Ponying 101

What all is there to know about ponying? I have my two at home and one has separation anxiety and they both need to exercise. So…I’ve been ponying the old guy off my mare. It’s gone really well so far. The old fart is just in a halter and lead rope and I ride my mare with one hand because the old fart dives for grass here and there.

I’d never done it before so thought…seek the COTH wisdom for what I need to know. Any tips from the COTH wisdom?

If the problem is him diving for grass, put on a saddle or roller and grass reins. These are usually baling twine that goes from the bit to the d ring on the saddle and tied just tight enough that they can’t reach grass.

You can try it with attaching to the halter. If he breaks it, plait a few together.

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Like all horse activities, Ponying begins on the round. Make sure your horse is respectful of your space, the halter, and the lead rope. Do some ground work (lots of DVDs and YouTube videos) and make sure he keeps a distance (unless you invite him in), stops when cued, walks and trots when cued --suggest these be verbal cues.

When horse does this consistently on the ground, mount up AFTER a secession of ground work (you have his attention). Then go through the ground work drill of walk, trot, stop --maybe even back for 15-20 min. When that’s good, you can add refinements.

My pony-ed horse is to keep even with my knee --no forging, no lagging. He is never to touch the leading horse. I always pony from the left side (others do the right --some train both).

All three of mine pony well --one is a rock star and will pony without a lead line --which is kind of a pain because if I want to ride alone in the pasture and check fence, he’s RIGHT THERE on my left.

However --if I were you I’d look up some ideas for working on the herd bound issue. That isn’t going to get better - there is a training exercise that will help that --but this isn’t the thread for that discussion.

Ponying isn’t a good training tool for separation anxiety, because it is all about the horse relying on the other horse for cues on what to do… but it is a good training tool to have in your toolbox especially when you only have time to work the one, or you want to expose a green horse to things off of the back of a more relaxed/experienced leader.

Ditto Foxglove - the first thing to do, is teach this horse to be respectful of your space on the ground, and understand verbal & visual cues like “back up” and stopping immediately when you stop. They also should know all verbal cues for W/T/C. When you confirm these cues on the ground, it easily translates to the saddle if you’ve trained them well.

Start small in a closed area, and keep the horse’s head level with your stirrups/knee to start with - NO slack on the rope. I primarily prefer to pony off of my right side, but you need to teach them to pony off either direction - there are times on the trail where you will need to pony off of a specific side and that’s not the time for the horse to say ‘wait a minute, we’ve never done this before’.

A good general rule is to use a rope halter for the one being ponied, and don’t let there be much slack in the rope. You don’t want the rope to end up under your leg, or around your foot. Keep the horse to your foot/knee and work on the horse stopping when your horse stops. Do figure eights, halting in the middle of each change of direction - until the horse is actively watching you/your riding horse. They should always be looking to what your horse is doing for their cue, IMHO.

I don’t do much ponying at speed works, but I do pony trot sets.

If you find your ponied horse is getting ahead of you, make sure you forbid that. Bring your horse to a halt and make the ponied horse back up until he is behind your leg. Then try again. Every time they get ahead, do this - until they learn they can’t forge ahead.

With a more experienced ponied horse, I tend to let them follow behind rather than be by my knee. There are some parts of where I condition that are not wide enough for two horses abreast – but the more slack you allow in the line, the more freedom the horse has to get ahead or away from you… so it’s best to keep them on a tighter leash so to speak when starting out.

Make sure the horse you’re riding has a good sense of humor and is rope broke. You will be untangling yourself eventually - part of the learning process, especially with the green ADHD babies.

Our riding center had some contracts with spaghetti westerns to provide horses for them.
We used to ride one horse and pony several, on both sides, all the way to where their designated set was for the day, then do it again in the evening, if they were thru with their takes for those horses.

Many ropers here take several horses to their practice ropings in the evenings and ride one and pony others, some times all on one side, others on both sides, to the places on the fence designated to tie horses.

There are so many situations is handy to ride a horse and pony others, it tends to be standard education when starting under saddle for many.

The suggestion of some side reins to keep the OP’s ponied horse from grazing is good, that is a dangerous habit when ponying a horse.

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I ponied horses at the track for years.
Sounds like your two get along well, and you have a system that is basically working for the three of you. Here’s a few pointers that you may or may not find helpful…
Keep the horse that you are ponying from getting too far forward, his head should be just in front of your knee, his chest behind your leg. Don’t let him got too far forward, ahead of you. Since your horses are quiet and you are probably not at the gallop, you can let out about 12 inches of leadline between your hand and the horse’s halter, with a fractious or strong horse at the gallop, you would be using a much shorter amount of line (and probably a chain shank appropriately circling the horse’s nose). But for YOUR horses and what you are doing, a regular halter and rope (or leather shank) is fine. Using a leather shank is easier to handle than a rope one. You hold your ponied horse with your right hand, and hold your reins and the tail end of the shank with a loop in it, in your left hand. This also mostly applies for speed work, which isn’t going to apply to you much.

You want to keep the horse you are ponying back from pushing forward in front of your lead pony, keep his head back by your knee. What this does is keep your lead pony from being kicked, which CAN happen if the horse is too far forward (probably won’t with yours since they know each other and presumably have a calm relationship), but if you want to know correct procedure, there you are. Keep the horse you are ponying in the correct position to keep your pony safe. Keep the horse you are ponying “straight”, that is, don’t pull his head towards you (unless you need to at speed to keep control of him in a sticky situation). Again, this probably won’t apply much in your situation, but there it is anyway. This keeps the horse from twisting his body at speed, and possibly injuring himself, which, of course, is paramount for racehorses.

You might consider putting some polos on both horse and lead pony. Legs can fly around a bit while ponying, and a blow may happen from the other horse’s hoof. Some leg protection will help avoid injury.

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You can get a grazing muzzle. After wearing it a few times out on trails, they realize they can’t eat through it and give up.

I have ponied similarly to how it’s been described by other posters above, including with multiple horses on one, or both, sides. I agree about the importance of the horse’s position, and the horse’s already existing respect of personal space and verbal commands.

I was also taught to pony bridled horses (simple snaffle bit only), with the outer rein pulled underneath the chin and through the inner bit ring. Similar to lunging or ground driving a horse, this gives more control; obviously, the ponied bit-wearing horse is not to be hauled on. The bridle with bit gives finer signals, just as riding a bridled horse allows for finer control than does riding a haltered horse.

This rein is held in my hand which is nearest the horse, with excess bight in my other hand. The reins of the horse I’m riding are held in the normal way, usually, although I might occasionally (temporarily) put the ridden horse’s reins in the hand farthest from the ponied horse.

When ponying horses are both sides, simultaneously, the respective reins of the ponied horses are held in the hand on the side nearest the horse to which they belong, while holding the reins of the horse I’m riding in pretty much the normal way.

Besides using ponying when training a youngster, I have performed demos of ponying multiple horses at exhibitions, with changes of gait and direction, including at speed and in patterns such as figure eights. It’s a lot of fun – the horses get into it. When ponying multiple horses on each side, it’s important to have them arranged in an appropriate way, taking into consideration their relationships with each other, as well as their relative speeds (think of cracking the whip when ice skating).

Ponying is a good skill to have, and good training for the horses, IMO.

I just want to jump in the THANK YOU ALL for the replies so far and will write back later tonight hopefully. I’ve been distracted w work and barn stuff.

I used to pony a lot of horses. The biggest thing is that the pony horse responds immediately to your aids. Especially if you pony outside of an arena / trails( I did).

Thanks again for all the replies and hopefully this thread benefits others in the future too. Yes, my ponies get along very well. We are only walking as my old guy is quite lame if he does much else AND I knew the ponying venture would probably fall apart if speed picked up. Logic told me that IF we were going to trot we’d FIRST confirm that in the arena and I appreciate the detail on getting verbal commands and transitions in place.

Yes, my guys have great ground manners and we have an established softness and they very reponsive.

@Foxglove and @beowulf on the separation anxiety - right - ponying does nothing to improve that problem but we do work on that mental anxiety in other ways - small separations that have increased in time and it’s improving all the time.

@Bluey You should write a book of your adventures. How about starting with a thread here on COTH. What stories you have to tell! Take us back to the beginning and all along to the current day.
And pictures please! Will you consider that?

@Spudsmyguy @SuzieQNutter @Jarpur Like the idea of bridle, grass reins or a grazing muzzle. Would solve the diving and refinement of control. Thank you.

@NancyM Great idea on the leg protection. Will do.