Rough Starts - suggestions?

I stole Mom’s driving pony late last summer. Little history - she’s a road safe Amish pony from flat Indiana. An 80 year old used her as his daily driver. She’ll stand for hours. Six years ago the two of them were in a wreck, buggy got rear-ended. Old guy ended up in ICU, pony had a few scratches. Both of them got back on the road. My mother occasionally drove her, did tons of ground work. She’s not as uneducated as most road horses. She had a 3 year vacation, which ended with being broke to ride.

After 6 months, pony drives pretty well, changes gears well, isn’t pulling. Looks cute. Here’s the problem. She stands fine to hook, but starting out is UGLY. If you take hold of the lines, she balks. Not going anywhere. If someone walks her off, with no contact on the line, she’ll go. On good days, she’ll step off and takes a hippy hop, cantering lap around the barn. Looks a little like she’s thinking about going up, but doesn’t.

On bad days, she’ll take off with leap or throw herself forward/sideways. She doesn’t pay much attention to where. Best thing is pulling on the shaft, she gets pissy-er if you take the bridle or a line by the bit. After a 10-20 ft tantrum, she’ll go off, hippity hop around the barn, & after 2 laps around the barn, she’s fine.

If you stop her during your drive, she steps off just fine. When she was Amish, she’d balk the first time out of the barn yard and be fine the rest of the day. Her day job is now being a lesson pony. She generally gets lunged ~10 minutes before a kid gets on.

I think part of this that she pulled a good size buggy that moved quite easily on asphalt, but took some effort for her to get out of the gravel barn yard. She tends to throw herself sideways like she’s breaking wheels loose. Now she’s hooked to a 2 wheel bike going through 3" of sawdust there’s not much resistance. I think it gets more violent than she really intends.

Any suggestions other than miles? Unfortunately, best we’ve done is 2 drives a week. If I’m lucky I can get to the barn mid week, usually just weekends. Her nonsense doesn’t bother my trainer or I, but it freaks out most people in the barn, so not always the right ground help to hook her. We’ve got a few green drivers that she’d be great for, but what greenie wants to get in after seeing a tantrum? “Trust me, she’s fine now” Hell no.

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I don’t have much advice but I’m going to follow this as I have a mini similar to this. Starting off can be ugly. Or if he starts off fine, about 90 seconds in he has a snit. Once it’s over, it’s over. He’s also probably Amish trained. He definitely was used in mini “pulling competitions” and I think that might be where he learned his initial “jump start”. The one thing that has helped him is lots and lots of long lining. And lot’s of walk/halt/walk transitions while hitched with a BOAT LOAD of praise for a mannerly transition. He is a good boy, tends to be a hot head and very forward in general and wants to please, but that initial 90 seconds is always interesting :slightly_smiling_face:

I’m not a pro but I’d be tempted to do two things: go back to ground driving for a few times and see how the pony moves off. The pony’s reaction would determine my next step.

Another option is to go back to pulling a sled/drag/tire to retrain moving off- straight and quiet.

As a British riding once told me “You’re the brains, he’s the athlete, don’t let him do that again!” :slight_smile:


She’s fine when long lined. She’s fine after the initial start.

I’m hesitant to go back to a sled since I think most of this is due to being overloaded in the past. Besides, she doesn’t need to be any stronger than she already is. She’s got some draft or Haflinger in the mix and knows how to use her heavy neck.

Ah, when I read “pony” I was thinking 11-13 hands, not Halflinger husky pony.

Good luck finding a solution helping her focus on you and not taking matters into her own hands.

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She’s actually only ~12.2…but she wears horse size harness. She’s got a back end on her like a $40 cow. I think she got her ears from the cow too.


Aww, she’s a husky girl!!

She’s a large Thewell’s pony.


She certainly gives impression of being larger!

I have been thinking on this problem. Her being "Amished " is an issue in her responses. They expect prompt response when horse is asked to move! Usually they do not care if ground is sloppy, load is heavy, It is time to GO. So her quick start is understandable, backed up with being a pony and a mare, equals fast learner. Does NOT want any flick of the whip.

I agree that starting her with a sled (more drag), heavy load, will only make her ready to “TRY HARDER” with the load, leave even faster. Not a good plan.

My thought was doing lots of starts if you can keep the aisle clear. I am picturing a center aisle barn, open at both ends. Do your normal harnessing, hitch up, go off and back in the other end of aisle. Stop in your normal place, stand a couple minutes (By the watch. Thinking you waited the couple minutes you will usually not wait long enough.) Then have her walk off again, maybe turn right if you went left before, back in the other end. Repeat the standing time, go off again. Probably half dozen start, circle, stand, is enough for a session, then go do whatever you had in mind for other training. I think with time, she will get better with her starts, not lunging into her harness when starting. It is going to be a while though, and if excited, she WILL revert to lunging forward as that is what made her previous drivers happy, they did not get after her.

Do you plan to show or compete with her later? She needs 3 distinct trots, which will also take time to learn after being expected to just trot as fast as she can with the Amish drivers. But perhaps you can ask for slower on the long lines and while doing thE driven circles back to standing location. Get a double benefit doing those circles back to stand! Ha ha

It is always harder to untrain learned behaviours. She will have to learn to soften on the reins, not be pulling on you, as she learns the slower trots. She probably has a nice mouth, but never getting a release of pressure (reward) she doesn’t understand softening her mouth for you. She does look quite nice, will be fun as she gains knowledge.


I agree with **goodhors’s excellent advice.

Years ago, I worked for Colonial Williamsburg. Coach and Livestock had purchased a lovely Amish trained Morgan gelding. He had been a boys buggy horse, and his go to start was a rear and a lunge forward as soon as you touched the reins. Like the mare, as soon as we got past the dramatic start, he was good to drive.

We took our time long lining him, lots of transitions, and really installing our set of voice commands. We did NOT do any sled work. What really did the trick was lots of repetition, going in and out of the coach house. Hitch up, try to quietly step off (don’t make a huge deal out of the rear) circle around the barn and come back to stop and stand in the same place. Rinse and repeat. We started on pavement so there was no problem with difficulty going forward. The key to him was careful timing of release of pressure, he needed a light hand. He was one of those super smart Morgans and liked knowing that he was doing the right thing. Quick verbal feedback really helped.

With pretty much the same program as goodhors suggests, he learned to step off quietly and became a wonderful horse in the program. I rode him astride, sidesaddle and drove him with the riding chair.

She is a real cutie, hopefully with time and repetition the rough start will iron out.


Not a driver, although I experienced what you are describing when our pony was clearing land on the farm with us. He had to rear and jump and I had to pull to move the load then we trotted along fine and easy…

From a behavior standpoint, if you teach her a behavior not compatible with “unwanted” behavior and positive reinforcement - that will get your problem solved fastest.

One “option”, if she is food motivated - ask her to move the load one step back, from the ground on voice/halter command and praise with food. After that button “works”, try ONE step forward with voice command off halter cue and food. When one step works - do two, three, four - once you have that many, or whatever you seem to need to, in hand… Have a person in cart and ground person - put it together.

It sounds like it would take forever, but many smart animals catch on super quick. IME - 2-4 sessions of 5-10 mins is all I would expect.

Best of luck and do report back if you try some version of this and how it works for you.

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Goodhors, I was hoping you’d chime in. We’ll give it a shot. The barn is opposite of what you think, the stalls are inside the track. It’s tight some days. First driving in there will scare the crap out of you.

We’re hoping to show her at Southern States in late spring. She’s actually got different speeds available. She went from a nice slow trot to an extended trot and back without losing her form last weekend. Mom would like to show her and we don’t need to wait too long. She does a lovely canter as well :laughing: gotta get up that hill.

We did consider the open roadster class when we got her. Those short little legs can move!

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Well that is all good news! Sure hope the stopping and atarting over and over, helps improve things.

We “inherited by default” a Pair of older horses. They were pretty scary, advanced level, BIG to our eyes. A friend who had handled them previously told us to take them, they would teach us a LOT. And they did, starting with teaching THEM to stand quietly before driving off! We just wore the mare down, waiting her out, before asking them to walk off. She reared, jumped into the quiet gelding, bonked him on the top of his head with bar of bit, danced in place, before FINALLY standing quiet. We gave her a half minute of stand, asked to walk before she could think of a new bad thing!!

One day a horsey friend was over to help harness and hitch, husband would be home to drive in 40 minutes. We got everything ready, hitched the horses, with each of us holding a lead rope, him with the gelding, I had the mare. We waited, she went thru her show with no driver, just us grooms keeping her in place. No husband, more antics, then a rest break, we were not reacting, no yelling. She bounced around some more, then quiet. No husband. I checked the time, late almost an hour!! Told friend “We are done.” We quietly unhitched, led to the barn, unharnessed and turned them out. Mare was giving us the weirdest looks!! Like “That’s all today?” She kept watching us after turnout before finally grazing.

Husband had gotten behind an accident on the highway, held up. Pre-cell phone days, no way to call.

We made another appointment with friend for the next day for a rerun. We got horses ready, hitched, standing holding them. Funny, mare is not being very silly! Some dancing, head throwing, one rear, some banging into the gelding. Husband arrived almost on time, we were not standing very long. He was quite surprised she was so quiet waiting for him. He got in, gathered his reins, we grooms walked away, and she STAYED pretty quiet! He asked them to walk off and we all had a nice drive.

She improved steadily after that. Such a radical change, harnessed, hitched, stand around for a long time, no punishments or harsh corrections, then unhitching, unharnessing with turnout really messed up her mind! She got very nice over time, quit the bad acting, happy to stand quietly for long times while hitched. We enjoyed using them for a couple years. They did teach us and our upcoming young horses how to drive in a Multiple of Four. We could trot fast enough to make your eyes water! Bend, flex, collect and extend the gaits, opened our eyes to possibilities. They raised our standards of expectations from our horses! Made husband a much better driver.

2 years of fun before the gelding got so bad with his breathing problems that we had to put him down. A very nice young lady we knew took the mare as a riding horse. Good rider and mare was trained to Gran Prix level. She told us how much fun they had doing the roads and trails by her home. All her previous TB horses were squirrely, not safe outside a ring. Let her see a new way to have fun with horses. She took horse with her to college, though Warmbloods were not well known back then. With the bay color, high white stockings, huge bone, coarse head, she got a bunch of snarky comments from the unknowing onlookers. They did finally catch on to mare’s skills as the girl rode her. Jaws hanging open watching various trots, on the bit but not hanging on her hands as she skipped down the centerline, changing every stride, sidepassing at a big trot, pirouettes, all done calmly, happily. Then they were begging to ride her! Too funny when she told us about it!! They didn’t know HOW to ride and ask for those movements.

So having seen calm, repetitive work greatly improve various equines, I hope it can help this pony to be happier, not worried, and more enjoyable for her drivers.

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She’s had a really mixed background. Mom kept her with the old Amish guy for several years. The remarkable thing is that she isn’t a spoiled brat, most of this guy’s mares were awful. He was OK with geldings, but he could ruin a mare. Mom had a great set up, as he’d get the pony ready for her if she was in the mood to drive.

Mom did a lot of ground work and lunging, not Parelli, but not as far from it as she would like to admit. The mare knows voice commands well and does remarkably well under saddle. It’s easy to forget she’s not far from green broke. I’m was trying to get her to stop cantering in harness while they were trying to get her to canter under saddle.

I’m pretty sure that whatever this pony does with us; when Mom takes the lines, she’ll be fine for her. Despite her outward indifference, she loves Mom.

Expectations are funny. The Black Angus has raised the bar on ground manners in a barn full of squirrely Saddlebreds. My trainer loves her since she never does anything stupid and will stand tied to anything for hours. Some of the other customers are still amazed that nothing bothers her. NOTHING. Why won’t my horse do that? Um, you don’t require it.

The gelding I drive was a mess when we started a couple years ago. At 12 he was broke, but he wasn’t. It took a lot of miles, but he’s getting close to “amateur broke.” He’ll still get strong, but he doesn’t get nearly as stupid as he used to. For sh!ts and giggles one day, we tried a liverpool on him. The skys opened and the angels sang. Unfortunately, we can’t show in it.

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Little update.

I lunged the little witch for maybe 5 minutes before tacking her up. She was a bit better. I didn’t see it, I was in the john and by the time I came out, she was on her way.

The worst part may be telling my mother she was right…at least sort of. I’d rather not have to deal with lunging the little princess before doing anything with her.

She was kind of in a mood, not heavy, but had a turkey neck going on the whole time. If nothing else, Saturday was a beautiful day for a drive.

My Saddlebred is getting close to road broke. Our ‘track’ is around the fields and passes between the road and the fence line. As I turned the corner to that area, the half dozen horses in the field were running & a half dozen Harleys were coming down the road. The doofus (he really is a doofus) bounced of his feet a little, but wasn’t too bad. I didn’t trust the Hackney enough to go the same route with him.

Thanks for the update. At least you are able to do something driving related! Too cold for us to add extra outside time to chores and maintenance time. I did get some bridlepaths trimmed Saturday! No more adjusting halters without noseband getting too low. Took off 4 inches of hair on my fuzzy hairball. Others were not as long, 3 inches of mane to come off. Tails are growing, but still short enough to stay mudless.

Our weather swings are humorous, almost on a schedule. 3 days of cold, snow, then a couple days of warm, 30Fs to almost 50F this week. Temps dropping again tomorrow with cold nights to refreeze the mud and running water. Horses moving with tiny mincing steps on icy ground. Not much of moving fast, thank goodness. Only 2 shod with ice studs for grip.

I walked fence in my new ice grippers, no slipping. Fixed a couple insulators, everything is looking good. Odd how the ice lays along the fences on the hill, both sides. Ditches are running fast, about half full. Still lots of ice “uphill” on the hayfields across the road. I find it interesting that the front hayfield where I spread manure has almost no snow cover. Husband says the darker bedding absorbs heat faster, even when under snow, to let melting happen faster than plain grass will. Does reduce runoff amount by spreading out the melt timing!

:pray: Let him be right :roll_eyes:
In my Winter-weary Rebellious Act of Sloth, I have been tossing forkfuls of manure(& minimal bedding) from stalls to the area directly behind them.
Where, until the recent thaw, snow was piled up almost a foot.
Imagining Spring will.leave me a godawful mess there.
Which I will ask neighbor w/tractor & blade to spread & flatten.
So far the snow beneath the muck seems to be stubbornly resisting melting.

@goodhors what brand of ice grippers did you get? I’m debating about buying some.

TIA, Rebecca

My ice grippers are Dafengea Crampons when DD ordered them from Amazon for me. They were about $13 the pair plus shipping. I wrote about how much I liked them on the Farm forum, where folks need grip on this ice that forms every night! A friend recommended them because her downhill path to feed was a sheet of ice, dangerous. I liked that there was no stretchy material under my boot sole to wear or break. All chain and teeth under your sole. Orange tops stretch easily, for putting on or removing. She got Mediums for boot size 6.5 to 7, ladies size, Looked like they would stretch easily

for slightly bigger sizes. She LOVES them! I got Large for my size 9 men’s boots.


Those are nice ice grippers!

I’m so over winter and cold this year and thankful that a pair of YakTrax can handle the level of snow and ice we get.