Where to meet Shetland Ponies in Scotland The Shetland Pony Experience – Shetland is known for its tiny ponies. But, at best, most tourists are lucky enough if they randomly pass a few ponies in a field or on the roadside. Finding somewhere to get up close to these iconic animals was challenging, until now. [*Contains affiliate links]
The Shetland Pony Experience
The Shetland Pony Experience is run by crofters and riding school owners (mother and daughter) Barbara and Elaine Tait, with behind-the-scenes help from dad, George. The tour lasts one hour, with a maximum of 24 guests to create a personal experience with the ponies. The guests are split into three groups of eight, across three different stations. Children are completely welcome, and read on to discover why being small is an advantage.
Station 1 – Paddock
After a swift introduction and health and safety briefing, guests receive their first taste of Shetland Pony life when they’re introduced to the mares and their foals in an outdoor paddock. I think Shetland Ponies are cute, but the ponies are beyond gorgeous. They nustled into me and tried to chew my coat. [Tip – Wear wellies or outdoor shoes, and leave your favourite glad rags at home.]
Elaine explained how ponies are born outdoors – they are so hardy they are outdoors all their life. Shetland Ponies generally belong to a ‘stud’, and the Taits’ ponies are all known as ‘Merkisayre’. If you’re in the know, the stud name reveals where a pony comes from.
Station 2 – Riding Arena of the Shetland Pony Experience
Next we headed inside to the Riding Arena, built by Elaine’s dad George. Here, guests are can read display boards revealing the history of the breed and what constitutes a Shetland Pony. Details include the fact that they can be any colour, except spotted, and there is a height restriction. These wee ponies can’t be bigger than 42 inches from the withers to the ground if they are to be classed as an official Shetland Pony.
Their size meant that ponies replaced children underground during the 18th century, when child labour in the coal mines was finally banned.
After learning my history, it was time to get hands on again. I was given a comb to groom the white blond Merkisayre Duster. Grooming is a summer activity because, in winter, it’s important that the oils that keep the coat waterproof aren’t dispersed. After grooming my little pony (which did remind me of playing with My Little Pony at school) it was time for action!
Riding Arena Obstacle Course
The next part of the arena experience involved an obstacle course. I was handed the reins to Merkisayre Duster to lead her round cones and over poles. It was quite straightforward, and she was pretty obedient, but I was strangely nervous and proud to complete it without incident. A Shetland Pony is heavier than it looks, so one of the main objectives was to ensure the pony didn’t stand on my foot.
Ride a Shetland Pony
I was dismayed, but not shocked, to discover I was too big to ride the ponies. But this is when being a wee one is an advantage – children under nine stone can ride the ponies.
Station 3 – Beach Walk
The last station was my favourite, simply because it was so beautiful. We led our ponies from the croft, across the sandy grass, down to Bannamin beach. Elaine and Barbara ensure it’s one pony between two guests, so you really get quality time with the animals, on a stunning stretch of Shetland coastline.
I walked my pony next to the waves, and it did feel utterly timeless – I could have been in any century, at any time. The islands’ scenery makes for a jaw dropping backdrop. I have never been this close to a Shetland Pony in all my days, and it was wonderful.
Photo Opportunity during the Shetland Pony Experience
Elaine and Barbara take time to capture great photos of their guests on your own phone, so I posed with my very own Shetland Pony. The Taits don’t believe in restricting photographs or selling them – personally I find it annoying when I’m charged an additional £15 or more for a photograph of myself! Once you’re part of the experience the photographs the team take on your phone are your own to treasure, show your friends or share on Facebook.
At the end of the experience I was offered a memento to take home with me. After a tough decision between a rosette or a notepad, I opted for the pad and pen to jot down all my Shetland memories.
Location of the Shetland Pony Experience
It sounds remote but the Shetland Pony Experience is only a 25 minute drive from Shetland’s capital of Lerwick. From Shetland’s mainland, drivers cross Trondra onto the island of Burra. The three islands are linked by causeways, roads and bridges so it’s no problem whatsoever. [One tip – my Satnav drove me to the middle of nowhere, and phone reception was limited, so get clear driving instructions before you head off.]
Ticket Prices and Seasonality
The Experience is a flat rate per person (no concessions) and it is a seasonal experience so click here for the current prices and info. For an in depth list of things to do in Shetland, read a detailed guide here – there’s so much going and lots of family friendly activites and attractions.
And if you fancy some Shetland pony souvenirs, I don’t think you can beat these cute chocolate ponies in the Lerwick chocolate shop Mirrie Dancers chocolatiers.
I caught the overnight Northlink ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick (read more detail about the experience here, it’s an adventure in itself). I picked up a hire car from Bolts at the terminal. I’d definitely recommend them because renting a hire car in Shetland is so easy it almost verges on relaxing, and it’s a very reasonable price, with great personal service. From the terminal I headed into town for a quick look around the shops and a coffee, before driving out to Burra. Driving is so easy in Shetland, every for less confident drivers.
The Shetland Pony Experience will be a dream come true for many youngsters. Even as an adult there was something so rewarding about spending time with these tough, tiny creatures. If anything, I have to wonder why it’s taken so long for someone to invite tourists to meet their wonderful ponies.