American Shetland

By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 11, 2008

The American Shetland is a horse breed from the United States, used mainly for riding and for driving carriages. Its small stature makes it an ideal ride for children, while its great form makes it ideal for horse competitions. The American Shetland’s maximum height is 11.5 hands (46 inches), although there are other show class divisions that allow for variance in build.

American Shetland ponies are most often used for breeding and performance, for harness work, and as children's pets. They are present in show jumping competitions for young riders, in horse shows and in halters. In a halter horse show, horses are judged based on their physical attributes and their suitability for breeding, instead of for stamina and agility.

Physical Characteristics

Both the Classic and the Modern American Shetland stand at a maximum of 11.5 hands high, the standard form of measurement for horses. This is the equivalent of 46 inches (or 117 centimeters) in height. However, these two variants of the American Shetland have different builds.

The Classic Shetland is hardier than its Modern relative. It was originally bred as a work horse, for pulling coal and loads for mining work, so it is chunkier and more muscular than the modern breed. The Modern American Shetland is generally trimmer and has smoother muscle formation. Its neck is arched, its head is carried higher and its body is slimmer. Both types, however, have exceptionally sturdy hooves.

The American Shetland generally has a small head and short ears. The eyes are widely spaced and the muzzle is proportionally small. The neck is short and muscular, although as mentioned above, the modern breed has a more highly arched neck. The coat is thick, with the usual equine colors being found in both Shetland standards.



The American Shetland is known for its gentle nature and agreeable disposition, as well as being an intelligent and able learner. It is well regarded for its hardiness and athleticism. As such, the American Shetland is an ideal mount for children and for people with disabilities. With these qualities in mind, in addition to their fine carriage, the American Shetlands and their much flashier and taller variants, are ideal for horse shows.

Care and Handling

The American Shetland, amiable and friendly as it is, still retains some of its stubborn nature. The owner of this breed must know how to handle it properly if faced with the challenge of breaking this stubborn streak.

The American Shetland also needs to be treated just as its full-size counterparts would be treated. Although it needs a smaller pasture and a proportionally smaller amount of feed, regular feeding and exercise is still essential. Regular grooming should also be observed.

History and Background

The original Shetland pony came from the Shetland Isles in Scotland, whence its name, and was brought to the United States in the 19th century. Some of the Shetland ponies from the Shetland Isles were preserved and bred; these are the classic American Shetland we know today. Some of the Shetland ponies, however, were interbred with other breeds like the Welsh and the Hackney ponies. This interbreeding resulted in the modern American Shetland, which is generally of a slimmer build than the classic stock.

In 1888, the American Shetland Pony Club was established to record and document the American Shetland breed -- both the pure Shetland breed, and the Shetland with at least 50 percent pure Shetland blood.

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