Tell me about driving American Shetlands

I’m looking for a small pony to fit my harnesses and carts. I’ve had a mountain welsh, a welsh and currently have a hackney who is getting near retirement. ( I’ve been driving for 40 yrs) I’ve found an American Shetland that seems to fit bill in the size and temperament category I’ve watch videos of her. She goes like my hackney who has never been shod to be high stepping. (He is constantly mistaken for a welsh) She has knee action when she gets quicker but not exaggerated. My question is: why have I never seen a American Shetland at pleasure shows. She’s 12.1 and very refined. Are these neat ponies only showing at saddlebred shows or can they be competitive in pleasure driving circles I’d appreciate hearing what anyone can tell me about their American Shetland

Not American Shetland, which has been seriously modified, but Shetlands are frequently driven, both private driving and scurry racing in the UK, and they are competitive.

I haven’t seen a traditional Shetland driving in yrs. There was a very nice pair that was driven by a well known judge back about ten yrs They were under 11h so when I started thinking of buying a new pony, shetlands were off my radar since all my harnesses, vehicles, and pony clothes(I.e. blankets, turnouts, dress sheets) are for a cute trotter 11.2h to 12.2. This little mare I’ve looked at is 12.1( size is right) and is being sold reasonably because she’s quiet and maybe too laid back ( quiet is good. I read this as not showing a lot of action). But she is so slight built that I’m afraid she might not look appropriate in my antique road cart or my CM roadster. I haven’t been showing for quite a few yrs due to health issues and then Covid but I would like to know I can.

1 Like

Shetland make nice driving ponies, though not real common in my area. Does she have papers? She is on the bigger side of what I expect to see in a Shetland, but possible depending on her family lines.

Shatlands were much refined back in the 1950s from the original UK ponies, to be more slender and have natural action for the show ring. They did and do, trim/shoe for longer toes to increase action or movement at times. They should not be trimmed to have tiny feet just because they are small. Hence the designation and registry for American Shetlands, to seperate the very different style ponies.

Even slender, I would think she could manage a vehicle made for a 12.2 pony. Might have to work on her fitness to manage the load if she only ever pulled a bike type cart before. I am sure there are classes, just have to locate them and be willing to drive to them. Pleasure Driving Shows probably would not include Roadster classes, though they do have various classes your antique vehicle could enter, no penalties for her style movement. I believe, that some Arab shows, perhaps Morgan shows, have driving classes. They do have ridden classes for ponies with action. I know one pony in our area who is going back to driving showing after winning Championships under a small saddleseat rider. Beat the adults! He is a Hackney, about 12.2, wears “show shoes” for better action. Worth checking out in your area.

I know someone who has 2 american shetlands. Her ponies are very hot, high strung types. One was trained to drive professionally but she only drove him a few times as he was unpredictable (she is quite experienced with the feisty ones so she wasn’t out of her depth). The other one I’m not sure if she’ll drive or not. Most everyone in this area either drives a mini or an oversized mini (glorified pony :smiley: :smiley:) or a full sized horse but I dunno why a nice American Shetland wouldn’t also fit the bill. There just doesn’t seem to be many of them in this area to pick from.

I see a few in CDEs, notably Mary Phelps’ pair that won the cones class at the world’s championships (she’s doing a team now) Google her name and “the gangstas” for lots of videos. Roberta Greeno has a pair as well. Both are entered in live oak next week

And down in Florida there seems to be quite a few showing in CTs and pleasure shows. I do mostly see them as pairs, but that’s because I’m seeing them at CDEs and that’s tough on a small single.

From talking to people they do seem closer hackneys in energy, but enough of that core shitland to make them smarter aka less forgiving than the hackney ponies.


Thank you to all who have responded. Seems like this little mare will work out for me. She checks most of my boxes She’s seven with driving experience. ( don’t have to spend money on training) She is going to fit my harnesses and my vehicles.( that was a must). She’s cute and is a good mover ( nice long swinging strides ). So what if I don’t know much about shetlands, I can learn. When DMK wrote that Phelps’ pairs are American Shetland crosses, I was surprised as I always thought they were welsh X. Now I know they are welsh/ American shetlands ( I’m already learning!)

1 Like

I think there’s some hackney in there maybe one of them. Katie Whaley’s pair are Welsh

Wow, gorgeous ponies! Definitely not Thelwell Shetlands, LOL.

I would blame Sears and the others as during the 1950s you could buy a mail order Shetland Pony (unbroken) for as little as $179 and take about 15 months to pay for it.

Pretty much ruined the breed.

Were I grew up there was a breeder who sold Hundreds of Shetlands each year to Sear/Montgomery Ward/ Spiegel’s … the farm is still in operation but has been an American Saddlebred operation since the very early 1960s

1 Like

That is a fascinating historical insight. I can not imagine buying a pony from a catalogue.

1 Like

I wanted a Sears pony in the worst way!! Came with a studded saddle and bridle!


All The Pretty Horses

In the mid-1950s Montgomery Ward listed ponies in its catalog. $179. for an untrained, purebred Shetland, or $18 down and 15 months to pay! Montgomery Ward had two pages of animal listings, including ponies, dogs and donkeys for sale. The catalogs of Spiegel’s and Sears Roebuck also sold donkeys and “trained ponies with a saddle” for $299; Spiegel, sold even more exotic creatures including zebras. Ponies were 2-7 years old and shipped within 24 hours.


The welfare issues are mind blowing!


Perhaps the pricing was thought to be an incentive for good care. Lots of folks then, were not far from farm and horse knowledge to give correct care. Kid’s were tough, expected to “take charge” if old enough, keep pony behaving. AND there was a good resale market to get that high price back if things dId not work out. Ponies were selling for more than many horses in those golden years. Catalog pones were attractive, refined, well bred, well built, not a scruffy beast at that point.


Agreed, my first horse was 2 decades later and only $700. For that princely sum his breeder came out to the farm three times to school me after he was delivered as part of the purchase price, and that was part of a two-week trial that had a full refund if he didn’t work out! Things were very different back then…


Out of curiousity, I googled “Shetland pony from Sears” and found an article. Apparently potential owners were told that Shetlands “need no care” and would “grow fat” cropping their owners’ lawn. Ponies were shipped around the country in crates, that had to be returned, and many came from the Fashion Club Pony Farm belonging to a Mr. Gene Harris of Chicago. He sold thousands of ponies.

Fortunately, the present is often better than the past.


Didn’t Teddy Roosevelt have ponies cropping the White House lawn? Wonder where he got them. :wink:

You could get a house from Sears, too. They would send a plan for a basic house and all the materials via rail.

I have been in at least one house here in town, built 1940, that completely matches the Sears house design. I have no doubt that it is a Sears house. It is better built than many “modern” houses built in the last 30 years. :slight_smile:

Three bedrooms (small), one bath, 10 x 14 living room and a kitchen. 940 sq ft, pier & beam foundation. What else do you need? :grin:

People used to raise families full of kids in houses that size. :+1: (Not that I’m signing up for that.)


Son lives in a Sears house from the 1950s. It is pretty little, compared to modern homes. It is in a factory home neighborhood with many other small homes. Being near factories that provided housing to entice workers, we see those small homes still in use. Lots of folks managed fine in little houses and they were quite affordable on factory wages.

Sears also sold various barn plans and the materials to build them. Our horses stayed in a Sears barn during a Cleveland Bay show at Montpelior, the estate in Virginia. Barn was airy, spacious stalls for big horses, well designed to work in. Other locations also brag up their Sears barn as historical.

The catalog companies provided a great service to people, both in the east and farther west. Somehow they could provide “anything you needed” to live in those far-flung locations. Places with no forests could order the barn they needed. Just have to put it together! Houses were sold that way too.

Not sure where the Roosevelts got their ponies, but ponies were around, not uncommon before people went crazy buying them in the 1950s. There are all kinds of antique carriages in pony sizes out there, so people were driving ponies for years. Shows had pony classes, often Hackneys, with well dressed socialites holding the reins. The big shows had photos of winners appearing in the newspapers. I think Mrs DuPont showed ponies but they might have been small Welsh ponies. Her carriages still turn up at Martins Auction and sell well with that history.
Maybe refining the round Shetlands, showing famous children riding them got the wanting a pretty pony started.

Have to say grazing Shetlands in the front yard WAS probably enough grass to keep them nicely!


Mary Phelps’ ponies have Breyer 'horses" made in their image. :blush:

@blue_phlox_farm did you buy the pony?