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Clinton Anderson: Ponying Power

Learn how to pony any horse with a minimum of cueing and lead-shank pressure, with expert guidance from clinician Clinton Anderson.

In previous articles you learned how to gain control of both ends of your ponied horse, by teaching him to pivot on his forehand and hindquarters. I also showed you how to send him around in front of you to the other side of the horse you're riding, so you could perform the exercises in both directions.

Now I'll show you how to pony your youngster forward, as well as provide tips for more advanced work at the jog and lope.

My approach to ponying is particularly useful for a young horse, as it teaches him about cueing, yielding to pressure, and moving his feet at your bidding--all useful for his later schooling. It also desensitizes him to having another horse and rider nearby, a human up above him and other unfamiliar stimuli.

Ponying also provides exercise for two horses at once, and enables you to introduce a green horse to unfamiliar areas before you ride him there.

What I'll teach you is tailored for a young horse (I'm working here with a yearling filly), but it'll work with a horse of any age. You'll learn to pony your youngster forward on a circle. This approach makes control easier and enables you to use the horse you're riding to help bring the youngster forward.

To Get the Most from this Lesson

  • Prepare your pupil. Before you begin, turn your youngster out, work him in a round pen, or do some of my "longeing for respect" (Practice Pen, "Training on the Trail," Horse & Rider, April-June 2004) to get him settled and focused on you.
  • Enlist a veteran. The horse you ride as you teach your youngster to pony must be a quiet, well-broke, obedient mount that you can ride one-handed.
  • Conduct the training in a safely fenced enclosure with good footing until you feel confident about proceeding outside it.
  • Outfit your youngster in a rope halter with a lead that's 10 to 14 feet long. If you don't have a training stick, make one of your own (using a sturdy, four-foot-long stick), or else use a dressage whip.
  • Take the time necessary to teach your youngster these maneuvers. Short training sessions every day (say, for 20 to 30 minutes) are preferable to longer, less frequent ones.
1. After you've warmed up by reviewing last month's exercises, position your youngster on your left, passing his lead rope under your horse's neck, as I've done here. (Note: For safety's sake, never tie or dally the lead rope to your saddle horn.)
2. Then step your horse forward and onto a large (say, 20-foot) circle to the right, clucking to encourage the youngster to move with you. Circling to the right enables you to use your horse's bulk--as the lead rope tightens across his chest--to encourage your youngster to come along. The bend of the circle also makes it easier for you to stay slightly in front of and in control of your youngster as he learns the concept of traveling next to you.
3. If your youngster won't come forward, reach back with the stick and tap gently and rhythmically on his hindquarters until he does.
4. As you proceed on the circle, rub gently with the stick all over your youngster's body to reassure and desensitize him.
5. Continue in this fashion, desensitizing your youngster on every part of his body that you can reach with the stick, all while keeping your horse moving on the circle to the right.
6. If your youngster begins to overtake you, as my filly is here, simply decrease the size of the circle momentarily to regain your relative position.
7. Once your youngster is reliably consistent at the walk (which may take hours or days), try the same exercise at a jog. Make the transition to the jog as smoothly as you can, clucking and using the stick to tap on your youngster's croup, if need be, to encourage him forward. At the jog, stay on the circle, decreasing the size of it whenever necessary to keep your youngster properly positioned next to you.
8. Hold off on loping until you're completely confident ponying your youngster at the trot. When you do proceed to the lope, the principles remain the same: Ride a circle to the right, as I am here, decreasing its size as needed to keep your youngster in proper position.

Loping is best kept as a training exercise within an enclosed area. But once you feel confident at the walk and jog, you can begin to pony your youngster out of the arena at those two gaits, on jaunts that increase gradually in length over time.

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--Photos by Darrell Dodds

Clinton Anderson, the 2005 Road to the Horse colt-starting champion, is the host of "Downunder Horsemanship", a popular weekly training program on RFD-TV. The clinician, who lives in Belle Center, Ohio, regularly travels around the country, presenting horsemanship clinics and headlining at horse expos. For more information, go to www.clintonanderson.net.

This article originally appeared in the April 2005 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.

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