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Teaching a horse (and pony) to "pony"

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  • Teaching a horse (and pony) to "pony"

    Eventually I would like to be able to ride my horse while leading my pony on trails, at some point possibly even with a child aboard the pony. Does anyone have any tips on how to work up to this in a way that is as safe as possible for all involved?

    On the up side, both equines are pretty sensible and well-mannered; they (both mares) are attached to each other and go out peacefully together with little drama between them. I've ridden my horse out on trails several times a summer (wish it was more!) for the past 5 years. She's a Standardbred and pretty typical of her breed in terms of level-headedness. The pony doesn't know a lot yet (we just got her a couple months ago) but she does lead well, she has great brakes and generally a nice steady temperament. I do have a place to ride inside during bad weather, and I will be riding/working with them both regularly all winter.

    On the down side, both mares and I are "green" as far as pony-ing goes.

    Where to begin???

  • #2
    Start with Western saddle as the "horn" is very useful. It's also useful to start with an assistant. Use a standard halter and lead rope on the horse to be lead.

    Mount up on the "master" horse and get them properly warmed up. Stand in the middle of the work area. Then have the assistant bring the "slave" horse up on the "off side." If there are no issues from either horse then take the lead line from the assistant. Position the "slave" horse so that its nose is about even with your leg. (If your saddle is putting you into a more "chair seat" then allow the nose to be about even with the rear girth line).

    Gather the bight of the lead rope in your right hand, reins in the left. Do not wrap the lead rope around your hand, or allow it to become wrapped around your hand!!!!! Position the assistant so that they can encourage the "slave" horse to move forward when you decide to start to walk. When you're set, command the "master" horse to walk, say "walk" so that the "slave" horse knows to move, and let the assistant encourage the "slave" horse as required.

    If it doesn't work, drop the lead rope. Better to start again than get pulled off your horse.

    Once both horses are moving forward without a problem release the assistant. Do some straight lines to start with big turns. As both horses become more comfortable then add smaller circles, some serpentines, whatever you want to solidify the experience.

    Stay with just the off side for the first lesson. In later work you can pony from both sides of the "master" horse.

    With well trained horses you don't need to do much more.

    If there is some reluctance to go forward by the "slave" horse then loop the lead rope over the horn. Do not take a dally!!! Rather use the horn as a "bollard" to work the "slave" horse and communicate that the only reasonable option is forward movement. If you get a "blow up" or other problem then drop the lead rope.

    Wear jeans and chaps for this exercise as the lead rope will be running accross your right thigh and you don't want any "rope burns" on you!!!

    This is also a great way to teach youngsters to lead.

    Done quietly it takes once or twice and most horses "get it."

    Good luck in your project.

    Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


    • #3
      I teach my guys voice commands anyway, but it really helps if they know them for ponying. When I pony ahorse for the first time I use a rope halter and a 10-12' lead. It is a good idea to have a ground person to help until you know how your guys are going to behave. Start out in an enclosed area and just take it slow. I pony off my right side, I position the ''pony'' on that side before I mount and tell them both to stand. With the lead draped over my horses neck (ground person can hold pony on the other side if you want) and mount up. I hold the reins in the left hand and the lead in the right. You will have to figure out how to organize the lead for yourself. Some people wrap it around the saddle horn, but I pony english sometimes, so I tuck the end into my back pocket and hold the rest so that if something bad happens I don't get hung up. I use voice commands and a slight pull to move off and they usually come along pretty quick. Plan ahead for turns and starts/stops. Try to keep your ''pony'' near your leg, don't let them get behind or too far ahead where they could cross to the other side of your horse. Having good brakes is also very important. Most horses learn to pony quickly and it can be great exercise for young or unridable horses. Just be aware of your horses moods and stay safe.
      Just cause you move to Texas, doesn't mean you are a Texan. After all, if a cat puts her kittens in the oven, It doesn't make them Bisquits.


      • #4
        If the horse to be ponied is educated to following the feel of the lead rope in any direction including stop, then it becomes a matter of showing them where you want them to be. You are just sitting on the horse instead of giving the direction from the ground. I like using a 12' rope. Also be sure the horse you are riding is good to having ropes brushed against them and drug around them on the ground. I've seen some horses that didnt mind ropes touching them but had a coniption when they saw a rope moving on the ground.


        • Original Poster

          Thank you for all the detailed suggestions and things to think about, guys.
          I appreciate it!


          • #6
            Pretty much, what Guilherme said, I just want to emphasize some things.

            Do not get in any situation where you or the horse you are riding can become tangled in the rope. This does take some thought- it is a frequent cause of 'wrecks' among experienced packers because, well, they just fail to focus on it for only an instant, sometimes.

            This includes, mainly, having the lead rope caught under the tail of the horse you are riding. That is a yee-haw moment if your horse has never had the experience. Why? Foreign object under tail- horse clamps tail- foreign object therefore won't go away- horse wants to get away from it, but won't escape 'it' so long as tail is clamped! One schools a horse on this one by putting it in a round pen, taking a two-foot or so length of broomstick. Lift tail, place broomstick underneath, horse clamps tail, get outta the way and let the horse sort it out. Sooner or later, horse relaxes tail and the stiff broomstick immediately drops to the ground. Rinse and repeat. Horse gets connection to keep tail relaxed- and then you won't have problems with lead ropes.

            Also- when ponying, you want to be riding the dominant horse and leading the less dominant. Otherwise you have a PITA harassing the horse you are riding.

            I teach mine to pony from either side, either ponying with head 'at my knee' for conditioning/exercising, or behind the horse I'm riding, for packing on the trails. I start in the arena, and fine tune the specifics as I go, on the trails. I'll often tack both, ride one and pony one and switch off half way around. The lead rope for the one I'm ponying is doubled in my hand- not looped around, as previously noted. If, in the wilderness, I am going up a tricky section, I'll tuck the lead rope under an arm if I otherwise need both hands. If I need to release the horse I'm ponying because of trappy/steep going- all I have to do is raise my arm.


            • #7
              try this!

              Use a longer than normal lead cotton rope too for grip and tie a know on the end and a few along the way again for grip. Then just do it. Make sure both understand a cluck. The hardest part is to slow down the larger ridden horses gait and to speed up the led horses gait if it's mismatched. Really the only way is to just go out and try it. I don't advocate using a horn. Always be able to release/drop the lead if needed. The led horse needs to learn to space properly so the leading horse doesn't kick them or get annoyed. Watch their reactions; it'll tell you what to do. It's not that hard.


              • #8
                I like to start out in an enclosure, keeping the ponied horse by my knee until they get the hang of it.

                Also, if a horse does not like to be the pony (the one you are riding), I don't force them. I had one that was aggressive toward every horse we tried to pony, and it simply did not work out. On the other hand, he loved being the horse who was led (memories of his racetrack days, I guess). My husband's warmblood is also not very good at ponying. He seems to get confused easily when leading another horse. When something surprises us on the trail, he is unhelpful at best. Yes, I could train him better, but IMHO, he's got no talent for it.

                I do like to ride in a western saddle for ponying. It gives you added security, and you can wrap the rope around the horn (once only--need it to release in an emergency) for a moment or two if you need to. The rigidity of a western tree and the fenders really do add to rider security--and when you feel more secure, your horses will be more secure, too. A western saddle isn't essential. I've ponied in other types, even treeless. But until your horses are trained, a western saddle is helpful.

                In addition to what G and Bev said, make sure your girth is tight enough. I've had my saddle pulled sideways when the horse being led spooked. I've also been pulled off the back when the horse being led spooked. Since I still had the lead, it hurt when I hit the ground.

                Wear gloves.

                Practice mounting, turns, stopping, and even backing up while you are in an enclosure.

                It helps if your pony horse neck reins. I'm terrible at training a horse to neck rein, so I haven't had that luxury. Mine do okay, but it would be much smoother if they neck reined!

                I currently have an OTTB I was able to use as a pony without any prior training. He's just a cool horse who does everything I ask. He doesn't care where the "slave" horse is in the pecking order and does not kick or spook. Unflappable. If you are lucky enough to have one of those, it will be very easy.
                Last edited by matryoshka; Dec. 22, 2009, 12:40 PM.
                "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."


                • #9
                  Yup, gloves are a Good Idea.

                  Be careful of getting your lead rope too long. It will mean difficulty controlling the "bitter end" and you don't want a bunch of extra lead rope hanging around to get wrapped up on something/one.

                  A tight girth, here, is a Very Good Thing.

                  It's best to have a very clearly defined "space" where you want the lead horse to be. It can be on either side, but it should be a clear to the lead horse where it's supposed to be. This can take some time, but it's not much different from teaching the correct position for the horse while being lead from the ground.

                  Again, most horses that are broke to lead "get it" fairly quickly.

                  Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


                  • #10
                    I ponied all my youngsters in preparation for riding. I began ponying them as yearlings. At the time I had a very reliable mare that would pony for me. Described as "broke to death" by a cowboy who later helped me with one of my problem horses. (She would neck rein beautifully for him but not for me. Ugh.)

                    Another important thing is to protect the horse you are riding from antics by the "slave" horse. Sometimes they try to bite or act like they want to kick. This is one reason I start them by my knee--so I can protect the riding horse. Too long a lead means the "slave" horse can turn and kick. Also, with the head by my knee, I'm in a position to fend off biting behavior.

                    This is also a good reason to wear chaps.

                    The horse you are riding needs to feel safe. That's part of your job. It is a lot to think about, which is why I recommend starting in an enclosure. That's one less worry while juggling two horses at once and trying to figure out who goes where.

                    I enjoy ponying horses when I've got a good riding horse who helps. Otherwise, it isn't fun for any of you.
                    "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."


                    • #11
                      I'm glad this subject has been brought up as I've always wanted to teach my horse to be both the "leader" and the "follower" in case of emergency on the trail.

                      My mare has a few bad habits-one is balking and sitting back when crosstied. Hopefully she's over that now, but with a mare, you never know.

                      I fear wrapping my mare's lead rope on the "leader" horse's horn and she just sits back waiting for the rope to break. (like she does in crossties) If she balked, the way you'd handle it is to let go of the lead rope, right? Wouldn't that reinforce the bad behaviour?

                      My other fear is my mare in the leader position, her thinking "This horse is too close, I'm gonna cow kick it to move him over". I think I could feel a kick coming and keep her moving forward, but is there anything better I could do to prevent the "follower" from being hurt?

                      Many moons ago when out in the woods on a young pony, we came across a loose horse. I quickly clipped a spare lead rope on him to bring him to the TB racing stable nearby where I was sure he escaped from. My pony had no qualms about ponying him. A few minutes into the return trip and BAM the TB's head was right next to me!
                      He was a young stud and he mounted my girl!!!

                      It was easy to "lure" him home....didn't need a lead rope!


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by TikiSoo View Post
                        I fear wrapping my mare's lead rope on the "leader" horse's horn and she just sits back waiting for the rope to break.
                        I would not ever wrap the lead rope around the horn, even for a second, even with tried and true and steady horses. It's the functional equivalent of having a loop in the lead rope when you lead a horse. Bad stuff happens in a nanosecond- and you are in deep kimche, hand bound by lead rope if leading, or if riding, lead rope hung on horn long enough for the rider to be completely ensnared in the rope. Not good.

                        As I think someone noted in a prior post, ponying is really just an extension of leading a horse. If you have issues with balkiness when you're on the ground- don't even think about trying to cure that by ponying. Make sure leading is good and solid on the ground first.

                        Whenever ponying any horse- you want to be able to separate yourself and your horse from the ponied horse with a simple opening of the hand.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by TikiSoo View Post
                          I'm glad this subject has been brought up as I've always wanted to teach my horse to be both the "leader" and the "follower" in case of emergency on the trail.

                          My mare has a few bad habits-one is balking and sitting back when crosstied. Hopefully she's over that now, but with a mare, you never know.

                          I fear wrapping my mare's lead rope on the "leader" horse's horn and she just sits back waiting for the rope to break. (like she does in crossties) If she balked, the way you'd handle it is to let go of the lead rope, right? Wouldn't that reinforce the bad behaviour?

                          My other fear is my mare in the leader position, her thinking "This horse is too close, I'm gonna cow kick it to move him over". I think I could feel a kick coming and keep her moving forward, but is there anything better I could do to prevent the "follower" from being hurt?

                          Many moons ago when out in the woods on a young pony, we came across a loose horse. I quickly clipped a spare lead rope on him to bring him to the TB racing stable nearby where I was sure he escaped from. My pony had no qualms about ponying him. A few minutes into the return trip and BAM the TB's head was right next to me!
                          He was a young stud and he mounted my girl!!!

                          It was easy to "lure" him home....didn't need a lead rope!
                          My wife's mare does the "set back" thing when she decides she'd rather be someplace else. IMO ponying will not deal with that issue. It's better done by tying the offending horse eye high, arms length, with and to something that won't break using a rubber "donut" made out of an old innertube. If crossties are the problem you can do it with two "donuts." We've cut the behavior way back in the mare, but she's 18, was taught this by a prior owner who tied her with hay strings, and breaking the vice will likely be a long and maybe less than completely successful program.

                          She has spent some time on the "bad mare wall" and is really not too bad. She ponys quite well. But I think the respect for the lead rope instilled by the "donut" is more responsible than the ponying exercise.

                          When riding the "master" horse you must be very alert at all times to any display of aggression and must deal with it vigorously. When we started my mare, an alpha, tried a couple of times to kick out. I was watching and as soon as I saw the ears go back and felt her shift her weight she got the right spur hard and a loud "NO." I also was ready with my hand to restrain any attempt to jump foreward. And I had a deep seat.

                          Even now she will sometimes show "annoyance" of the "slave" horse moves out of its position. She has not offered to kick in a couple of years. This may even help as the "slave" horse is following and learns where the "master's" zone of comfort is. But ponying requires the human to be awake, alert, and ready to deal with what comes up.

                          Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


                          • #14
                            Ponying is a three way relationship. It works best if only one of the members of the threesome is green at a time. Some mares do not make good lead ponies, they will kick and take offense easier than geldings normally will. The occasional mare will make a lead pony for a horse without a rider on it, but will not accept being bumped by a rider's leg on the horse being ponied.

                            The fact that the two mares are friends and already have a relationship may be helpful. But that relationship may also be compromised when you are attempting to lead one with the other, the mares will bump together, contact that they do not normally experience, and tempers may flare as a result. They may get along fine together in a paddock, but ponying puts a whole different spin on their reactions to each other.

                            It's all good to say that you are going to "discipline" the lead pony until she accepts the work, but there is a good chance that she will get the kick done and the damage done before you can act, and you can't change a mare's character, it will shine through.

                            Make sure that the horse being ponied is with the program by doing your initial work in an enclosure or arena, where you can turn the ponied horse loose if necessary without creating a disaster. Horses will often pull back or run backwards when they are green being ponied, and having a really good and responsive pony is necessary to react and follow them without frightening them further.

                            Try posting on the racing forum about this.

                            Where to begin? I would start by finding a situation where you are the only green member of the threesome, find an experienced lead pony and an experienced ponier and get some experience yourself, FIRST. Find a racetrack or training farm to work on. Then get your lead pony some experience, by ponying a horse who is already broke to pony. Then educate your second horse to ponying, once you and your lead pony have some idea what you are doing. I would not recommend just trying it with all three green at once, there is a learning curve involved for all three roles.


                            • #15
                              I pony a lot and the horses seem to take to it very easily. I think my main advice would be:

                              - DON'T wrap the lead rope around your hand or a saddle horn- have a good grip on it, but be prepared and able to drop it instantly if need be. Most of the time, if the ponied horse does get loose, they will just stay around. If they do get loose, I find it usually easier to get off the horse you are riding and approach the loose horse from the ground- they usually tend to move more if you are coming towards them on horseback.

                              - If you are on a single track trail, drape the lead rope over your shoulder- that way its less likely to get under the lead horse's tail- this can turn ugly real fast with some horses. It would be a good idea to train the lead horse to a crupper too just in case.

                              - A chain over the horse's nose helps some with control, especially when you are trotting and cantering. I usually dont use one but sometimes wish I had put it on when we are going faster.

                              - My little mare liked to stop and refuse to go. I carried a whip with me and would cluck and turn around, get behind her and whack her. That cured that habit pretty fast.