Want a standard Shetland? Follow this guide on how to find the perfect pony

  • If you want to buy a Shetland pony for yourself if you’re a small adult or for your child, then this guide with tips from a breeder is good place to start.

    What is a Shetland pony?

    The Shetland pony is a British native breed of pony that hails from the Shetland Isles. It is a small and hardy breed, standing at no more than 42 inches (107 cms), while their minimum height limit is 28 inches (71.1 cms).

    The Shetland Pony Stud Book Society provides a breed standard that describes the ideal type:

    Shetland ponies may be any colour known in horses except spotted. The mane and tail hair should be long, straight and profuse.

    The head should be small, and in proportion. Ears should be small and erect, wide set but pointing well forward. Forehead should be broad with bold, dark, intelligent eyes. Muzzle must be broad with nostrils wide and open. Teeth and jaw must be correct.

    The neck should be properly set onto the shoulder, which in turn should be sloping, not upright, and end in a well defined wither. The body should be strong, with plenty of heart room, well sprung ribs, the loin strong and muscular.

    The quarters should be broad and long with the tail set well up on them.

    These should have good, flat bone. Strong forearm. Short balanced cannon bone. Springy pasterns.

    The thighs should be strong and muscular with well-shaped strong hocks. When viewed from behind, the hindlegs should not be set too widely apart, nor should the hocks be turned in.

    Straight and free action using every joint. Tracking up well.

    The feet should be tough, round and well shaped.

    A most salient and essential feature of the Shetland pony is its general air of vitality (presence), stamina and robustness.

    Shetland ponies are shown in small breed ridden mountain and moorland (M&M) classes and currently they compete against Exmoors at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) final. They are popular choices for junior, lead rein and first ridden ponies, too, given their size. Scopey Shetlands have also featured in 122cm working hunter pony classes over the years.

    The Shetland Pony Grand National is an organisation that raises money each year for a nominated charity. A number of ponies and their jockeys race at prestigious venues across the country.

    Shetland ponies are also a good option for driving exhibits given their temperaments, weight-carrying abilities, stamina and intelligence.

    What should I look for when I buy a Shetland pony?

    Claire Connor of the Acresdale Prefix has been breeding Shetlands for a decade.

    She regularly imports stock from Europe, also selling foals and youngstock to homes in the UK and across the globe. Her ponies have won breed show championships and have also contended HOYS, London International  and The Royal International Horse Show under-saddle.

    “First and foremost, a Shetland pony needs to have a good temperament, especially if it’s for a child,” Claire says. “No matter how good a quality a pony may be, if it’s not got a level head and trainable willing nature you won’t be able to get the very best out of that pony.”

    Alongside this, Claire says it’s important to source a pony from a reputable and knowledgeable breeder who will have ensured the pony has had the best upbringing prior to your acquisition of it: “People might breed or buy a Shetland as they assume they’re funny, cute and small, and while they are, I’ve seen ponies regularly allowed to run riot and perform tricks, such as rearing up at people especially as foals. Once they get into these habits it’s very hard to stop that behaviour and once fully grown can become dangerous.”

    Buying from somebody who has given the pony the correct upbringing and education is advised.

    “Shetlands, as with any breed, can also have health issues. For example, some ponies can have issues with their mouths. Jaws can be undershot or overshot meaning their teeth do not aline correctly. Even if you’re not wanting to show, a pony with an incorrect mouth could potentially have issues with eating.

    “Also look out for incorrect movement and permanent noise in stifle and hock joints. It doesn’t appear to cause pain, but it can cause a pony to move incorrectly and should be avoided if possible.

    “Ultimately, the stamp of Shetland you should look for will depend on the job you want the pony to do; If someone is coming to look at a pony I will always ask what job they have in mind. Do you want the pony for a show/ridden role, are you wanting it more as a family pet, or are you wanting to breed from the pony? It is important to look for attributes that would best suit the job in mind. For example Shetland ponies of a heavier stamp with a much shorter back and limb may not be quite as well suited for the ridden show job as your slightly more athletic stamp of Shetland is.

    “Many showing people will seek a full-up 42 inch pony, though in my opinion they are overlooking some real quality marginally smaller ponies by having this mindset. Some people become fixated on the height, being willing to compromise on quality in the process; a bit like four white socks are often idealised in the Welsh breeds.”

    Where should I buy a Shetland pony from?

    There are online sale sites such as Whickr that have Shetland ponies advertised throughout the year.

    You can also pursue private sales, or approach breeders, or visit auctions. The official Shetland breed sale is a warranted sale.

    “If you are looking for a ready-made child’s pony with miles on the clock, then a private home could be the best option. “If you have the space and inclination, buying a foal is a good idea; you can put your own stamp on it and you will also get a larger variety of choice,” Claire continues. “Breeders are often looking to retain the three or four-year-olds they have run on in their studs, whereas they’re usually more willing to part with some of their best foals that would otherwise have been retained. You can usually get more for your money in the long run by doing this.”

    How much should I expect to pay for a pony?

    Claire says standard Shetlands are hard to come by these days, which has impacted the market.

    “People have stopped breeding as much so there is consequently a huge lack of standard Shetlands, causing the prices to go up,” she says. “On average, you can buy a foal for between £500 and £1500, with the bigger studs often taking less money for one.

    “There seems to be less demand for a one or two-year-old, so they’d usually sell for between £1200 and £1800, on average.

    “The prices for three and four-year-olds then jump up massively. For a halter broken three-year-old ready to commence education you can be looking for an average of between £2500 and £3500.

    “Ridden ponies can also fetch strong money as there is a big market for them; I’ve had ponies that are going under-saddle for sale that I could have sold 40 times over. Shetlands that do a bit of everything, but might not win HOYS, can go for between £8000 and £10,000. At the end of the day, finding the right pony is priceless to some people.”

    I’ve agreed to buy a pony, now what?

    It is time to organise a pre-purchase vetting, something that is strongly recommended. If the pony is for a child, perhaps asking for a trial period would be sensible, but not all sellers will agree to this.

    It’s important to let the vet know prior to the vetting what you intend to use the pony for so they can assess it accordingly. If the pony is for a child, the vet will hopefully keep an eye on the temperament during the assessment, too. Small ponies can be more susceptible to laminitis so ask the vet to consider this risk.

    “I would always check teeth, heart, eyes, limbs and stifles,” Claire says. “If you do not feel experienced enough to assess a pony, I do recommend seeking a vetting, even if just a two-stage, or asking for a simple vet check.”

    For more information, you can read H&H’s ultimate guide to buying a horse.

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