When you think of horses, chances are you think of the really big ones. But spare a thought for the tiny ones too! Little horses are incredibly versatile and have many uses, from being the obvious choice for mount for children, to driving, showing, keeping as pets and all sorts of other things. If you’re looking for a small horse for one of these reasons, it may be useful to have a look at a Shetland pony vs Miniature horse list.
Shetland ponies, as the name implies, originated on the Shetland Isles, Northeast of mainland Scotland. Small horses have lived in this area since the Bronze Age, where the harsh climate and scarce food turned out horses of a very hardy nature. When the Norsemen arrived in Scotland, their horses were probably crossed with the natives, and it is thought that the Celtic pony also influenced the original Shetland.
The Shetland’s first uses were thought to be mainly farm work, such as plowing and pulling carts carrying peat and coal. When the Industrial Revolution took hold around 1760 to the mid 1800s, Shetlands were used as pit ponies, where they worked underground hauling coal.
The Miniature Horse was first developed in Europe in the 1600s, and they started out life as pets for nobility. Their lives grew harder after the English passed a law prohibiting children from being used as mine workers, and small ponies started to be used instead.
In 1861, a Shetland pony was brought to the US, and the possibility for using small horses in mines grew in popularity. Dutch mine horses and additional British horses were shipped over, and they continued to be used in the mines until the mid 1900s. Their popularity didn’t wane despite no longer being used for mining, and by the 1960s they had won a firm place in the hearts of the public, and were being increasingly used in a number of disciplines.
Shetland ponies range in height from 70cm (28in) to the maximum permitted by the breed, which is 107cm (42in).
Miniature horses are registered in the US under two different organisations: the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) and the American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR). The AMHA allows Miniatures to be up to 38 inches at the withers, while the AMHR has two divisions, A and B. The A is for horses 34 inches (86cm) and under, the B is for those 34 to 38 inches ( 86 to 97cm).
Shetlands can be any color, but the most commonly seen shades are black, chestnut, bay, roan, palomino, dun and silver dapple. Registered Shetlands do not carry the leopard spot gene (Appaloosa type spotting) or the Champagne gene, though these are sometimes seen in Shetland crosses.
Miniature horses can be registered in any coat color, with all types of white markings as well as blue eyes.
The Shetland is a sturdy looking pony, with a small head and often a dished face. The eyes are widely spaced, and small alert ears top off the head. The neck is short and muscular, the body compact and short, and the legs are strong, with a canon bone which is shorter than normal in relation to its size.
The back is broad and short, and leads to a very thick tail – Shetlands have an unusual amount of hair, as they come from a land that is very cold. Their winter coats are dense and double the thickness of other breeds.
The Miniature horse should have conformation that is identical to a “normal sized” horse, just a lot smaller. If you were to look at a picture of a Miniature horse, with no size reference, you should not be able to tell that it is anything but a full sized horse. Some Miniatures in South Africa have been bred to look like tiny Arabs, while others look like scaled-down Draft horses.
There is ongoing discussion bout whether the Miniature should be classified as a horse or a pony; because it is below 14.2 hands it is technically a pony, but many actually retain a horse phenotype and as such are classified as horses.
The Shetland’s paces are all springy and athletic, and it is a surprisingly strong horse. For its size, it is the strongest horse there is, and can pull twice its own body weight and carry up to 9 stone.
Because a Miniature horse is just that, a horse in miniature, they can be capable of all the gaits exhibited by their larger counterparts. There are even reports of Miniature horse displaying some of the characteristic gaits shown by certain types of Stepping and Walking horses.
Shetlands are very intelligent horses. They are generally gentle and good tempered, but they can have a tendency to be highly opinionated, probably due to their intelligence. If they are allowed to become spoiled they can get cheeky, “snappy” and uncooperative.
Miniature horses are bred to be friendly and good with people. They do, of course, still retain their horsey characteristics, and can be flighty, although they should be eager and friendly but not skittish.
Because of their small stature, Shetlands are perfect for young children to learn to ride. They are used for plodding around the lanes with their young jockeys, as well as for showing by children and adults. They are great for harness driving classes because of their great strength, and are also seen in petting zoos. The UK also features Shetlands in the Shetland Pony Grand National, which is a smaller version of one of the UK’s biggest horse races.
Miniature horses are generally used for showing rather than riding, but driving is also included in their repertoire. Interestingly, Miniature horses are increasingly being used to do the work of guide dogs or assistance animals for people with disabilities. This has its merits, as the horses live longer than dogs and can be trained just as easily, but also a controversy as the nature of this job means they have to be indoors a lot, which is an unnatural environment for any wild, even domesticated, animal.