Tiny tri­umph

Berkshire Life - - Countryside Life -

‘Friendly, gen­tle and in­tel­li­gent, Shet­land ponies have a her­itage that goes back to the Bronze Age’ The adorable pocket-sized Shet­land pony is cel­e­brat­ing a spe­cial an­niver­sary this au­tumn

Beer, bulbs and bis­cuits; it sounds like the short­est, and least ex­cit­ing, shop­ping list ever. In fact that trio of con­sumer goods are the cel­e­brated three ‘Bs’ that gen­er­a­tions ago made the Berk­shire town of Read­ing fa­mous. It was all thanks to the suc­cess of lo­cal firms Si­monds Brew­ery, Sut­tons Seeds and Huntley & Palmers, who to­gether gave work to thou­sands of peo­ple and helped put Read­ing well and truly on the map.

A lot has changed over the years and to­day em­ploy­ment in the area is mostly made up of jobs in of­fices, re­tail and the IT in­dus­tries. So most peo­ple are amazed to dis­cover that this busy town in the Thames Val­ley has a strong link with live­stock and in par­tic­u­lar one of Bri­tain’s most fa­mous na­tive equine breeds. Read­ing’s cat­tle mar­ket has been stag­ing auc­tions on its site near the town’s rail­way sta­tion since the 1850s and it’s known through­out the horse world for its yearly Shet­land pony show and sale. Berk­shire might be more than 600 miles from Shet­land and a flight or ferry ride away, but this au­tumn marks the 50th an­nual pony event at the mar­ket in Great Knollys Street.

It’s one of the coun­try’s older auc­tion sites, al­though these days monthly fur­ni­ture and col­lecta­bles fairs have re­placed the tra­di­tional weekly cat­tle, pig and sheep mar­kets. Yet ev­ery­one agrees that the Shet­land show and sale re­stores some of the old buzz and bus­tle to the place. In re­cent years the auc­tion alone has seen more than 100 ponies en­ter the sale ring with breed­ers and buy­ers com­ing from all over the UK as well as Ger­many, Aus­tria, Bel­gium and Hol­land.

I’m not sur­prised at its pop­u­lar­ity when you think of the ap­peal of the minia­ture but mighty Shet­land. Friendly, gen­tle and in­tel­li­gent, Shet­land ponies have a her­itage that goes back to the Bronze Age. They’re renowned for be­ing tiny but tough, and de­spite their size they were first used as farm horses, car­ry­ing peat and plough­ing the fields in their na­tive Shet­land Is­lands. Their fame spread and dur­ing the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion they were brought to the main­land for use as pit ponies in the coal mines.

But it’s as rid­ing ponies for chil­dren that these adorable an­i­mals have found a mod­ern use. In fact it was a Shet­land that started the Queen’s life­long pas­sion for all things equine. When she was just four-year­sold, the lit­tle Princess El­iz­a­beth was given a Shet­land called Peggy by her grand­fa­ther, King Ge­orge V. This just goes to prove that these pocket-sized ponies may be small in size, but they have a very big fol­low­ing in­deed.

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