A group of registered Shetland ponies who race, show, drive and charm the crowds have been taking the country by storm.
The Shetland Performance Display Team, which is based in Wiltshire, has been in demand as far as Yorkshire to entertain the public at shows.
The squad, which usually numbers between six and 15, has been a hit in South West England, promoting the versatility of the breed and raising money for charity.
The team’s manager Isabella Bride said that while the display predominantly focused on races and relays, it is open to anyone who wanted to join and show off their Shetlands.
“We try and accommodate everyone, if a particular group of people are interested but don’t have ponies who can jump 2ft and can’t do the racing, they can be put in different display. Anyone is welcome as long as they’re safe to ride in public,” she said. “We don’t have an upper age limited, you just have to be of a suitable size — our youngest riders are nine and the oldest are 12.”
This year, the group will be visiting Devon County; Gillingham and Shaftesbury; the winter festival of dressage at Hartpury and Bath racecourse as well as local shows.
“We have gone from a couple of shows a year to about 10, so I think people are enjoying what we do,” Isabella said.
“We try to keep it as cheap as possible for events and don’t charge shows, we only ask for donation towards our charity, which in recent years has been the Wallace and Gromit Grand Appeal of Bristol Children’s Hospital.
“We raised £1,200 for them in 2018 — a lot of people love the display and find it really entertaining, the public are always really kind if we go round with a collection bucket.”
Eighteen-year-old Isabella, who raced Shetlands until she was 14, said she felt the display does important work educating people about the breed.
“When people think of a Shetland, they think of a Thelwell fat, greedy pony and we want too show people that they are extremely talented and quite athletic and to dispel common myths about them. They’re good all-rounders and can do anything,” she said.
“We went to the Countrytastic show at the Three Counties Showground and we demonstrated how they could be used as lead-rein ponies, for Pony Club and as driven ponies giving people rides in a trap. At some events we have a pen set up and people can meet the ponies and learn about them.”
Isabella is currently on a gap year before starting an equine business degree at Hartpury College and said she hopes Shetlands would be part of her future.
“I was absolutely hooked on the racing and quite gutted when at 14 I grew a bit too big — I thought instead of turning my back on it, I’d help out and allow other children to do it,” she said. “We have a group of four ponies we lend out to people to have a go at racing and I have also been producing a few projects.”
For anyone with a Shetland who is interested in racing or joining in the display, there is an open day at West Wilts on 6 April. Those wishing to attend can contact Isabella on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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