Last Updated on December 28, 2021
Owning a horse or pony is a large and long-term commitment, and they can live for a very long time. But what about a Shetland pony – how long is their lifespan?
The Shetland pony has been a popular family pet for many decades and is often ridden by two generations of children in the same family. This small but powerful breed of horse is notorious for its long lifespan, but just how many years does a Shetland pony live for? Let’s find out all about Shetland ponies and discover how long their lifespan really is!
What Are Shetland Ponies?
The Shetland pony is a very famous small breed of horse, originating from the United Kingdom. This tiny but powerful pony has long been popular as a family pet. However, its history reveals it was once much more useful.
The name of this pony breed comes from the Shetland Isles in Britain, where it was used to carry fuel and fertilizer up and down hilly and rough ground. This tiny packhorse was deceptively strong for its size and could carry a considerable amount of weight. For hundreds of years, the Shetland pony survived the tough weather conditions on these tiny islands, creating the resilient horse breed now loved around the world.
Shetland ponies make popular family pets as they are easy to look after and require smaller amounts of food than most other breeds of horses. They are able to survive in cold and harsh weather and need minimal shelter. In the modern-day, the Shetland pony is mostly used as a child’s riding pony, in harness for carriage driving, and as a companion for other horses.
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Shetland Pony Appearance And Temperament
So, as we have already said, Shetland ponies are very small, but just how small are they? These little ponies are normally measured in inches, not hands like other horse breeds. The average size of a Shetland is around 40 inches high, which equates to 10 hands high.
Shetland ponies come in a wide range of coat colors, although the most common are black, brown, and bay. They have sturdy and thickset bodies and short but strong legs.
When it comes to temperament, don’t underestimate these little ponies! They are clever, wilful, and notoriously stubborn. Shetland ponies are notorious for being naughty and troublesome.
However, they are still much loved as family pets, as they can be great with children. Shetland ponies also live for a long time and will teach many children how to ride and look after horses during their lifetime.
How Long Do Shetland Ponies Live?
The strange thing is that for many species of animal, smaller breeds have a longer lifespan than larger breeds. A good example of this is different breeds of dogs. Small terrier breeds can live for nearly twice as long as large wolfhounds, but does the same rule apply to horses?
Yes, this theory does work for horses too! Pony breeds tend to live much longer lives than larger horses, and Shetland ponies have a greater lifespan than you might expect.
Many Shetland ponies live for up to at least 30 years old, and you won’t have to look too far to find one that is 35 years old or more. There have been reports of Shetland ponies that have lived for over 45 years.
This is a longer lifespan than the average horse. Most normal-sized horses live for 25 to 30 years. This means that your Shetland pony should easily outlive your Thoroughbred!
What Factors Affect A Shetland Pony Lifespan?
However, to live a long and healthy life, your Shetland pony must be kept free from health problems. Several health issues can shorten a Shetland pony lifespan, including:
Shetland ponies are adapted to survive in tough and difficult conditions with very little food. The hills of the Shetland Isles are icy, snowy, and have only rough grazing. This means it is easy to overestimate the amount of food that these Shetland ponies need, and they can easily become overweight.
If you own or care for a Shetland pony, it is essential to carefully calculate the amount of food it needs to maintain a healthy weight. And even though these little ponies are often kept as pets, it is good for them to undertake some exercise on a regular basis. Many Shetland owners walk their pony every day, just like a dog!
Obesity and overeating can lead to many health problems in Shetland ponies, and one of these is laminitis. This is a very painful condition of the hooves, where the hoof capsule begins to detach from the bone inside the foot.
This is more common in obese ponies, as they develop a condition called insulin resistance or equine metabolic syndrome. This results in abnormal fluctuations in blood glucose regulation. If you own a Shetland pony, it is vital to carry out a body condition score assessment on a regular basis to check for abnormal fatty deposits.
• Dental Problems
Smaller equines are more prone to dental problems due to their small size. It is common for the teeth to be overcrowded in the jaw, leading to difficulty chewing. A Shetland pony should have its teeth regularly checked by an equine dental professional to monitor for any dental problems.
• Hepatic Lipidosis
Shetland ponies store large amounts of energy as fat. If they stop or are unable to eat, they will start to use their fatty tissue to provide energy and nutrition. This can be too much for the liver to process, and cause a disease called hepatic lipidosis, or ‘fatty liver disease’.
So, as we have learned, a Shetland pony lifespan can be up to between 30 and 35 years old. A fit and healthy Shetland pony can outlive a larger horse by at least five years. However, quality of life and underlying health problems will affect the lifespan of a Shetland pony.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about the lifespan of Shetland ponies. Have you ever heard of a Shetland that lived to more than 40 years old? Or maybe you want to learn more about Shetland pony health problems? Please add a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse
care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since
she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local
stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She
has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in
various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the
patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went
on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in
the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of
horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for
educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN REVN RVN A1