Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/554

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538
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
SHETLAND PONIES.

THE Shetland pony has been invested with a halo of romance somewhat out of keeping with the prosaic surroundings of its native home; and this, apparently, from a very early date, for we chanced to read not long ago that, traditionally, "the Shetland pony was carried from the Caucasian range, by ancient worshipers of Odin, to Scandinavia, thence to Shetland"—in which tradition we discern a trace of humor, if nothing more, as, considering the size of some of these animals, they are much more fitted to be "carried" than to transport any one, whether from the Caucasus or elsewhere. But this is not all. Not only is the origin of the breed thus presumably lost in the mists of antiquity; a number of popular misconceptions also prevail in regard to the present-day nature and habits of the animals, all of which it seems desirable to correct. They are now not only drafted annually in large numbers to the south, but are extensively shipped abroad. A few words, then, in regard to the breed, as it exists to-day, may not be out of place.

To begin with, we must contend—in opposition to the popularly received belief—that there is no such thing as the genuine Shetland pony, in the sense of a single pure and original breed. There happen to be several distinct kinds in the islands, and these, besides being subject to natural variation, have been further increased in number by crossing. Crosses apart, however, an Unst pony is very different from a South Mainland one, while both of these again differ from a Fetlar specimen. There are also Fair Isle and Bressay varieties. It would be invidious to seek to indicate in this paper which of these is to be considered the best. Each kind, no doubt, has its special excellences, but a sufficient latitude is perhaps allowed when we state that a pure-bred pony may be anything between, say, thirty-six and forty-eight inches high at the shoulder. A small-sized pony, again, is not necessarily any better or more valuable than a large one; though for certain purposes, such as working in coal-mines, the smaller animal only is employed. As a general rule extremes of size, either way, fetch correspondingly extreme prices.

Broadly speaking, the ponies to be seen throughout, say, the mainland of Shetland—and they are to be met with everywhere, in spite of reported scarcity—may be divided into two classes, those kept by large breeders, generally in fenced parks, and the proletariat class employed by the peasantry in labor. Strings of the latter may be seen any day upon the roads, dragging peat-fuel from the hills in Lilliputian carts. They are wonderfully tough and strong for their size, live upon hard fare, and require, or at