Although my parents imported New Forest Ponies from England, I always felt they vastly missed the mark and should have chosen the sturdiest of all creatures, the Shetland.
When my kids were younger, I would browse websites of U.K. Shetland breeders, coveting the animals’ small, fuzzy roundness. At the time, we were boarding our three quarter horses and our oldest gelding was having a hard time sleeping, so the stable owner suggested a little pony friend for him. I immediately went back to browsing, and found the cutest, roundest little black and white mare I’d ever seen. I contacted breeder Mari Williamson of Benston Stud and arranged to buy a foal from her. We decided that it would be nicer to ship two together, because they were only 6 months old, and she connected me to Annette Hunter of Benstonholm Stud from whom I bought Benstonholm Sundance, now called Rumpus.
They came by ship from the Shetland Islands to Aberdeen, then to quarantine in Wales, then to Amsterdam and finally a flight to New York, where they stayed in quarantine for another two weeks. I loved the thought of them coming off the airplane, among all the world-class show jumpers and dressage horses. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than when they got off the trailer and puttered calmly around Sable Oak Equestrian Center in Brunswick, where they were stabled.
The two boys developed beautifully, although Scallywag was a little calmer and heavier. I liked his type particularly—very broad and extremely strong. We decided to keep him as a stallion and Rumpus was gelded. We weren’t sure how they’d do stabled together, but they’ve remained fast friends.
When they were 2, I decide to import two mares and contacted Williamson again. She gave me something I never imagined—that little round black and white mare—Rhianna! The other mare is Porsche, red and white, who had already had one foal and was a good mother. They followed a similar journey, and as we prepared to ship them I contacted the town office and asked if I could add a pony barn to my 2.5-acre property in Harpswell. When they said yes we immediately built a nice little barn, made for Shetlands. I cleared some land for a pasture and the boys moved here.
Soon the mares arrived. Scallywag was beyond thrilled. He was better socialized than some young stallions, thanks to Rumpus, but the mares were not amused and he quickly learned to keep his distance. At one point, he stood dejected, then went miserably to Rumpus. Rumpus actually sighed, then went over to meet the mares, who preferred his less-interested approach. Scallywag eased closer and they finally got to know each other. He learned his “manly duties” very well and has been a polite, careful stallion ever since.
Scallywag was raised by his own sire—Merrylee’s Nugget, who is a champion show stallion in the U.K.—so when his first foal, Pillywiggins, was born, we put them out together fairly soon. He adored her and she stayed with him a lot.
Porsche and Scallywag get along beautifully—he obeys her and she seems to like him. We all thought Rhianna would be queen of the herd, but Porsche—a quiet, slightly shier mare—was absolute ruler from the first second she got off the trailer. She never puts her ears back, yet somehow she’s undisputed. (She did double-barrel kick Scallywag a few times at the start and that was the end of any pestering).
In contrast, Scallywag is absolutely terrified of Rhianna (and bees, too). Rhianna sneaks up on him, and he actually hops to get away, whereupon she swaggers around, thrilled with herself. When she came in season, she allowed brief contact. But sadly, she’s unable to maintain a pregnancy. We were disappointed because they’d have a beautiful foal. She’s a character unto herself and the most entertaining little pony.
We all doted on Pillywiggins. I had a baby monitor in Porsche’s stall, waiting for the birth, but it was so fast, she was out and standing before I’d gotten to the barn. She was immediately friendly and curious (as was Baby Thor, our warmblood foal). We were very surprised she was a solid-color baby—there was a 12% chance of bay or black—and she doesn’t have a speck of white.
Our speedy little black foal is Rapscallion. He is our second foal and Porsche’s third. He was born three weeks early and I was completely unprepared. My son Garrett and I heard a funny squeak, which sounded like the noise Porsche made when Pillywiggins was born. We went out and there he was, already up and drying off. He had a shaky start, but he bounced back quickly. Now he races around at top speeds and lives to follow his sister around.
Note: Scallywag and Rumpus give lessons and may be visited at my daughter Natassja Voltin’s farm in Woolwich.