The ancient Shetland and Highland Ponies both originate in the far North of the British Isles The Shetland Pony, which is thought to have existed since the Bronze Age, evolved on the Shetland Islands, about 160 km (100 miles) off the North coast of Scotland. The Highland Pony comes from Northern Scotland and the Western Isles. It has prehistoric origins, but throughout its history there have been many outside influences on the native stock.

The Shetland is the smallest of the British breeds, averaging only 1.02 m (40 in) at the withers. (The Shetland is always measured in inches rather than hands, although the metric measurement is now increasingly used.) The basic coat colour is black; other common colors are brown and chestnut, and grey, skewbald, and piebald also occur. The breed’s origins are not known, but there was probably a connection between ponies of Tundra type and the Scandinavian stock.

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD there would have been some eastern influence, through ponies from Celtic settlements. Later came the Vikings, who imported their own ponies. Carved stones on Bressay and Burra, dated to about the end of the 9th century, show men riding light-boned, active ponies that, compared with the human figures, could not have exceeded 1.02 m (40 in) in height.

In proportion to its size, the diminutive Shetland Pony is among the most powerful equines in the world. On the islands the ponies were employed as pack and harness animals, and could also be ridden by full-grown men. They were exported for use in harness and as children’s ponies, in circuses, and as attractions in public parks or in the grounds of great houses. Following the Act of 1847 that prohibited the use of women and children in coal-mines there was a huge demand for Shetlands as pit ponies, and for that purpose a heavier, coarser animal was developed alongside the existing type. The breed is now consistent in type, and has excellent proportions.

The Shetland Pony has been exported all over the world. The US, Canada, and Europe have large populations, and operate their own stud books, and there are probably more Shetlands in the Netherlands than in any other country. In North America the breed has been crossed with the Hackney Pony to create the smart American Shetland and with the Appaloosa to produce the Pony of the Americas In Argentina the Shetland was used as the base for the pygmy Falabella.

In Australia, the Shetland Pony is popular as a children’s horse, as a pet, an even as mini harness horses.

ustralia has it’s own Shetland Pony Association here THE SHETLAND PONY SOCIETY of AUSTRALIA Inc
It has been suggested that the ponies living in northern Scotland after the Ice Age were derived from Pony Type 2 which resembled the Asiatic Wild Horse, possibly crossed with Pony Type 1, which was similar to the Exmoor. Archaeological evidence shows that horses were imported from Scandinavia during the Bronze Age, and later from Iceland. Around 1535 the size and quality of the breed was improved by French horses, which would have included ancestors of the Percheron. Spanish horses, such as those imported by the Chief of Clanranald to improve the Uist ponies, were used in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The addition of eastern blood had the greatest impact of all. The Duke of Atholl, whose stock became a cornerstone of the breed, used eastern horses in the 16th century, and the Calgary strain, evolved by J.H. Monroe-Mackenzie on Mull, was based on the Arab horse, Syrian. The Macneils of Barra also used Arabs and bred small, light, fast, Arab-type ponies.

On the crofts, the Highland was used in draught, under pack, and was also ridden. It was easy to keep, strong, healthy, and sure-footed. In the hills the ponies were ridden; they also carried game panniers, and deer carcasses weighing up to 114 kg (252 lb). This last task says a lot for their unflappable nature, as few horses will calmly carry a dead animal. The modern Highland is an ideal family pony; although not fast, it is safe and a willing jumper. It is also popular in pony-trekking, because of its size and docility.

Until recently there were two types: one bred on the Western Isles, and a heavier one bred on the mainland. This difference has now disappeared. The breed has a height limit of 1.47 m (14.2 hh). In the 19th century the ponies, especially on the islands, were about a hand smaller; the present size may have resulted from crossing with Clydesdales to produce strong animals for forestry work. The coat colors, include grey, brown, black, the “primitive” dun with an eel stripe and often zebra-barred legs, and the striking dark, or “bloodstone”, chestnut, with a silver mane and tail.