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Ponying questions

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  • Ponying questions

    I have two horses that need work and not enough time. They get along very well and when we trail ride they love to be right beside each other. One is very quiet, so I think she would do well being ponied. (She's also not nearly as well trained, so I don't want to ride her/pony the other.) I've never ponied horses before, so I have some questions.

    -Is there anything specific I can do to prepare both horses for the experience? Both lead well already. The one to be ridden does not neck rein, however. Will that be a problem?

    -How exactly do I hold onto the ponied horse without compromising my ability to use the reins on the ridden horse?

    -My biggest question is, what is the best headgear for the horse being ponied? I have available a leather halter, a bridle, a rope halter, a Dr. Cook bitless bridle, and a Monty Roberts Dually training halter (rope over the nose; don't ask--someone gave it to me). I'm leaning toward rope halter.


  • #2
    At many old jobs, the only way they were all getting out was to pony them! I love it. Good way to get horses out whose backs are sore, also.

    None of the english horses I ever sat on neck reined. Not a problem. I always ride with a sort of half bridge in my right hand and the pony shank in the other. If you need two hands, just grab the other rein with whatever means necessary (steer, pulley rein, etc). Just play around with it, you will figure out what is comfortable for you in your hands (whether they are big or small).

    I always preferred a leather shank to pony with. I would just lay it across my palm and through my thumb and index fingers, and I could easily use both reins if I needed to. I would also always use a leather halter, in case the ponied horse gets into trouble- gets loose, caught on something, etc. Not a flimsy leather to break at any little thing (you do and will drop the shank, and the pony will step on it, and if you are using really thin leather, it will break!). Would absolutely not use a bridle- you have to think about worst case scenarios- horses get loose and run home! I usually use a short chain over the nose if who I am ponying can get rude, run ahead.

    Some horses just are terrible to pony- they don't keep up no matter the gait. Horses that tend to lag I wouldn't use a shank over the nose. The most annoying thing- when they STOP to poop and rip your arm out as you are trying to not drop the shank! Be ready for that! I also would use a longer shank till everyone gets the hang of it. If it is really long, I would just lay the excess across the withers of the horse I am sitting on.

    I would try to do them both ways, if you can. Let them both learn how to do it. Just start out walking till you get things kinda figured out.

    Hope this helps!


    • #3
      If the "to be ponied" horse is broke to lead, then I would use a leather halter or a halter with the ability to break away.

      The reason for this is that should you have some sort of tie up or wreck, something that will break (as opposed to a nylon web or rope halter) will be safer.

      Before you pony, make sure you can easily ride your other horse one handed. If your horse works off of your leg well, it's not really "necessary" to have a horse who is a great neck reiner. Just practice this a bit.

      Next, I'd practice in an enclosed area. When I pony (especially initially), I hold the horse quite short with their head at my thigh. Not in front, not behind. And I do mean quite literally with their head at my thigh. Not a lot of slack. If the horse gets ahead of you or behind you can get pulled off balance/lose control. Practice turning. You have to either make the ponied horse step it up or you need to have your horse slow down else you get strung out. Practice whoa.

      DO NOT tie the ponied horse to you or your tack. Do not loop a rope around your hand (I'm sure you know this, but just sayin')

      It's really not that hard, but if you're all "learning" together, I think it's wise to practice in an enclosure until you feel pretty good about it.

      The hardest part for me has been mounting up. I try to get the horse to be ponied set up to the right of my horse with the leadrope in my left hand coming over top the neck of the horse I am going to ride. If either are goofy about standing still, the mounting up can be the most "fun". LOL
      A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

      Might be a reason, never an excuse...


      • #4
        Do NOT let the lead get too long on your ponied horse, if the lead is long enough they can take it into their heads to get ahead of you and change sides or get behind you and change sides, and most horses I know dislike a lead or other line running under their tail, they may clamp down and get VERY upset.

        Western saddles are great for this, drop a dally around the horn, don't tie fast. I believe it is the Chifney bit that is designed for ponying, the standard racehorse bit with the metal bail underneath. I think they could be attached to a halter if wanted.

        My friend and I were talking about this in the context of herd bound horses - she said she got so sick of her horse's antics that she looked up how to pony on the internet and just brought his paramour along for the ride.
        Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
        Incredible Invisible


        • #5
          I think it was either Practical Horseman or Dressage Today that had an article about how to teach a horse to pony. It was a few years ago - probably 2005 or 2006, because that's when I was teaching MY youngster to pony. It worked great until he got too big...and he's far too creative to pony anymore!

          Good luck - it was a great experience for us when he was small!
          Here Be Dragons: My blog about venturing beyond the lower levels as a dressage amateur.


          • #6
            I have trained a bunch of horses to pony for polo training.
            It helps if your lead horse has super brakes when the ponied horse balks. You will stay in the saddle quite easily and not get your arm yanked.
            I often put a bridle(snaffle bitted) with a drop nose band on a horse I am teaching as young horses will at some point try to bite you or the pony horse.(take reins off and put halter over bridle)
            Also have used rope halters for 20 years with tied in lead ropes. I got sick of the jingle on the regular lead rope with snap.
            Wear a glove on the hand you are holding lead rope with, there are times to hold on and times to let go, but guarantee your first reaction will be to hold on and you will get a nice rope burn for the impulse.
            When you get good at it, you can snap the ponied horse on the butt with the extra lead rope if he wants to lag and shake him a bit.


            • #7
              I haven't tried this, but want to! A friend who has ponied said her #1 advice was, be (mentally) prepared to let the ponied horse go in an emergency. When I've seen her train a horse to pony she always started in the ring, doing turns and stops and so on til the "pony" got the hang of paying attention and keeping up (or slowing down) as necessary.


              • #8
                Like Jubilee43, I used to do a lot of ponying with polo horses. During college I legged up polo ponies as a job and used to pony as many as five in each set, but normally at least three.

                - My preference is a leadrope that is a different feel from whatever reins I am using (i.e. leather reins, cotton leadrope). That way I don't get my reins confused with the leadrope if I am reconfiguring things without looking.
                - Don't let the horse you are ponying get too far behind. At a trot I prefer the pony horse to have it's nose at my knee or a little bit forward. If it gets behind you run into problems switching sides or running up the rear end of the horse you are on.
                - Rope halter works well because they have a little more bite to them in the event that the horse begins to lag. On a bad one I would use a chain shank and pony that horse either alone or with the leadrope across the chest of a really steady horse (also ponying) but don't do this unless you are really good with a chain.
                - I prefer to use an english saddle and not western because although you can dally to the saddle horn western, there are too many places to get hung up for my taste.

                It isn't hard to teach one, and will of course cut your excercise time in half.

                ETA: I almost forgot the most important thing. Know when to cut your losses! Practice somewhere that the horse will be contained if you have to drop the leadrope. Be prepared to turn loose before you get tangled up or drug off of your horse.


                • #9
                  First of all, as has been suggested, do try it in the arena a few times, going both ways, circles of all sizes, etc. There is quite a bit of the 'walk and chew bubble gum at the same time' thing that one has to get used to.

                  When ponying for exercise, I have the horse's head at my knee- no further forward. When ponying for packing, the ponied horse is behind the ridden horse. Either way, I just use a plain ol' flat nylon halter and a long cotton lead rope. And gloves. Sometimes the halter is over a bridle, because sometimes I will tack both up and switch off half way through my ride. If that's the case, reins are secured through throat latch and stirrup leathers and halter, just in case. And saddle on ponied horse is cinched up tight enough that it won't slip just from horse moving along (or spooking or spinning or bucking).

                  In any pair of horses, the dominant horse is the one you should ride, otherwise, when being ponied, it will pick constantly at the horse being ridden.

                  In the arena and on trails, I school mine to halt, period, at my knee when the ridden horse stops. Not fundamentally different from schooling one you are leading on the ground to cease moving when you stop.

                  If you have a horse that is wanting to get too far ahead of where you want it to be- simply raise its head up with the lead and hold it up until the horse figures out that might not be comfortable and drops back. Release head as reward. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

                  Don't ever tie lead rope to self or ridden horse or tack or even loop it around the saddle horn for 'a second.' I have friends who can tell you it is not a comforting feeling to be wrapped in a lead shank, essentially tied to both the horse you are riding and the horse you are ponying.

                  One technique for tight spots- say narrow trails or steep hills, where you might just need to turn loose of the ponied horse in a hurry, is to simply tuck the lead rope between your right elbow and rib cage. Then you can simply release by moving your elbow out an inch.

                  Also good if the ridden horse is schooled to NOT have a rodeo if a lead shank gets caught under its tail. One can achieve this by taking a couple foot long length of broom stick, take horse into round pen, put broom stick under horse's tail and step back as horse goes yee-haw. After horse has bucked and/or run and 'eventually' relaxes the tail, the stick falls harmlessly to the ground. Rinse and repeat until the horse figures out not to clamp tail.


                  • #10
                    In any pair of horses, the dominant horse is the one you should ride, otherwise, when being ponied, it will pick constantly at the horse being ridden.
                    While this is a good general rule, you have to, as always, deal with the horses as individuals.

                    Belle is the-alpha-mare in my little herd, and Music is at-or-near-the-bottom.

                    But if I ride Belle and pony Music they are both miserable. Belle is CONSTANTLY fidgiting and jigging, and Music pins her ears and shows us her teeth.

                    But if I ride Music and pony Belle, they are both perfectly content, going along calmly with their ears forward.

                    Yes, practice in a confined place first.

                    Yes, recognize that there MAY be a time when you JUST HAVE TO LET GO. But try your best to avoid those situations.

                    Usually I pony with a nylon breakaway halter and a cotton lead rope. But when dealing with an uppity youngster, I might add a nylon lead with a chain over the nose. (in addition to, not instead of, the cotton lead).

                    chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


                    • #11
                      Lots of excellent suggestions here. Wished I had read them all before I started ponying my horses!

                      I learned to pony my horses by trial and error, and have had the experience of: having lead rope caught under leading pony's tail; ponying dominant horse who kept harassing poor pony horse; almost falling off of leading pony when ponied horse suddenly stopped to poop; having 2 bolting horses when scary plastic bag was flapping and drifting towards us; dropping lead rope by accident. But.. despite all these errors or scares, we survived and even when lead rope was dropped, horse never ran to the barn, just dropped head to graze and I had to get his attention to get head back up so I could reach his lead rope again without having to dismount.

                      One more trick that has worked for me is to call the gait out loud, or cluck or kiss, this way the ponied horse picks up the gait at the same time as the lead horse, and no stress to your arm. My horses respond well to "trot", "canter" and "walk" commands.
                      "Another member of the Barefoot Eventers Clique"


                      • #12
                        Never tie the horse you are ponying to the pony horse.
                        Never wrap the lead around your hand.

                        Alot of people will do a daly on the horn of a western saddle and that's ok
                        but I personally prefer to have the lead in my hand. I like to keep the horse
                        I am ponying head right at my knee or just behind my leg. Thus the lead
                        can not get under the tail of the pony horse. I usually use a nylon halter
                        and I always you a cotton lead with a bullsnap. If I encounter problems I just
                        drop the lead rope. Most horses are herd bound and if the horse that is being ponied is let go of most of the time it won't go far as it will want to stay pretty close to it's buddies. You should also be comfortable enough
                        on the horse doing the ponying that you can ride one handed.
                        ALways remember though to never ever wrap or loop the lead around your hand.