It has only taken 120 years, but at long last the pony breed show comes home

Shetland ponies grazing at Brindister. Click on image to enlarge.
Shetland ponies grazing at Brindister. Click on image to enlarge.

As a breed, it is synonymous with Shetland. Yet, despite being nearly 120 years old, the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society has never held its breed show in the isles that gave the world this hardy and much admired animal.

Until now. Next Saturday will mark the start of an eight-day Shetland Pony Festival, the centre­pieces of which will be the breed show, which has attracted more than 500 entrants, and a Shetland Grand National in which riders can com­pete for a place at the London Inter­national Horse Show at Olympia.

Patron of the society John Scott said: “I think it’s a great event and great to have it in Shetland, the home of the Shetland pony, for the first time. We’re looking forward to it.”

The breed show will be held on Saturday 22nd August at Clickimin, followed by the Grand National qualifier the next day. There will also be a pony pageant charting the history of the species through the ages.

Shetland Pony Festival chairman, former SIC chief executive Morgan Goodlad, said: “The organisers are delighted to have attracted so many enthusiasts to Shetland to visit the home of the pony.

“The committee have been work­ing hard to offer an exciting pro­gramme of activities which is culminating in the largest ever entry in the annual Shetland Pony Stud Book Society Breed Show.

“We encourage people to come along to spectate at Clickimin on the show day and visit on Sunday 23rd to view a Shetland pony Grand National qualifier and see the history of the pony through the ages at the pony pageant.”

What’s in a breed: beguiling mixture makes hardy stockThe Shetland pony is celebrated the world over for its characteristics. The combination of its small size, placid nature and strength make it ideal for a number of purposes, such as being handled, driven and ridden by children.

In its homeland, the breed has always been seen as a vital resource – whether traditionally as a crucial part of life either on a croft or the peat hill or more recently as a valuable tourist asset, bringing hundreds of people to the isles each year.

There is evidence of small ponies being in Shetland for over 2,000 years; however there are conflicting arguments as to the origins of the breed.

It is thought today’s Shetland pony is a combination of Scandinavian ponies, cob type ponies of the tundra regions, mountain ponies from southern Europe (which migrated via the ice fields and were brought to the isles by invading Celtic peoples) and Norse ponies, brought to the isles by invading Vikings.

For its size, the Shetland pony is the strongest of all horse breeds, a fact which is well acknowledged and has shaped the breed’s history.

The pony has helped islanders to cultivate the land for hundreds of years, transporting peat from the hills and heavy loads across crofts and homesteads and ploughing fields. As more and more roads were built, they also transported people and pulled carts.

After the various Factory Acts of the 19th century began to impose better working regulations and eventually prohibited the employment of children in all trades, the use of Shetland ponies in coal mines became widespread and many ponies were transported south.

Their growing popularity as a children’s pony contributed to the demand and it is estimated that towards the end of the 19th century as many as 1,000 ponies a year were leaving the islands.

It was as a result of this period of popularity that the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society was established, in 1890. Now in its 119th year, the society is the oldest of the UK’s native breed societies.

Existing “to maintain unimpaired the purity of Shetland ponies and to promote and protect the breeding of the Shetland pony throughout the world”, the society is the primary stud for all pedigree Shetland ponies throughout the world.

According to the society’s breed standards, which include height, colour, coat and other physical requirements to allow the ponies to be classified as Shetland, registered animals must not exceed 42 inches (107cms) at four years or over.

In the breed show there will be four rings: three in-hand rings for blacks, coloureds and miniatures and a driven and ridden ring. Entries are £8 per class. Six visiting judges have been appointed to cover the competition.

But the festival will have much more throughout the week. A variety of pony inspired events have been planned including tours to various pony studs throughout Shetland. Each tour bus departs at 8am from the Shetland Hotel and features both a tour and pony guide.

There are four days of tours planned, covering Unst, the West Mainland, Central Mainland and South Mainland respectively. The tours will take in places of local interest and include lunch, served at local halls.

A special tour on Friday 21st will take in the island of Noss and a visit to the legendary stud of Lord Londonderry. A mine owner during the 19th century, Lord Londonderry became concerned that the number of good stallions being shipped south to work in mines was leaving few quality animals to breed in the isles, and would inevitably lead to increasingly smaller ponies.

With this in mind, he leased Noss and Bressay as a base for a stud and produced quality ponies, whose forebears are often still used for breeding. The Marquis was also a founder of the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society in 1890. The visit will also take in the Shetland Pony Pund in Noss and there will be an opportunity to spot some of the many seabird colonies on the isle.

While these tours will focus on the pony, it is hoped they will be of interest to a wide audience as they take in many historical and cultural points of interest. There will also be music and crafts provided on some of the tours. Places are now limited however so early booking is es­sential.

On Wednesday, a special seminar is being held at the Shetland Museum and Archives entitled the Shetland Pony – Past, Present and Future.

With talks from speakers from around the world, including Libertus Alderkamp, Sheila Brooks and An­nette Thirsoj, the afternoon will cover the origins and history of the breed, how it has adapted over the years and what the future holds for the pony.

On Friday evening the society’s annual general meeting will be held at the Bowlers Bar at the Clickimin. All members are welcome but are reminded they will need their membership card to attend.

There is more entertainment at the weekend: the Clickimin is home to the breed show, as well as various stalls selling arts, crafts, sweets and food, including Shetland Fudge Company, and the Bestafoys catering outlet who will be selling hot food throughout the day.

Karina Isbister, from Scalloway, is one of those exhibiting at the show. She recycles horse shoes, donated by the local pony club after the ponies have been shod, by cleaning them up and decorating them.

Karina said: “I learnt it in Ireland years ago and I’ve mainly given them to friends and as wedding as presents but I have had commis­sions.”

There will also be a marquee with some examples of the equipment to be used on the pageant day, including historical items such as ploughs, kishies and other items.

After the breed show, a supper dance will be held in the Clickimin with music by Da Fustra on Saturday evening. Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased from Dawn Leask on Gott 840488. The week will culminate in a civic reception is to be held at the Town Hall as a farewell to all those involved on Sunday after the pony pageant.

Festival organisers are still looking for volunteers for the week and specifically for Saturday 22nd. If anyone can give up any of their time and would like to help they should contact Monica Johnson on (01595) 693622 or 880556.

Shetland Pony Breeders secretary Roselyn Fraser said: “We’re very busy getting geared up for the festival but we’re over the moon with the amount of entries so far and the amount of folk interested in general.

“We’re hoping for good weather and we’re really looking forward to it. It will be a fantastic showcase of the Shetland pony in its native land.”

Organiser June Brown said she was looking forward to the event “very much”. She said: “It’s been a lot of hard work. We’re at the final planning stages, the programmes are being printed and the rosettes are en route. From a personal point of view, I would really like it if a pony from Shetland came out on top on the day. That would be the icing on the cake.”


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