Origins of the American Shetland Pony


The American Shetland was developed by crossing the original Scottish Shetlands imports to other pony breeds – such as registered Hackney, Welsh, Thoroughbred and Arab. These crosses resulted in a slightly taller, more refined type of pony than the original imports. Imports were then commonly referred to as the Island type.

By crossing the original imports to other breeds, the Americans produced different types of American Shetlands. Today, the American Shetland Pony Club recognizes four divisions of the American Shetland Pony  –  each division has it’s own Standard of Excellence and presentation style in the show ring.

The Classic American Shetland and the Foundation American Shetland are the predominant type that have been imported to Australia. Majestic Farm Nightmare is considered a Modern Pleasure American Shetland and is currently the only one of his kind here.

Discover the origin and idea of the American Shetland Pony below.

The Connection to the Scottish Shetland Pony

Small ponies have been kept on the Shetland Isles since the Bronze Age. The concept of a Purebred Shetland did not exist in the 1880’s. Most livestock were out-crossed for improved vigor when breeders felt it necessary. Each Shetland Isle had its own type and it is believed that some of these ponies were already crossed with other pony breeds such as the Welsh Pony. This fact is particularly relevant as the Americans selected many of the finer ponies from the Isles while the British selected the smaller, hardier types.

The formation of the Londonderry Stud in 1870 and the events that occured after had a monumental influence on the development of the Scottish Shetland that we know of today. The 5th Marquis of Londonderry owned a number of mines in County Durham and was using Shetland Ponies in his mines. Becoming increasingly concerned about the declining standard of the ponies, he bought the best possible ponies he could find from the Scottish Islands and then through methodical breeding began to develop the Londonderry type; a draught animal with improved bone and limbs, stronger though smaller for pulling heavy loads along low seams in the pits. Due to the coal mining interest, thousands of ponies left the islands, perhaps as many as 1,000 a year in the last 20 years of the 19th Century.

The first Shetland ponies were imported to the USA in the early 1880’s by Eli Elliot, Powell Bros, Robert Lilburn among others.

While the smaller, hardier ponies were being selected from the Scottish Isles for the mainland Britain to be used in the pit mines, the Americans were hand selecting the lighter, more refined ponies to become the foundation stock for the American Shetland Pony (evident looking at the photographs of the earlier shetlands).

Many of the imports owe their ancestory to many famous Londonderry Shetland Pony sires. These include: Jack 16; Laird of Noss 20; Lord of the Isles 26; Odin 32; Oman 33; and Prince of Thule 36. All of these Shetland Pony stallions were registered in the first volume of the British Stud Book.

So from day one, it can be said, that the Americans strived to create a more refined, fancier way of going show animal than the stockier Island types being used heavily in the pit mines.

When you put it into perspective, the concept of the American Shetland Pony is no different to the Australian Pony, Australian Riding Pony, Australian Stock Horse and many other recognized breeds. These now recognized and widely accepted breeds were originally developed by selectively breeding various equine breeds together over many generations to achieve a new specific standard.

Formation of the American Shetland Pony Club

The American Shetland Pony Club (ASPC) was established in 1888 to govern the burgeoning number of imports from the various Shetland Isles to the USA.

Of particular interest, this ASPC registry was established 2 years prior to the British Shetland Pony Society. This makes the ASPC the oldest small equine registry in existence and one of the oldest equine governing bodies in the US.

Since importation began well before the formation of the British Shetland Pony Stud Book, many of the earliest imported ponies didn’t hold British Shetland Pony papers. Upon arrival to the USA, they were entered into Volume 1 of the American Shetland Pony Stud Book with the details of the name of the importer and date of importation.  After 1890, many imports were registered in the British Shetland Pony Stud. Their British name and pedigree were then added to the ASPC Registry in addition to the name of the importer and date of importation. Imports that hold dual British and American papers include: Dixie A (British registration #1504), Peace 325, Keepsake 1508, Goldie A 1531, Leaf 1456, Sagoin 1684… amongst hundreds of others.

During the first few years of the ASPC registry, all ponies had to meet a certain type and health standard to be registered. Imports were registered into the ASPC Registry up until the 1920s. After this time, it was decided that the heavier type of the British imports would not benefit the breed standard for the American Shetland that was trying to be achieved. The ASPC registry was closed to British/Scottish Isle imports.

Nightmare’s British Shetland Heritage

Links to registered British Shetland Ponies

Majestic Farm Nightmare’s pedigree can be traced back to the original ponies imported from the United Kingdom.

This includes the following registered British Shetland Ponies;

  • Odin 32
  • Jack 118
  • Lord Violet 122
  • Munes Scotland 124
  • Princess 203
  • Peace 325
  • Tom Puck 337
  • Jenny Deans 612
  • Sunflower 1409
  • Leaf 1456
  • Dixie A 1504
  • Keepsake 1508
  • Goldie A 1531
  • Strawberry Scotland 1635
  • Sagoin 1684
  • Mary Maywich 1927