Most American Shetland Ponies trace back to the herd of one man, Robert Liburn, who ran Emerald grove Farm in Wisconsin. Mr Liburn first imported ponies in 1884 from the Marquirs of Londonberry, the man responsible for the first organized breeding program of ponies on the Shetland Isles. The breed society in Scotland would not be formed until 1890, with the Marquis as it's first President. Although the Marquis was a mine-owner and breeding ponies for work in the pits, he did maintain a few stallions of "Oriental" type (as opposed to the "Scandanavian" type suitable for mining), and it was this type that appealed to American buyers.
Mr. Lilburn first imported James Blain and his son John Blain (Little Johnnie) and used them extensively. Later, he purchased Trinket Jr., a black and white tobiano. Trinket Jr. would win the sweepstakes gold metal for his breed at the 1904 World's Fair. These poinies, along with the later importd Marquis, would form the foundation for his herd and that many other early pony breeders. At the height of the breed's popularity, the Lilburn herd numbered over 1200 head. He died in 1919, and his vast herd was dispered.
ALthough other stallions were imported by Mr. Lilburn, as well as other breeders, two stallions had the biggest impact on the American Shetland breed. The first was John Blain through his grandson Prince of Wales, a black stallion foal in 1891. From him two lines were established, that of the silver dapple Chestnut (who the scientifc community though for many years was the mutation that starter the silver dapple color - he was not) and that of the black Prince Patton. Prince Patton's line would be continued primarily through his great-grandson Patton L. Chestnut would go on to found the great SIlver Crescent family that was responsible for many of the great show ponies of the 1950s and 60s.
The second influential foundation sire was the black and white Trinket Jr. his line would continue through his grandson King Larigo, a black stallion foaled in 1907 (since Larigo was black, Trinket's pinto pattern would be lost to this line). King Larigo, considered one of the all-time great show poinies, would establish the Larigo family of Shetland ponies. His most successful sons would be King's Dappled Supreme and King Larigo II. King Larigo would continue the name, with offspring such as Larigo's Topper, Silver King's X and Larigo's II Commando (sire of Seth Thomas). While the Silver Crescent family was known for it's flaxen-maned sorrels and silver dapples, the Larigo line remained predominatly black in color.
Unfortunately for the person interested in assigning pedigrees to their American Shetlands, it is difficult to obtain solid bloodline information on the breed much past the 1940s. Although the breed boasts one of the oldest registries in the country (1888 - six years prior to the formation of the Jockey Club), the organization has more recently admitted to allowing their records to become hopelessly disorganized for the past few decades, making it nearly impossible to publish stud books or to provide extended pedigrees.
For those wishing to pedigree Era-Specific Aging models, there is a complete set of older American Shetland stud books (prior to 1930) in the Kentucky Horse Park Library.