Bjorn Larsen and Tore Skarpnord, Norwegian partners who live together on Shetland’s wild west coast, have done more than settle in to Shetland life since moving here in 2011. They are among the islands’ most respected Shetland pony breeders, and their little crofthouse out past Walls is filled with rosettes and trophies won by their 65 beloved ponies.
Shetland ponies have been an obsession for Bjorn since he was an 11-year-old boy in Norway, when his grandfather bought him one as a pet. That love stayed with him as he became a respected hairdresser and competed for Norway in Icelandic horse dressage competitions. Soon after he met Tore in 1996, then a respected cattle breeder in Norway, the pair started breeding Shetland ponies together, realising that Tore’s knowledge of animal conformation made them a formidable team. “I’m always looking for faults with the animals, but Bjorn sees the hair and the beauty first,” says Tore.
They’d been coming on holiday to Shetland since 2002, when finally they couldn’t bear to leave. “It made us so sad every time,” says Bjorn.
So Tore sold up the family farm, and they came to Shetland with their ponies, ready to breed more in the animals’ adopted home.
“We were welcomed straight away,” says Bjorn. “As long as you’re not an ass, people here will accept you.”
Breeding ponies, though, is an “expensive hobby” rather than a job. Tore the cattle farmer has reinvented himself as a care worker, working mainly with elderly folk on Shetland’s west side, while Bjorn recently came third in the British hairdressing championships in London, beating off a select group of top hairdressers who were bemused at where he was from. “Shetland?” they would ask him. “Do you mean Stockholm?”