Star's Progress

So, the first week with the new pony is over. Spent the first few days just getting to know him, hand walking, grooming, that sort of thing. We worked on not diving for grass, and not swinging around to face me and check my pockets for cookies every time we halted. There was one tentative testing nip, which was shut down swiftly and definitively and has not been repeated.

About mid week it rained for 2 days, when it finally cleared up I decided to see how he ground drove. It was still a bit cold and blustery, and all the turned out horses had their crazy hats on. In hindsight it probably wasn’t the best day, but I wanted to see how he handled it. At first he handled it in a way that made me question if I had made the right choice. He was listening, mostly, but he was a tense ball of just holding it together energy. Didn’t actually do anything truly bad, but felt like he wanted to explode. So I took him into the middle of the arena, got a nice halt and stripped his harness off. He kept standing until I sent him off then proceeded to run his fool head off for a good 20 minutes. Then he stopped and trotted his little heaving sides over to me, stuck his nose in my hand and was done. I tacked him back up and ground drove him till he was cooled out without any further fuss.

I ground drove him again today. It’s still a little cool and overcast and the turned out horses once again had their crazy hats on. From what I am told there are a couple of horses here who just always have their crazy hats on. This time we went for a long walk across the street to the jumping arena and riding field. This is where I will likely be doing most of my driving, the other arena is just too deep. He was, mostly, wonderful. We need to work on straight, and smoothing out our turns a bit, and I’m not very good at maintaining a light even contact while ground driving, but that shouldn’t be as big a problem once the cart is in play. There was no tension or pent up energy to deal with though.

The only issue I had today was grass diving. It’s harder to pull his head up in harness than it would be if I was riding and I could just lift my reins and kick him on. My harness does have an overcheck, which I took off because I wanted to see what I was dealing with without it. So, question one is what is the best way to stop him from eating. I’m assuming forward is the best option? Should I put the overcheck back on, adjusted fairly loosely?

Question 2 is about the bit. He is currently using a loose ring mullen mouth. It’s fairly thin. Owner said it was just the bit that came with the harness. He gets pretty fussy with it, head tossing and mouth gaping. I am wondering if something a little milder would make him happier. Maybe a rubber mullen mouth? I worry that it will be too thick for his palette.

I will probably wait until he is out of quarantine and I have the full run of the place to hitch him the first time. The big field isn’t fenced and is right next to a moderately busy road. You have to cross that road to get back to the barn so in the event something catastrophic happens he would likely beeline for the road and back home. The barn property is fully enclosed and fenced in and loose pony and cart would be more contained.

I think I would address the grass diving by getting to know him driving in a place where that’s not going to be an issue - you are getting to know him and getting him to remember he has a job, at which point he will be more in tune with you and you him and then you can address the diving, which will be a matter of keeping him focused on you/ his job. If he can notice and dive for grass he’s not on your program.

As for the bit, it’s hard to say this early - it may be the bit it may be “wait, I don’t like contact/having a job so I’m going to fuss about it” If you are not steady with your end of the contact he can’t be in his so it may go away as things improve all around. You mentioned you were having a hard time keeping it steady. He’s got to go forward into the bridle - and that also may solve the grass diving.

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Sounds like you are getting off to a good start.
The standing until you got harness off is a Big Deal :yes:
Especially since he then showed you he had some Zoom to use up.
Maybe address the grassdiving with a verbal cue/growl.
That way when you’re leading him you can enforce it with a tug on the lead & once you’re driving all you have is your hands & voice (whip becomes your leg) so he should respond to voice alone.

Try a thicker Mullen bit before going to rubber.
I drive my mini in a fat Mullen because he has such a small, narrow mouth (4.5") I worry a snaffle would poke him in the palate.
He’s good at all speeds with this bit - we do Cones & fast-paced road drives - and is starting to come through @ 5yo.
Have fun!
Star sounds like a real Keeper :smiley:

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With a halter and lead rope you do not pull his head up from the grass. If you do he learns that he can eat grass until he is pulled up and he will try a billion times a day.

Instead when he puts his head down, flick the lead rope sideways so as it jolts him under the halter. You should only have to do it 3 times. Maybe more for a stubborn pony. Timing is key. He shouldn’t even get a mouthful of grass.

Once you can stand him in grass without him even trying to eat you are ready for more training. Mine can eat on a lead when I say down and give 2 little pats on the neck. They soon know that just down means they can eat.

Star has been doing so well that I got froggy and put him to the cart today. In hindsight it probably wasn’t the best day to do it. He’s been cooped up the past few days due to rain but it was sunny and delightful today and he was ground driving nicely.

I didn’t do much because he is out of shape and the harness he came with doesn’t have a tree. I have ordered a comfy fit from Chimacum Tack (Who so very kindly called me to confirm that I had measured everything correctly because a few of the numbers looked off.) The new harness should be here soon-ish. Anyway, back to the pony. He was mostly lovely. Quiet even though the horses in the paddocks were snorting like crazy at the pony eating cart that was actively eating a pony. He was doing so well in the small area around my pen I went ahead and took him across the street, cause why not. He handled the traffic no problem, stood quietly at the intersection. We did argue about eating grass, and I am tempted to put the overcheck back on just while we knock his rust off and get to know each other.

Once in the field we did okay. Straight is a challenge, and so are round circles, but that’s fixable with work and muscling. We didn’t trot in the big field, though he wanted to up the mild inclines found in the field. He did give me a little fuss one of the times I stopped his grass diving, and even threatened a buck, which worried me some, but I got after him and we kept going forward. A bucking strap may be in order if he’s gonna get sassy. I did do a small trot once we got back across the street to my pen. Which made it clear that I am going to have to do some whip work with him. He completely ignored both my first “Star Trot!” and the subsequent repeat followed by a tap with the whip. I did get him to trot heading back towards home, as I had first asked away from it.

After I unhitched and got his tack off I tried getting him to move over from whip taps on the ground. He just stood there. Pretty sure he was falling asleep. Seems he may be a little too desensitized.

Put his overc heck on so you don’t keep arguing about grass. He might have been accustomed to wearing one while working and getting it off as a reward after.her
You might be doing too much at a time. If he had driven well, or acceptably, I would not have the n tried moving him sideways. Just a pat, a treat and grooming. Otherwise, all sounds good.

@Twisting, when I went to Troyer’s to order harness for my large pony, Salt, Harley Troyer said I must have measured wrong. He said ponies aren’t usually shaped like this. I was prepared for the question, and whipped out a picture of Salt. Harley looked at the picture and said “well, I guess you do have an oddly shaped pony.” He put together a harness that fit my weird guy.

Salt had a barrel that belonged to a fairly large horse (same size as my Paint horse), but a short back and pony legs. He also had a pretty long face for his size but a very small nose and mouth. Harley managed to put together a harness that fit Salt perfectly.

It was quite different than my experience buying a harness for my Hackney pony, Crackers. He was a pretty typical Hackney and a small pony sized harness fit him perfectly.


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Star is pretty normally shaped, and when I remeasured the current harness, that fits him well, it was discovered my measurements were off. Apparently I am bad at measuring on the pony. Like, really bad, 6-9 inches too little levels of bad. I am very grateful they took the time to double check with me.

I put the overcheck back on for today’s drive. It was nice and loose, he could hold his head comfortably and get a swinging walk without it coming into play, but he couldn’t get his nose down past his knees. Absolutely no arguments this drive, even over lush grass. We just did a few loops of the track around the stalls, letting the other horses see us. This next week we are going to start the real conditioning work. Lots of nice long walks at first, with some gentle hills and a little trotting mixed in. He has little to no topline and as an older pony slow and steady is going to work best.

On a completely unrelated side note. I am 99% sure he is “housebroken”. No not actually housebroken, but he doesn’t poop in his stall. It’s been 2 weeks now with no poop in either the run in shed in quarantine or in his stall. He only poops outside in his run. Today I actually watched him stop eating, go outside and poop, then come back and keep eating.

How did I get so lucky…


It sounds like you are doing well taking your time, tweaking things as you learn what works and what needs to be developed. As others have mentioned, I would use the overcheck during this introductory time together because it eliminates one point of the pony testing you.

You may have to borrow and experiment with different bits. My riding horse who is a perfect saint will toss her head from here to Canada if I put a straight bar mouthpiece bit on her. She loves wiggly bits, the more moving pieces in the mouthpiece the better!

When I want to work my driving donkey but don’t have a larger picture I’m targeting I do this: I ask for a transition- say go from a halt to a walk using my ques. After 5 or 6 strides I ask for square halt. I’ll repeat this but the second time I ask, I use a softer aid. The third time, yet a softer aid. Add in walk to trot. Trot to halt and so forth. It’s fascinating to me how being quieter and softer will make my equine “turn in/tune in” to me. Constant hard pulls or a sharp voice makes it easy for them to tune out but by being quieter they seem to ask “Did she just ask me to halt??” and so on and they become light and responsive.

Good luck!

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Love my pony more every day. Did some trot work today. At first it was like when you drive a new car. The gas was a little touchy and the brakes were a little touchy but we eventually got a smooth trot round the circle both ways with a soft feel and a steady pace. He’s got a whoa that’d make a reining horse jealous. Sits his butt down and stops! It’s not a word to be used lightly.

Hating the cart more and more every day. It’s a Kingston easy entry and it gets the job done but the suspension is… lacking. I am sticking to level-ish surfaces and taking it easy but it’s killing my back. Spending my slow days at work window shopping for a new cart.

My comfy fit harness arrived today, going to fit it tomorrow. It looks lovely, and I’m super excited to see it in action.

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Sounds like you won the Pony Lottery :yes:
Someone broke him to drive nicely & he’s just getting used to your different cues.

RE: the whip - he may have never been driven with a whip.
The Amishman who broke my mini did not use a whip, but rather the John Wayne Reinslap. :rolleyes:
So it took a bit for him to understand the tap that followed the kiss if he did not respond.

If Ohio is not too far for you, Fairview makes an excellent cart with options galore, including suspension fit for Marathon speeds.
A cart with good steel-spoked wheels (not bike tires) dash and comfy suspension comes in around $800

Unfortunately I am in South Texas, so not super close to Ohio.

A friend of mine did mention the Patty’s Pony Place sells upgraded suspension kits for easy entry carts. I already have the steel-spoked motorcycle wheels. If I could spend a (relatively) small amount on upgrading my current cart that might be a better option than buying an entirely new cart. At least for now. I reached out to the business for more info on the kit.

Also, I let my trainer know I wouldn’t be taking more lessons. I know, you are probably rolling your eyes at me now, but other than teaching me how to harness and put to, which he was very thorough about, he hasn’t really taught me much else. Yes we covered backing and side stepping in one of the first lessons, but other than that he basically just sends me off on my own for an hour while he helps other people. He checks in every now and then to see how I am doing, but it’s more like I am just renting the horse/cart for an hour than really getting a lesson. It’s not worth $95 an hour at this point, or the 2 hour round trip. So I’m on my own. I feel pretty good about it and I am working to increase my network. I am helping a friend with a driving demonstration she is giving to a local pony club next weekend.

I am probably going to lean on you guys pretty hard for the next couple of months too. Feel free to let me know if I get annoying.

As a side note, Star’s turnout rug got here yesterday, just as we had a cold front come in. Tiny ponies in tiny rugs are adorable. I want to buy him all the clothes now.

On your cart upgrade, is there a seatback available? You cannot imagine how adding a seatback increases comfort! If there is a choice, get a folding seatback. They fold down to get out of the way in storage and hauling. You can easily add padding if there is none.

Be careful blanketing full-winter coated pony. He may be sweating under there at the skin level, not visible, to get chilled. He has not been blanketed this winter from your comments. May not NEED any covers! As the cartoons show, most horses are heavily blanketed because “Mom” is cold, so horse must be cold too! If you do any body clipping, turnout weight blanket can be nice. Our Trainer has kept all her horses in rainsheets this winter. Turnout weight is too heavy for our weather this year. None are body clipped, but being covered keeps them cleaner to use without needing an hour of grooming per horse. Rainsheets shed snow too!

Our older horse, not clipped, has worn a rainsheet most of this winter. If it gets to 25F or below I went to the 200 turnout blanket. Only the ONE day of teens and below that needed his heavy, 400g blanket. His covers come off every night when he is stalled and inspected for rubs, hair gets fluffy again. If he didn’t get chilled in our constant wind, he would have no covers at all! The windbreaker effect seems to be what helps.

You are right, tiny equines and their blankets are adorable!

It has a low seat back, it helps some, I would love to find a taller one. (I need to work on my posture too, even riding I was always a curler).

He was blanketed by his previous owners, and his coat is dense but not long. I only put it on because it dipped below freezing last night, and it’s not normally that cold. The weather has been in the 70’s for a couple of weeks, then it dips to the 30’s (and 25+ knot winds) for a few days, then back to 70’s, because South Texas likes to keep you on your toes. I would probably not blanket if it just stayed in the mid 30’s, because he would be acclimated. I stopped by this morning (and popped out at lunch.) to check for sweating under the blanket. Dug my fingers into his fur. (He’s filthy, I really ought to give him a bath when it warms up.)

Well that sounds like several good reasons to keep him covered. These wild weather swings are hard to deal with!

A winter horse washing tip, is using the blower side of the (clean tub) shop vac, with pointed crevice tool aimed at his coat. Blowing him off makes horse dry faster because trapped water on hair is much reduced, fluffs up the hair. We then put acrylic cooler squares on wet horse in layers, with an elastic surcingle to hold them in place. You can make your own little cooler squares from a thrift store blanket or two, attach some tie strings in front to hold in place. Cut the squares big enough to cover his neck/chest and rump, long enough to reach his knees, which cuts down on drafts as he dries. I say put 2 coolers on to start, tying strings, using surcingle over both. Remove the top layer when it shows a mist layer or beaded water. Put on another cooler square over the DRY one next to his hair, fasten everything again. You may want to toss the damp square in the dryer if you don’t have more squares. Then it will be ready to use when the new outside square gets damp. It is funny how the damp goes right thru the layers to dampen the outside of the squares. With heavy coats, we find it takes about 4 squares to dry the equine. So with removal of the third wet square, we let the inside square wick off the rest of the damp resulting in a dry pony on the inside. They feel so nice when clean!

You can then wash and dry those squares, fold them to be handy to use after your drives. Same thing, layer and fasten the squares on damp pony, tie or stall him to wait inside as damp comes up thru the cooler squares to dry him off. Remove the wet layer, replace if very wet. Take them all off when he is dry to the skin. Usually takes less than an hour with lots of hair. If you get to drive often, washing squares weekly keeps them from being overly pungent! Ha ha Ours are acrylic, but polar fleece can work, just know that sawdust sticks to it badly! You might be able to get 4 squares for pony out of a king size blanket, depending on his measurements. Acrylic and polar fleece don’t even need edge covering, won’t fray. Hang to dry on wall hooks or a gate, ready to use after the next drive.

If you are adiosing the trainer, try joining a Driving Club near you.
I have never - aside from 1 clinic - had formal training with my mini.
I took maybe a dozen lessons way back (10yrs+) from a trainer, then didn’t drive again until I met a neighbor who shared her pony with me - for Fair only - in 2014.
Bought my mini in 2016 & joined the local club I had hitchhiked rides with for 5yrs.
I have gotten a ton of help from club members.

In fact, after going to a National Drive & meeting another club’s members, I joined that one too.
Club #1 is more social, trail drives & potlucks.
Club #2 is more competitive, sponsoring CDEs, holding Cones Derbies & providing clinicians at the National Drives.

I joined the Houston Area Driving Association. Going to a clinic with them in March. Probably just to audit and meet folks, unless I can find my pony a ride. The barn actually has a trailer that is free for members to use, but it is a 3 horse slant and the dividers are too tall for my pony. I did use it to trailer him out to get his strangles vaccine when I couldn’t get a vet to come to the barn, but that was a quick 20 min drive and I was desperate. I just didn’t close the dividers and had him loose in there, don’t know if I would want to do that for a 2 hour drive. I did see some hanging mat things you can use to extend a divider but I don’t know how sturdy they look.

Anyway, I am off on a tangent here. I joined HACA and I’m looking into the Texas trail riders club. They often have rides that allow wagons and carts. It was actually one of the members of HACA that told me about Star. She reached out to me when I first posted on the local area Facebook page and has been very helpful. She has also offered to let me come out and drive her minis, which I may take her up on, mostly to try her carts, she has a few, and see if I like the brands.

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I haul both cart (sometimes both carts) & mini in my 16’ stock trailer.
Carts go in front, along with any miscellaneous “stuff” needed for show or trips.
Center gate shut, mini goes in back.

You could load your cart, harness, etc in the first slant section.
Friend has a plywood partition he uses to block open bottom of divider when he hauls cart or multiple minis. Partition attaches to closed divider on top and to trailer wall (stock opening) at bottom.
Attachment by heavy duty coated wire is temporary & is removed when he’s not hauling multiples.
Can you do something like this to the loaner trailer?

If not, then go & enjoy meeting new Driving friends :yes:

I should probably rename this first month impressions.

We are still doing well. I took him out in the big field across the street to see what we could get done. He’s still pretty quick at the trot, the speed of it doesn’t bother me so much, but if it gets too quick it gets bumpy. I don’t want to get bounced out of the cart. I am assuming the quickness is due to being unfit. It’s easier to go fast than it is to go slow. I half-halt and soften and I get slow-quick-slow-quick in a pattern to match my half-halts. If I get a few steps of maintaining the slow after I soften I praise and we walk. I never have a problem with him actually running away, he’s always a “whoa” away from a halt, it’s getting the in-between “not moving” and “moving too fast” that we need to master. We’ll get there, slowly, as we gain fitness and understanding.

I haven’t been able to get as much done as I wanted. It’s getting warm, and he is fuzzier than he needs to be. He’s sweating just standing around and it seems unnecessary to ask him to work in a winter coat when it’s 80 degrees and humid. A bath and a haircut are in our future, just waiting for the fly sheet to get here this week. I hate clipping, I’m also really bad at it, my horses tend to look like they were attacked by an intoxicated monkey wielding a weed wacker, but at least there isn’t much surface area to deal with. I suppose the pony doesn’t really care what he looks like, so long as he’s not overheating.

I am thinking about breaking out some of my cones next week. I imagine I could set up something similar to some of the pole exercises I worked on when riding. Nothing fancy, just visual aids to help us work on things like straight lines and round circles. I’m finding it’s easy to lose some of that when you have a huge empty field to work in.

I did have one of the dressage riders at the barn ask me if we could tag along to her next show. She said her horse was so much more animated and lively when we were driving nearby. Most of the folks at the barn seem to be taking our presence well, and have a sense of humor about their horse’s reactions to us. I try to stay out of their way and stop if they need a moment to process or just need to pass us. They do all think that Star is adorable (he is) and we have posed for more than one picture.

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