Small but mighty Shetland

Em sailing with Albert & ErnThe two main loves in my life are…adventure and training animals (horse in-particular!).
Here In the U.K. We have these incredible wildernesses and in them live our 9 native pony breeds, each one very different to the next. The Shetlands are very special as they aren’t much bigger than a large family dog, this got me thinking…how come they are so small? So I set out on a “who do you think you are style” trip taking them to meet some of there distant relatives and in a kind of old style horsemanship meets new 21st liberty work. We had a go at some of the old traditions such as collecting peat in meshies, making fishing line and trying to catch my dinner and learning about the crofters and why the Shetland pony was invaluable to them!
Shetlands are the strongest of all our native breeds despite being a quarter of the size of the others. I took Albert and Ernie on a boat out to a remote island where a wild herd runs free, so that Albert and Ernie could meet some ponies there own size and I could learn more about them.
I love survival adventure and immersing myself in the wild, seeing a native pony thriving even in such extreme harsh environments inspires me to understand how the land and necessity to survive has shaped them.

I came up with the idea during a recent trip to the highlands where I experienced first hand how horses / ponies are incredible at functioning in their natural surroundings, I touched on this during my Island Project in 2015 when my Connemara’s thrived on an island off the west coast of Ireland.

I live about as far a way as is possible from their natural home but I wanted to take them back to their roots and set them free to see / experience where their ancestors came from. Shetland ponies originated in the Shetland Isles, located northeast of mainland Scotland. They have existed in the Shetland Isles for over 2000 years and probably much longer. Various excavations on the islands have revealed the bones of small ponies that existed during the Bronze Age and it is thought that ponies have been in domestic use there since this time. Owing to its island existence the pony has evolved with relatively few importations and those that did arrive were by necessity small owing to the challenges of transportation by sea. Two significant types established themselves within the breed, the heavier boned animal with a longer head and the lighter one with high tail carriage and small pretty head, and these have remained distinct characteristics which has stood the pony in very good stead for its changing roles in the service of mankind.

No place in Shetland is further than four miles from the sea and it is legendary that during the worst winters lack of grazing on the scathold would drive some ponies to forage for seaweed along the shores. The ponies however were not small due to sparse living conditions but rather it was the small pony that was able to survive this, whereas larger horses did not. Shetlands bred in milder climates which are given ample food do not increase in size at all.

No trip to Shetland would be complete without purchasing a Fair Isle Woolly Jumper. An amazing lady called Doreen Brown spent six weeks knitting Albert and Ernie their very own made to measure sweaters!

At home I taught Albert and Ernie to come sailing with me, up in Shetland they went on a little motor boat as the risk of orca and strong winds meant engines were a safer option!



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