My first sighting of Berry Farm was while approaching Scalloway harbour on the ferry from Burra in the 1950s, our destination Blackness Pier. A group of Shetland ponies were grazing on the hill above Port Arthur. My only encounter with a pony before this had been at Quarff when we visited my auntie’s croft. The pony was used to take the peats in from the hill. I was placed on the pony and I promptly fell off. It would be fair to say that this was a bad introduction to this renowned breed.
This was all to change when I began to work for the Smith family, I soon found out their ponies were much revered and were like an extended family, such was the care and attention paid to them. They were not as popular with the farm workers as they were notorious for leaning on and breaking fence posts and they most definitely had a mind of their own.
Shetland ponies had been a great passion of my old boss John “Sheepie” Smith and the family grew up around the ponies. Of course they were initially practical working ponies carrying out all the farm duties such as ploughing and carrying heavy loads such as taking home the peats.
With the introduction of farm machinery ponies were spared the arduous farm work and became mainly show ponies and pets. I was soon to find out that although the ponies were the property of the Berry Stud, there was a competitive rivalry between Eva and Jim as to who was the best pony breeder. Jim concentrated on the miniature pony while Eva was more on the standard breed. The Berry stud was famous worldwide and their bloodline was much sought after.
In the early 1970s I recall having to help out loading ponies at Berry farm, their destination was Norway; this was a very strong marketplace, not only for Berry but Shetland pony breeders in general. The ponies were delivered down to Sumburgh airport by Jim in the Berry van and loaded on to a fairly large cargo plane. I was to travel over with the ponies to help out but was disappointed to learn that Jim would be the only passenger allowed to travel.
Jim and Eva’s interest remained resolute right up to their final years; you could look out upon what was their pride and joy the Berry ponies. I am pleased to say on a recent visit to Berry the ponies are still in place, where they should be. I attended the Walls agricultural show recently and had a look at the Shetland ponies on show. I recognised one of the breeders who I had seen in the past at Berry farm, I asked was there any of the Berry stud left, he proudly pointed out a beautiful pony its name Beechnut of Berry it did quite well at the Walls show, however at the larger county best of breeds show Beechnut of Berry came out top in the best of breed miniature class. I know that the Berry people would be delighted that their ponies are still acknowledged as amongst the best a very fitting legacy.