Regardless of whether you are working with a horse or a pony, almost any equine will be bigger, stronger and heavier than you are, which means that without knowledge of correct handling, you’ll always be at a disadvantage.
The secret to a happy, safe relationship with your pony is down to a few key elements: consistency, fairness, respect and love. It’s not just about you and your pony’s safety, but the safety of all of those around you as well.
The manners that you want him to have under saddle need to start from the minute you meet your pony on the ground. It is always a good idea to teach some verbal commands that work the same way your aids do when you ride. ‘Back’, ‘stand’, ‘walk on’, ‘woah’ and ‘side’ are all commands that you may regularly use on the ground.
When you enter your pony’s stable, ask him to take a quiet step back to give you the space to enter. A quiet command of ‘back’ and pressure on the chest is normally enough to get him to step back. You can also teach him the command ‘side’ so you can ask him to move sideways away from you. This may be useful during grooming, for example, when he may be standing too close to the wall for you to get to his other side. It is never safe to be pinned between a pony and a wall!
When you work with your pony inside or out of the stable, he should stand still, as if he’s standing at attention. It doesn’t matter whether he is being groomed or tacked up, you and the other people around you are only safe if he is quiet and obedient.
Standing still is really important when you clean your pony’s back feet – you wouldn’t want him shooting off and kicking you by mistake as he gallops away! Have someone help you to start with, so that he has a chance to understand what you want. Use the command ‘stand’ and if necessary, the person who is helping you can stop him from moving off.
The million dollar question is always: “Are you taking your pony for a walk, or is he taking you?” When you lead your pony, you stand on his left side, at his shoulder, with both of you facing in the same direction. Ask him to ‘walk on’, and step forward. His shoulder should always stay level with you; too far forward and you can get jumped on, too far back and you could get kicked. Think of it as staying safely in the middle.
When you want to stop you can teach your pony the ‘woah’ command. The ‘woah’ and ‘stand’ commands have different purposes: ‘Woah’ means stop and ‘stand’ means don’t move. Ponies learn really quickly and soon listen very well.
We all love letting our ponies loose to graze around the yard and follow us around. Be very careful doing this. If other people are riding and he gets a fright and gallops off or goes to play with his friends, he could cause another rider to fall off. Running onto the road, getting hit by a car, getting chased by dogs and falling into a swimming pool are all very real concerns for loose ponies on a property.
Fright and flight
We are all told never to run up behind our horses or we’ll give them a fright. What people forget to say is when a horse gets a huge fright from something that he can’t see behind him, he normally kicks out. Talk to your pony if he hasn’t seen you yet, move to the side and touch him on the middle of his body first and then move up to his head.
Be very careful of leading your pony around with reins, lead reins or lunge reins hanging. You could trip and fall, and your pony could also stand on it and give himself a fright, possibly even breaking his bridle or lead rein. Worse yet, if the reins become tangled around his legs, he may bolt and hurt himself.
For absolute safety, you should wear your hard hat if you are working with your horse or playing with him on the ground.
Nibbles and rewards
We all like to reward our horses for going well for us. If you have a pony who is a little naughty about nipping or biting, then you should not feed him from your hand. Rather place his carrots or treats in his feed bin and let him eat them there. If you need to catch your pony in a big field with lots of other ponies, be very careful about taking food in as a bribe. The other ponies could get jealous and you may find yourself in the middle of a fight.
We all want to have fun with our equine friends. Paying a little bit of attention and setting boundaries mean fewer problems or accidents, for us, our horses and everyone who spend time with us.
Text: Mandy Schroder. Photography: gorillaimages, Elena Elisseeva, mariait, auremar
This article first appeared in HQPony Magazine. For great subscription offers visit Coolmags.