‘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.