If you love animals then the Shetland pony experience is for you!
I’ve been to Shetland a couple of times but my trips have usually mostly been spent seeing family and friends – my partner is from Shetland originally and his parents live up there. However, when we booked a trip up this year for a wedding I was determined to squeeze in some touristy stuff – and number one on the list was the Shetland pony experience.
I’d seen Shetland ponies when I’d been up to the islands before, but always through a fence – where I’d have to try and entice them to come close by. This was different though. It seemed like a cool way to actually learn about the ponies and their history in Shetland and be able to actually interact with them… without the wire fencing in the way.
Plus, apart from anything else, I’d been super busy at work and I wanted to do something that was good for the soul. That’s certainly what this experience is. You’re able to get close to the ponies, learn how to groom them, and spend time with them. What’s not to like?
I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a couple of hours, especially as the weather decided to play ball and stay dry for us. The whole experience is seriously charming and, luckily, not just for kids.
Here’s a detailed review of my experience at the Shetland pony experience… I’m sure by the end you’ll be keen to book your own slot!
What is the Shetland pony experience?
Here’s the short answer: it’s the best thing ever.
Now for the slightly longer answer: it’s this amazing experience on the Shetland islands where you get to get up close and personal with the Shetland ponies there. You learn about the ponies and their history in Shetland, groom them, and lead them around an obstacle course.
Plus, of course, there is plenty of time for capturing some photos. If you’re an animal lover then you really can’t go wrong. It’s a no-brainer, it’s just ace. Here’s a step-by-step guide to what you can expect…
What happens at the Shetland pony experience?
There are three main parts to the experience. Meeting the foals, grooming and the obstacle course, and then heading down to the beach.
Before the experience started, we signed a short disclaimer and then there was a quick safety briefing by the hosts. This explained that while the ponies are pretty docile and are used to being around people they’re still animals and can be unpredictable if they want to be!
Meeting the foals
Then we stepped into one of the nearby fields where we got to meet the baby foals. The two hosts, told us about the history of the experience and about the history of Shetland ponies on the islands.
This was where I had loads of questions. How do you measure the height of Shetland ponies, how long do they live for, and how much does a Shetland pony cost, and so on.
Some ponies are actually more affordable than I thought – around £400. However, if the pony had won multiple awards they’d be significantly more expensive.
Heading into the paddock
Next, we headed inside to the paddock. There were lots of interesting things to see here, including lots of rosettes on the wall.
There was also a replica coal cart on a raised platform here, which links to their history here. Shetland ponies replaced the women and children who used to work in the mines in Shetland and this was a replica of the carts they used to pull. I was quite surprised at the size of it – these ponies are obviously very strong!
There were also interesting facts about Shetland ponies on the walls. It turns out that a Shetland pony can be any shade or pattern, apart from spotted. Interesting!
Meeting Double Diamond and Duster
It’s at this part that we got to meet the lovely Shetland ponies, Double Diamond and Duster. Double Diamond – or ‘Double’ as he was affectionately termed – is the dark brown pony.
He’s the elder statesman of the ponies at the Shetland pony experience, ringing in an impressive 26 years. He’s also known for his memorable sticky-out tongue.
His teeth had become loose which then became infected, so some of them then had to be removed. The result is that his tongue pokes out when he’s going about his day!
The other Shetland, Duster, was slightly younger at age 15 and was a pale-coloured pony. We didn’t get to spend as much time with Duster but he/she was very cute!
Grooming and doing the obstacle course
First, we learned how to groom the ponies. You have to brush them with the hair, rather than against it. You also have to do it quite firmly otherwise they might think it’s just a fly pestering them! It was very relaxing doing this, it felt quite therapeutic – for me and for Double, hopefully.
After that, we learned how to lead the ponies around the obstacle course. They were very obedient and, as the owner of a wilful Labrador that seems to drag us everywhere and anywhere on a walk, Double was very docile in comparison.
We instructed him to walk on, navigate his way around the cones, and stop on demand. He was great!
Heading down to the beach
Now for the best part, leading the ponies down to the beach. As is typical in Shetland, the Shetland pony experience is only a few steps away from a beautiful scenery. You’ll lead your pony out of the paddock, through a gate and through a field that leads down to the beach.
The beach will form the backdrop for your photos with the Shetland ponies and, wow, it’s a beautiful one. Shetland really does have some beautiful beaches, they’re everywhere! Double was an amazing model and seemed happy to pose away – although he also liked to drink the seawater and munch on the seaweed scattered around the beach.
You can take photos yourself, which we did, but I have to say that our lovely hosts were great at taking photos as well. You can tell they’ve done this hundreds of times before because they knew exactly where the best backdrop and angles were. I was really pleased with how the photos came out, they’re such a great memory of such a good day.
Afterwards, we headed back up to the paddock and all the other Shetland ponies – there were around eight or so of them – were let out into the field to graze and enjoy the rest of their afternoon. That was really cool to be really close to. A few of them came over for a sniff to see if we had any snacks to give them – unfortunately not!
You can also stay on for a cup of tea or coffee with the owners. We had to get back unfortunately, but definitely stay if you have time. I did ask about a couple of the beautiful black and white photographs they have on the walls in the building. Apparently, Country Living magazine once came up and did a shoot with them there – how cool is that?!
Here’s the magazine article if you’d like to read it.
FAQs about the Shetland pony experience
Who is the Shetland Pony experience suitable for?
Everyone! I always have this question. Sometimes I worry that these sorts of activities – like going to the zoo – are off-limits unless you’re a family with children. Will you look like a bit of a weirdo if you want to come hang out with the animals as a grownup? Nah!
Luckily all the reviews of the Shetland pony experience put paid to that. There were photos with families and children, yes, but there were also lots of adults with the ponies who looked just as delighted as anyone else to be there. What can you say, animals are just good for the soul, aren’t they? So short answer, you don’t need kids to love this experience.
Put it like this: one of the lovely ladies told us that someone once proposed to his girlfriend when they were with the ponies on the beach. So it’s definitely not just for kids.
When is the Shetland pony experience open?
It’s open by appointment only so you basically have to get in touch with them on Facebook to see if they have any slots on any days that will work for you. We originally hoped for the Friday or the Monday but neither of those days worked, so we ended up going on a Sunday.
The best advice I would give is to get in touch as far in advance as you can and to rearrange your other plans around the experience if you’re really keen to do it. This is probably even more necessary if you’re planning a visit in the busier summer months.
How much is the Shetland pony experience?
It costs £35 per person for the experience, which was worth every penny in my eyes! One thing to note – there isn’t a card reader at the location. You either have to pay in cash or transfer the money 24 hours in advance. Something to keep in mind!
Where is the Shetland Pony experience?
The Shetland pony experience is located in Bridge End in Burra. It’s only a 20-minute car journey from Lerwick so it’s fairly centrally located.
I had the benefit of travelling with a local who knew the area well and who also happens to have grown up in the neighbouring island of Trondra, so for us it was straightforward.
However, it doesn’t need to be complicated for you. When you book you will be sent clear instructions by the hosts via Facebook Messenger, which I found really helpful and easy to follow. We checked off the instructions as we were driving.
The hosts ask you to arrive ten minutes before the session starts.
How many people will be in your group?
This depends. On our trip, there were supposed to be six people but two of them were delayed due to circumstances out of their control, and, unfortunately, they didn’t show up at all.
That meant there was only four of us in total, which meant each pair had their own pony to look after – which was amazing! I felt very lucky for that.
However, there are groups that book in from the visiting cruise ships and that hoicks the numbers up a lot more. Thankfully there is a cap on the number of people who are allowed to book in for a session and that is 24 people per session.
When is the best time to do the Shetland pony experience?
The experience runs between May and September each year, and then closes for the winter to give the ponies a break. I imagine the weather conditions in winter might be a bit extreme for tourists too, plus there’s the lack of daylight to consider.
We visited at the tail end of September and that seemed like a good time to visit. The weather was pretty decent by Shetland standards – we got a good window of nice weather anyway – and it was a small group. As I said earlier, if you visit in the peak season there will be crowds from the cruise ships booking up slots as well, so it can get pretty busy.
The cruise ships run April to October each year, as an FYI.
Shetland pony experience reviews
The reviews for the experience speak for themselves. Everyone is completely charmed by the ponies – and the obvious passion of owners – who make the experience so great!
Here’s a flavour of some of the latest five-star reviews of the experience…
“When I learned we were going to the Shetland Islands the only thing I wanted to do was see the ponies… and this experience fit the bill! Very hands on, and our guides Elaine, Susan and Barbara were fun and knowledgeable! Benji, (my pony) will live in my heart forever.”
“When I knew I’d be on Shetland, I looked for an experience that ensured I’d meet some ponies. This experience provided that and more. Benji was our boy and he was a beautiful and sweet horse.”
“A very well-organised and friendly time spent with gorgeous ponies. Excellent value for money and located in outstanding scenery.”
Are there toilets at the Shetland pony experience?
I always have the most important questions whenever I go on any tourist excursion. But the good news is that the answer is yes, there is a toilet there, so all good on that front!
What else did I learn about Shetland ponies?
Another interesting fact I learned is that Shetland ponies’ coats are completely waterproof. They also live outside during all weather conditions – they don’t sleep in stables or anything.
My partner had a Shetland pony for a while when he was growing up and I remember him telling me that they kept their pony outside all the time. I remember being surprised thinking about this pony standing outside in the cold and the rain.
However, this is what you’re supposed to do. And if you bring them in it’s not good for them because they’re built to withstand those tough conditions. It actually makes them less hardy. So now I know!
Where else can I see Shetland ponies in Shetland?
You can see Shetland ponies all over the island. If you travel around you’ll spot them hanging out in fields all over the island.
However, if you want to get up close to the ponies and not have to take photos of them through wire fences – as I’d done in Tingwall a couple of days earlier – then the Shetland pony experience is what you need.
What should you bring/wear to the Shetland pony experience?
1. A waterproof jacket
According to the hosts, the experience has never been cancelled as a result of the weather. Make sure you’re prepared for whatever weather Sheland brings with a wind-proof and waterproof jacket.
2. Suitable shoes
Definitely wear suitable footwear. You’ll be walking through a field down to the beach so hiking boots or trainers you don’t mind getting a little bit muddy are essential!
3. A beanie hat
The winds up in Shetland are something else. Keep it cosy with a big chunky beanie hat so that can focus your attention on the ponies, not noticing how cold you are!
4. Hand sanitiser
You’ll have an opportunity to wash your hands after the experience but you might want to bring your own hand sanitiser with you if you’re in a rush or you prefer to use your own one.
5. A well-charged phone
Yes, of course, it’s nice to live in the moment, but I’ll absolutely treasure the photos we took of our time with the ponies. If you want photos, charge your phone up beforehand so it’s got plenty of juice.