September 17, 2013
Ponying show horses can be a great horse training opportunity.
“Any reining trainer, all-around or western pleasure trainer – we all get our horses broke the same way,” says AQHA Professional Horseman and judge Steve Meadows. To Steve, broke is broke, regardless of discipline. He gives his pleasure show horses the fundamental skills he’d want in any horse.
“It’s kind of an old cowboy mentality,” he says. “I do a lot of steering and guiding on them. I want a horse to come back to me. I’ve roped off them, hobbled them, and I tie them to the fence.”
He also ponies them. Ponying is a big part of Steve’s training program, because it’s riding with a purpose, and it teaches the horses patience.
“A lot of the problems people run into with horses come from taking shortcuts in training, instead of spending time on a horse,” he says. “Ponying is one way of giving a horse time and experience.”
“It’s good for the older horses, mentally, because it gives them a job to do where they’re not just riding and riding and riding,” Steve says, “but they get exercise at the same time. It also saves time if you can exercise two horses at once.”
The biggest benefits he sees are for the younger horses.
“When I take young horses to a show for the first time, they’re nervous because there’s a lot going on, things they’ve never seen, strange noises,” he explains. “Ponying helps them become used to the surroundings quicker; it’s almost like a security blanket. They’re seeing new things, but it’s OK because the horse they are with is not getting upset. They settle in much faster.
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“It also helps them get accustomed to being near other horses. When you are in a western pleasure class – head to tail, on the rail – it can be a tight situation. Ponying gets them comfortable with that.
“It’s also an exercise option instead of longeing all the time; it’s easier on their legs. I’ve taught our yearling longe-liners to pony, because they can get burned out on longeing pretty quick.”
A horse needs to know how to be ponied before he ponies another horse.
“There are some tricks to getting a ponying session to go right the first time, but it’s not a hard thing to do,” Steve says.
“First, you need a safe, broke show horse that isn’t ‘ill-acting’ toward other horses and is OK with other horses being really near him.”
Steve adds: “Very rarely have I had a pony horse that will kick. I might have one that will pin his ears, but rarely kick. I use mares and geldings, and it doesn’t make a difference. I have one show mare who’s a great pony horse. She’s big and stout and doesn’t mind pulling one around if she has to.”
If a horse truly doesn’t like being near other horses, Steve says learning to pony or be ponied won’t necessarily change that, but it’ll teach a horse to “learn to accept what he has to do and go on.”
Steve introduces a horse to ponying at home – never at a show – and it usually takes just a day or two. He starts in an enclosed arena and typically wraps both horses’ front legs.
The horse has to be halter-broke. Steve uses a heavy cotton lead rope no shorter than 10 to 12 feet, and the horse should wear a stout nylon or leather halter.
Very rarely does he pony a horse with a chain shank, although it is an option: “If a horse is really headstrong and pulls away from you easily, you might want to use a shank.” If you do, the chain needs to be just the right length to run in a loop around the halter nose band. You should clip the chain back to itself, not the halter, so it doesn’t cinch around the nose.
Steve uses a roping saddle that he can dally off of if he needs to. He points out that even at the racetrack, the pony horses wear western stock saddles.
“I usually put a breast collar on the saddle so if I have to dally and tug them a little, it’s not going to pull the saddle out of place.”
You can also wear gloves: “If you don’t get dallied off proper, you can burn your hand,” he says. Steve doesn’t use gloves with a good cotton lead.
“I usually pony a horse from my right side, probably because I rope right-handed, even though I’m a left-handed person. But I do teach horses to pony from both sides.”
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Start out with the ponied horse on the right side of your pony horse as you mount up. Don’t tie the lead to your horn, and don’t dally. Hold the lead in your right hand with the extra lead in your left hand with your reins. Then walk off, asking the youngster to come along.
“He’ll want to pull away at first and won’t want to follow the other horse,” Steve says. It’s a process of give and take, much like when you’re halter-breaking a foal. Only dally if you need a stronger tug or to keep the ponied horse from pulling away.
“When the horse wants to balk and stand there, I just ride to him, keeping him on my right,” Steve says. “I just keep riding to his shoulder until he starts moving away, and when he moves away, I’ll move up beside him and go forward.”
If the youngster wants to back up, Steve rides to him, and dallies off if he needs to. He relies on his pony horse to stay unrattled.
“Before you know it, he’ll go right at my leg, right beside me and I can pull him in a little closer,” Steve says. “Once he learns to guide with the pony horse, he has got it.”
You want the ponied horse to have enough slack in the lead to be able to move freely beside the pony horse, with his head at your leg, but not too long that he could get a leg over it or pull away. You want enough length so that you can run out and take up slack as you need to.
When he’s first teaching a horse to pony, Steve doesn’t do it for very long: “On the first couple of times, once he’s going forward and agreeing with what we’re doing, I stop and put him up or I might go on and ride him a little.”
He adds: “Whenever I pony, very rarely will I go more than 30 minutes, it just depends on what I have to get done with each horse. Some horses take an hour to get them ridden where you want them, other horses it takes 20 minutes.”
Steve typically long trots or lopes. “If I’m at home, I’ll even gallop and let the colt gallop along beside me.” He pauses, then adds with a smile, “It can get a little fun.”
It’s that old cowboy mentality, you know.
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