What Does a Shetland Pony Eat: A Detailed Guide

If you’re a proud owner of a Shetland pony, you might be wondering, “What does a Shetland pony eat?” Look no further! In this detailed guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about feeding your beloved pony, from their dietary needs to the best types of food to keep them healthy and happy.

Shetland Pony Basics

Shetland foal 1 month old

Breed Origin

The Shetland Pony is a small and sturdy breed that originated in the Shetland Isles of Scotland. These ponies have a long history, with roots tracing back to the Mountain Pony and the Celtic Pony. They were used by crofters on the islands for various tasks, such as plowing fields, carrying heavy loads, and providing transportation.

Physical Characteristics

Shetland Ponies are known for their strength and resilience despite their small stature. They typically stand between 28 and 42 inches at the shoulder, with short, sturdy legs and strong hooves. These ponies come in a variety of colors, including black, brown, chestnut, gray, and piebald. Their coats are usually thick and heavy, providing insulation against the harsh weather conditions in their native environment.


Shetland Ponies are friendly, intelligent, and adaptable animals. They are known to be good with children and make excellent companions. Their intelligence allows them to learn quickly and adapt to various situations, making them a versatile breed suitable for many applications. They are also generally low-maintenance, requiring less frequent grooming and care than some other horse breeds.

Typical Uses

Traditionally, Shetland Ponies were used as workhorses in their native Scotland, performing tasks like plowing, carting, and transportation. Today, however, their primary use is often as children’s riding ponies. Due to their size and friendly nature, Shetland Ponies are ideal for teaching young riders the basics of horsemanship. They are sometimes still used in carting and driving events, showcasing their strength and agility despite their small size.

In terms of diet, a Shetland Pony’s primary source of food is grass. They can graze for up to 16 hours a day, consuming a diverse range of plants, including milk thistles and common thistles. When kept in a rewilding field, Shetland Ponies can also browse on twigs, brambles, and native plants to supplement their diet.

Shetland Pony Dietary Needs

Shetland pony running in tall green grass

Diet Components

Shetland ponies primarily consume grass as the main component of their diet. They typically graze for up to 16 hours per day. It is essential to provide these ponies with good quality hay to ensure they receive adequate nutrients.

In addition to grass and hay, Shetland ponies may benefit from a varied diet, including some concentrates to provide additional nutrients. However, concentrates should be limited as they can lead to obesity issues in this breed.

Caloric Requirements

Shetland ponies are considered ‘easy keepers,’ meaning they have a high feed conversion rate due to their ability to thrive on limited food sources. It’s important to provide a diet that meets their caloric requirements, without overfeeding them. Overfeeding can lead to obesity, which can cause various health problems for the ponies.

Essential Nutrients

To maintain a healthy and balanced diet, Shetland ponies require essential nutrients, such as protein, vitamins, and minerals. Along with the nutrients present in grass and hay, these ponies benefit from some marine plants, like seaweed, which is a natural source of many minerals that grasses may lack. Providing a mineral supplement may be necessary for locations where seaweeds are not available.

The nutritional value of the grasses and hay consumed by Shetland ponies plays a significant role in meeting their requirements for essential nutrients, such as protein and vitamins. Ensuring that the hay provided is of good quality and supplemented as needed will help keep Shetland ponies healthy and nourished.

Taking into consideration the dietary needs and specific preferences of Shetland ponies, it is vital to monitor their caloric intake and provide a balanced diet with proper nutrients to ensure their overall health and well-being.

Key Factors in Shetland Pony Feeding

When feeding a Shetland pony, there are several key factors to consider. This section will outline the various aspects of providing proper nutrition to these hardy and adaptable animals, including grazing and pasture, supplementing with feed, and adjusting feeding frequency and rations.

Grazing and Pasture

Shetland ponies, like other equines, thrive on grazing and pastures as their primary source of nutrition. They should have access to good-quality grass or hay, which can fulfill their fiber needs and help maintain a healthy digestive system. In fact, a Shetland pony out at grazing 24/7 may not require any additional hay if there is enough grass available.

Unlike larger horses, Shetland ponies evolved in harsh conditions, adapting to survive on limited forage sources. As a result, they efficiently utilize grass or hay, making them more prone to weight gain and obesity if overfed.

Supplementing with Feed

While Shetland ponies can generally meet their nutritional requirements through grazing and pasture, there may be instances when additional supplementation is necessary. This is particularly true if the pony is exposed to increased exercise, stress, or changes in weather conditions.

In such cases, it is crucial to provide a balanced diet containing appropriate vitamins and minerals. However, avoid feeding Shetland ponies large amounts of grain or concentrates as they can easily lead to obesity. Instead, opt for a ration balancer or low-energy feed designed specifically for horses and ponies prone to weight gain.

Feeding Frequency and Rations

For overweight Shetland ponies, it is recommended to feed 1.5% of their body weight dry matter in fiber per day. For example, a 500-pound Shetland pony would need around 7.5 pounds of hay each day. The daily ration should be divided into multiple smaller feedings, typically two to three times a day, to promote healthy digestion and prevent overconsumption.

Continuously monitor the Shetland pony’s body condition to adjust rations accordingly. Decrease the daily ration if the pony appears overweight and increase it if the pony seems underweight. Owners should also ensure that their Shetland ponies always have access to fresh water.

In conclusion, feeding Shetland ponies requires attention to grazing and pasture access, feed supplementation as needed, and proper rations and frequency to maintain their health and well-being.

Health Considerations for Shetland Ponies

Beautiful closeup low ground view of cute dark shetland pony

Common Diet-Related Issues

Shetland Ponies are a hardy breed, known to thrive in various environments. However, they can face diet-related health issues due to their nature as easy keepers. They primarily consume a forage-based diet, primarily consisting of grass hay and occasionally alfalfa. Shetland Ponies often gain weight with little food, making them susceptible to obesity and other health concerns like metabolic syndrome, laminitis, and digestion problems.

Preventing Obesity and Laminitis

To prevent these health issues, it is crucial to monitor the body weight of your Shetland Pony and maintain a proper diet. Offer approximately 1 to 1.75 pounds of moderate-quality grass hay per 100 lbs of bodyweight, and avoid excessive amounts of concentrate or energy-rich feeds. Limit their access to lush pastures, as the high carbohydrate content of fresh grass can contribute to obesity and increase the risk of laminitis.

Furthermore, providing a mineral salt block can help ensure that your pony receives the essential minerals needed for their health. Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring your pony’s exercise routine can also prevent obesity and reduce the likelihood of laminitis.

Providing Adequate Shelter

Despite their hardiness, Shetland Ponies need proper shelter to protect them from harsh weather conditions and maintain their health. Adequate shelter can also prevent exposure to toxic plants, as wild plants in their environment can sometimes cause digestion problems or other health concerns.

Provide a shelter with at least three sides and a sturdy roof to shield your Shetland Pony from the elements. Make sure the shelter has enough space for them to move around comfortably and that the area is clean, dry, and well-ventilated. Access to fresh, clean water should be available at all times, as dehydration can lead to serious health issues.

By considering these aspects of diet, exercise, and shelter, you can improve the overall well-being and health of your Shetland Pony, ensuring a happier and more fulfilling life for both of you.

Adapting Shetland Pony Feeding Practices

Feeding for Different Life Stages

Shetland ponies, native to the Shetland Islands, are known for their hardiness and ability to thrive in harsh climates. Their dietary requirements vary throughout life stages, and it is crucial to adjust their feed accordingly. Foals, for example, require adequate nutrients for growth and development, while senior ponies may need additional support for their aging bodies.

Hay is a crucial component of a Shetland pony’s diet, especially during winter months or when grass availability is limited. The quantity provided should be around 1.5% of their body weight and can be reduced if they’re grazing 24/7 (source). Apart from hay, incorporating supplements such as seaweed or other essential nutrients might be necessary to ensure a well-rounded diet.

Diet Adjustments based on Activity Level

The activity level and lifestyle of a Shetland pony must also be considered when determining their feed requirements. For instance, ponies participating in activities like competitive events, children’s rides, or being used as therapeutic animals, will likely need a higher energy intake.

In contrast, ponies with a more leisurely lifestyle, such as farm animals, may have reduced activity levels, which necessitates a lower energy intake to avoid weight gain. Introducing appropriate adjustments like the inclusion of concentrates or forage alternatives can be a useful tool to cater to the pony’s energy requirements (source).

American Shetlands, which are often used as performance animals or in mining activities, may demand a specialized diet tailored to their unique roles. Whether they are coal mining workers, have specific tack and equipment, or carry Appaloosa genetic lineage, each variable will influence the necessary dietary modifications.

Maintaining an Optimal Diet for Lifespan and Health

To ensure the best care and optimal lifespan, Shetland pony owners must adapt feeding practices based on life stages, activity levels, and overall health. Regular monitoring and proactive adjustments to their diet will contribute to their well-being, promoting a happier, healthier life for these resilient equines.

Shetland Pony Communities and Resources

Shetland Pony looking at front in a forest

Shetland Ponies are small, hardy animals that have been in existence since the Bronze Age, originating in the Shetland Isles, northeast of mainland Scotland. They have adapted well to their environment, with their small stature and heavy coats allowing them to thrive in harsh, cold climates. Shetland Ponies’ primary diet consists primarily of grass, with some also enjoying milk thistles and prickly common thistles.

Shetland Pony Organizations

One of the primary organizations dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Shetland Ponies is the Shetland Pony Stud-Book Society. They are responsible for maintaining breed standards and ensuring the continued excellence of Shetland Ponies around the world. The society registers Shetland Ponies and works with breeders and enthusiasts to provide resources, support, and education on this unique breed.

Finding Trustworthy Breeders

Locating a reliable and trustworthy Shetland Pony breeder is essential for those looking to buy a healthy and well-adjusted pony. It is important to research the breeder and their reputation, as well as visiting the facility in person to observe the care and living conditions of the animals. Price ranges for Shetland Ponies can vary from $500 to $5,000 or more, depending on factors such as age, bloodlines, and show records.

Shetland Pony for First-Time Owners

Shetland Ponies can be excellent companions for first-time horse owners due to their small size and friendly nature. Their hardiness and adaptability make them relatively low-maintenance pets, although it is crucial to provide proper care, nutrition, and shelter. Lifespans for Shetland Ponies can vary, but they often live up to 30 years or more with proper care.

Some tips for first-time Shetland Pony owners include:

  • Providing them with an adequate grazing area, as they can eat grass for up to 16 hours a day.
  • Ensuring they have access to clean water and the occasional fresh, non-grassy treat, like carrots or apples.
  • Regularly grooming their thick coats to keep them healthy and free of debris.
  • Keeping their hooves trimmed and cleaned to prevent issues like thrush or laminitis.
  • Ensuring they have access to a shelter or stable to escape harsh weather or other elements.

Historically, Shetland Ponies have been used for various tasks, including hauling carts and plowing fields. They have a strong work ethic and are capable of carrying heavy loads for their size, making them excellent work partners for tasks such as farming or transporting goods. Some Shetland Ponies have also been crossed with larger breeds, like the Clydesdale, to enhance their working abilities.

In conclusion, Shetland Ponies are unique, versatile animals that can be an excellent addition to any family, farm, or stable. By connecting with reputable organizations, finding a trusted breeder, and understanding the needs and abilities of these sturdy ponies, first-time owners can experience a rewarding and long-lasting partnership with these endearing creatures.

What Does a Shetland Pony Eat?

A portrait of a lone Shetland Pony with big hair

Shetland ponies are small yet hardy and strong animals originating from the harsh environment of the Shetland Isles in Scotland. To survive in such conditions, these ponies have developed a diet based on the limited resources available in their native habitat.

The primary component of a Shetland pony’s diet is grass. As they are known to graze for up to 16 hours a day, they can consume a significant amount of grass during this period. In areas where grass is scarce or of poor quality, additional sources of forage, such as hay or haylage, may be provided to supplement their nutritional needs.

Shetland ponies have a unique ability to thrive on limited food supplies, making them efficient grazers that can subsist on lower quality pasture than many other horse breeds. This is due in part to their smaller size and slower metabolic rate, which enables them to survive on less. However, it’s essential to monitor the pony’s body condition to ensure they are receiving adequate nutrition.

When considering supplementary feed, it’s essential to opt for low sugar and low starch options, as Shetland ponies are prone to obesity and associated health problems like laminitis. Concentrates, such as pelleted feeds or grains, should be fed in moderation and adjusted to the pony’s workload and overall requirements.

To ensure their nutritional needs are met, a mineral and vitamin supplement may be provided, particularly when grazing is less than optimal or if their diet lacks necessary nutrients.

As with all horses, clean, fresh water should always be available for Shetland ponies to drink.


To summarize, the primary food source for Shetland ponies is grass, and they can graze for extended periods due to their hardy nature. Additional forage, in the form of hay or haylage, can supplement their diet when necessary. It’s crucial to pay attention to their body condition and nutritional needs, adjusting their feed accordingly to prevent obesity and other health issues. Finally, always provide access to clean, fresh water for these adaptable and tenacious equines.