Horse Exercise - Pony a Horse

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 2006 Cherry Hill

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the English and Western Horse
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Are you looking for an exercise alternative for your young horses? Do you need a safe way to recondition a previously ill or injured horse? Are you often a one-woman show with more horses to work than time permits? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then perhaps you should look into ponying, leading one horse from the back of the one that you are riding. It benefits the mental and physical development of the young horse especially.

Ponying a young horse on the surface he is to be worked on as an adult is an excellent way to provide safe and varied exercise as well as to condition bones, joints, and tendons. As an alternative to the concentrated stress of a treadmill, the harmful canting that results from longeing, or the boredom associated with a hot walker, ponying can furnish the young horse with a more natural type of exercise.

Using ponying as the primary form of exercise for the newly castrated colt holds several benefits. In contrast to the colt who is turned out in a pasture for self-exercise, the ponied gelding is assured of daily exercise which is necessary for proper drainage and healing. The gelding which is handled and inspected daily after surgery runs less risk of potentially serious complications. Also, while the new gelding is performing alongside a steady role model twice a day for thirty minutes per session, he is gaining a valuable introduction into the world of work.

Ponying also provides a means to diversify the young horse's experience by exposing him to a variety of situations that he will encounter as an adult. The young horse can learn balance and sure-footedness as it trots alongside the pony horse in a large field or pasture with irregular terrain; it can learn obedience to cross water and ditches and travel up and down hills; it can be introduced to the sight and sound of vehicles along a roadway. Ponying can also enhance in-hand obedience because it teaches a horse to lead properly, to turn, stop, stand still, and back.

Successful ponying depends on a proficient rider and a seasoned pony horse. The horse you ride must have patience to tolerate the shenanigans of a young horse. The pony horse must be responsive to you and calm or the situation could become dangerous rapidly. Although the young horse may try to bite, rear, kick, or balk, the pony horse should not be aggressive but he must be assertive. Under no circumstances should the pony horse discipline the youngster. The training of the young horse is the rider's responsibility. There are situations, however, where the herding instinct of a pony horse is useful, such as to gain control of the colt by pushing him in a tight circle. In the interest of safety, the pony horse's training must override its instincts and natural behavior patterns. So even though a pony horse might be tolerant of an obnoxious young horse when a human is around, such patience will likely not carry over when the two are turned out together in a pasture situation.

Since the pony horse is a role model for the young horse, it must have impeccable manners while under saddle. It would be a bad trade if the pony horse provided the youngster with exercise but at the same time taught the impressionable young horse to balk or to spook.

Geldings are the preferred sex for a pony horse because of their generally even dispositions. Using a mare to pony a filly might result in squealing or kicking. Ponying an uncastrated colt from a mare is especially dangerous for the rider in the event the young male horse tries to mount the mare. If forced to use a mare as a pony horse for a colt, wait until after gelding. But, remember, a colt's behavior does not instantly change with castration. It may take as long as five or six months for a colt to lose his stallion-like behavior.

Since safety is a major consideration when you are handling two horses at once, be sure you are experienced enough for the job. There are times when you must be demanding, other times forgiving, and sometimes neutral as the young horse learns the ropes of his new lesson. It would be great if all horses willingly cooperated, but since they don't you will probably have to teach the horse submission using some form of discipline.

In the first lesson, if the young horse is hesitant and apprehensive about traveling so near to an unfamiliar adult, you should be firm but reassuring. Youngsters that have a good foundation in halter and in-hand work easily find the correct position for ponying. However, if the reluctant behavior continues and becomes an excuse for stubbornness, you must impress upon the colt that he must stay in the proper position - in the vicinity of the horse's shoulder and your knee.

Using a western saddle with a horn will allow you to dally the rope if necessary. For safety's sake, always wear gloves and remember to keep your thumb up and out of the path of the rope. As you ride, keep one eye on the young horse, watching for signs of an upcoming nip or balk. If the colt drifts behind you and your horse, you have a potentially volatile situation. In this lagging position, the young horse's instincts tell him he is likely to get kicked, so he may react by pulling back in panic. To avoid a wreck, strike a balance between what your left and right hands are asking. To some extent you must regulate the speed and position of your pony horse to make it easier for the young horse to be in the right position. But at the same time you must require the young horse to keep up.

At least initially, pony work is best done at the jog or long trot. The speed of this gait is more adjustable between horses and it will be easier for you to keep things synchronized. Because the walk and the lope both have a wide variation in speeds between horses, the horses can tend to get separated which leads to problems. However, the lope is excellent for conditioning and the walk is essential for cool-down.

The first few ponying lessons should take place in an enclosed area such as a sixty foot round pen. For footing, I prefer a solid but well-drained base covered with three to four inches of sand. This provides good traction and optimum cushion. The joints will not receive excessive concussive forces as would occur on hard ground and the tendons will not be over-stressed as would be the case in deeper footing. For a protective measure, the young horse can be outfitted with splint boots and bell boots on the front legs to minimize the damage from the blows associated with interference or over-reaching. These defects in movement frequently occur when a young, unconditioned horse is first asked to work in a circle. If the terrain is abrasive, rocky, or uneven, the horse being ponied should be shod.

With most horses, there is usually a confrontation by the third ponying lesson about who exactly is in charge, the rider, the pony horse, or the feisty youngster. The horse being ponied must learn in absolute terms that the pony horse and rider are in charge. Only when control is firmly established, it is safe to venture to a large arena or the open spaces.

Dallying will usually provide you with enough control over the horse you are ponying, but if you need additional authority, a lariat can encourage the horse to keep in proper position and to remain light and obedient to the pony horse's changes in speed and direction.

Ponying offers a perfect opportunity to handle the young horse on the neck and withers from on top of the older horse. Moving a jacket over the young horse's back gives it a "sacking-out" lesson and a preview of things to come. You can even add a saddle and maybe a rider and use ponying to help you get a safe and controlled first ride. Ponying can be useful for providing exercise, reinforcing in-hand lessons, and preparing the young horse for his future work.

 2002Cherry Hill 

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