I'm helping a neighbor kid who has a really bratty pony. This pony is smart enough that she knows the difference between me on the pony and neighbor kid on the pony. So kicking her butt isn't going to work (the pony's, not the kid's).
A caveat, I'm not sure if this situation is sustainable because pony might need to be in a program where she is always under the supervision of a trainer, because she is a smart pony, and child is not a rank beginner, but not experienced.
Pony will be good, and then she'll decide she wants to do something else (such as leave the ring) and she'll set her head against the kid and head in whichever direction she wants to go. She doesn't swerve and gallop off, it's more like she sets her head and then walks to wherever she wants to walk.
We've been working on preventing the issue by teaching her to actually keep her between the aids, but if said kid loses focus (and she's 11...so focus is not always there) then pony decides to take advantage. So far to help her learn, I've had her on the longe line where I can be backup to get her turned back in the correct direction. Sometimes she can turn her around by turning her the opposite way *but* that only works if the "coast is clear" so to speak. Kid is not strong enough to pull her head back to straight once pony starts this behavior. Not even with both hands (which she has tried).
The mare will turn her head to the right (it's almost always to the right) and set her jaw against the kid. Once her head turns past the center line, it's over. When she sets her jaw she crosses it. And then she walks into whatever the heck she wants to, such as trees etc.
So - tack changes? I'd hate to put too much bit in there and then have a pissy pony when said kid isn't light enough with her hands at other points. I do think this started because kid was unsupervised and yanked on her face. Then when the mare started to misbehave, they weren't experienced enough to work through it with her and put her away out of frustration. Maresy now thinks this is an excellent choice.
A drop or flash to keep her from evading by crossing her jaw (until she has enough success?)
She's already a pissy, bratty pony. Kid can't be light with their hands when the pony is hauling her around at will.
My go-to pony bit is a mullen mouth kimberwick (not a jointed one). It's amazing how much lighter a kid can be and how much more fun a pony can be when the communication is more clear with a stronger bit.
You can make a kimberwicke stronger or milder depending on which slot you use and how tight you make the curb chain, so it's versatile that way. I have a lovely pony that I use a copper D with for the more experienced, bigger students and a kimberwicke with the little ones or more inexperienced riders. She's a super pony but I find that the kimberwicke makes the signals more clear and it's a more pleasant experience for both pony and rider.
They're not that expensive and they're pretty standard to find at a tack store, so nothing needs to be special ordered.
It's interesting how the kimberwicke is starting to show up in the upper level jumper ring these days.
We raised kids with the world's most clever Haflinger mare (one who at the beginning would just go to her stall, rider and all, when she decided she was "done"), so believe me, this can be done.
I like your approach with the lunge line. Run it up over her poll to the other bit ring if she braces on it, or back to a carabiner on the girth. I'd even consider adding side reins to keep pony straight for while while you help the child learn the strategy and confidence to meet the pull/lean/brace with a zen "give and go forward".
Use the lunge line riding to teach this child how to use leg aids, because believe it or not responsiveness to legs is the anecdote for unresponsiveness in the mouth. Doesn't have to be complicated lateral work or anything, just the simple leg on supported with a stick or (if secure enough in seat) spur means forward NOW, will accomplish what you need. Work simply on idea child puts on leg--pony must react forward (back up with wise, near-immediate use of stick first times). You can support with lunge whip but idea is for child to get the pony responsive to child's leg. You have child on lunge so child doesn't have to worry about reins at this point.
Once pony is responsive and child is beaming about this, you are ready to make a plan for each and every pull/brace/lean on the reins.
Then off line, first thing is for you and the kidlet to abandon all ideas of pulling on the pony AND pony pulling on you--no pulling head around, no pulling back when pony pulls her, etc. IT TAKES TWO TO PULL. But we always lose when riding comes down to who can pull whom around, and pony always wins. Remind child that pony cannot lean on her arms, pony has to hold herself up. Teach child punchy feel/release, feel/release to turn/whoa pony so doesn't initiate any pulling. Every time pony roots, braces or pulls, you will have child GIVE the rein (nothing to lean on) and employ THE PLAN. Pony will lose the will to pull if there is nothing to lean ON.
THE PLAN for the bracing to the right might be to immediately bend pony to the right, following her nose, and ask for go (an upward transition) with the leg, circle back to the track, downward transition when straight with no lean/pull. Then what used to be the lean-to-get-my-way becomes a way-to-get-more-work. ("More work" is a great way to sanction bratty ponies. Second only to "give food," which is problematic, in motivational power.) THE PLAN can also be immediate trot for about 8 strides every time pony roots. I explain this as instead of pulling head back up, the child is to ride the rear end of the pony in a hurry to get it up under that pointing nose. ("Keep her together!")
I continually remind the rider that if ever the pony is leaning on rider's arms, "don't hold her up! That's her job." and to give rein and leg forward, so pony can get her body under her poking nose to hold herself up.
It takes some serious doing but does not take forever. Usually the kid is so elated to have discovered the power of the leg, and so delighted to learn she doesn't have to hold the pony up, that the lesson is favorite. For young ones it then is good to start with these exercises regularly. Ponies revert to bad habits as soon as they are allowed a wee bit.
Before going to a stronger bit, sometimes I go to a sidepull, it's a western rig, bitless, but gives you leverage on the horse's nose when you really need their attention. Probably not the answer you were looking for but what you describe sounds like a respect issue, and disregarding aids. You will need to ride her, and have her respect the (bitless) pressure she feels from the device, and respond to it. Ive been a foundation trainer and colt starter for going on 20 years now, and when a horse gets heavy or disrespectful that was my "go to" device because you can give alot of pressure without really fighting with the horse. The end result is a light mouthed horse when back in the bridle. Its a semi-rigid noseband, that sits about 3 inches above the nostrils ( doesn't cut off air) and the rein rings sit at or above the corners of the mouth. It's designed to have one rein engaged at a time to direct pressure to the horses nose. The reason it's called a side pull is because if you pull the left rein, for instance , the right side of the noseband kind of "pushes" the nose the direction you want. Horse learns softness, and pressure without learning to fight a bit and their rider. Smart pony or not, she will find out that when she walks away and you do ask her to stop her feet, disengage her etc, she really can't evade the pressure and will learn that "behaviour" is taken out of her little bag of tricks. However, this should be done by an adult rider, and when she's soft and respectful try it with the child. It's tough to get children's mounts who have learned to evade their children riders to give up their tricks. Stronger bit, as you mentioned will make the pony want to get "bigger' to intimidate getting her way. Give her something that gives more pressure without strengthening her mouth, say for a month, and deal with the respect issue first with an adult in the seat. The gear doesn't matter if it's for english or western, really all we ALL want is a soft supple horse that will guide and respectfully listen to what we ask, and soft quiet way of going. Used this on many hunter youngsters.
Last edited by M.Rainey; Jan. 18, 2013 at 12:48 PM.
Pony has lots of respect for me. And actually is very soft in the bridle until she decides that she's done playing with the kid. She's not got a hard mouth so much as she decides she's done and then takes advantage. She does not do this for grups, just with the kid.
trabern, I appreciate very much the advice. That was where I was going, and it does appear that we have a ways to go. I think combined with moving venue so that we have some additional room, that will work nicely.
It's so hard, because I know what I would do for ME, but that's less useful for a kid!