft horse, in comparison, can only pull approximately half its own weight.

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9. And almost as sweet…

Generally gentle, good-tempered, and very intelligent by nature, Shetland ponies make good children’s ponies. They’re noted for having a “brave” character and often for a “cheeky” one, two features frequently on display during the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series.

10. Like Bonsai trees, they live for a long time

Shetland ponies have a long lifespan, commonly living more than 30 years. Berlin’s famous Shetland pony, Madame Nou, lived to be over 50 years old!

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The popular WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series Presented by Charles Owen will kick off the 2019 season at the Devon Horse Show in Devon, PA, on Sunday, May 26, and Monday, May 27 and culminate at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. during the 61st annual WIHS, with races held on Barn Night, Thursday, October 25, and on President’s Cup Night, Saturday, October 27. Learn more about the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Series at wihs.org/shetland-pony-steeplechase. For information on getting involved with Shetland Pony racing, visit www.usponyracing.com.