Even though ponying horses is a common practice at American racetracks and polo stables, riders of other disciplines seldom do it. But it's an effective way to exercise almost any horse and to train young horses in any discipline.
Racehorse trainers rely on ponying primarily as a way to calm and control dead-fit, excitable young horses, which isn?t necessary in non-racing sports. But ponying is a time-efficient way to exercise and condition two horses at once, whether you're a busy amateur rider or a professional trainer with more horses than riders. If your sport is one that especially requires conditioning ? such as endurance riding or eventing ? ponying can be particularly effective because both horses usually compete against each other while working.
Time isn?t the only reason to pony a horse, though. it's is a good way to start legging up a horse after time off to recover from an injury, because He's not carrying the rider?s weight as he begins to exercise. And it's a great way to gradually leg up young horses who?ve never been in work before.
Ponying is also a great training tool for youngsters, both before and after you start them under saddle. Being in the company of an older horse teaches them how to work, whether in the ring or across the countryside. Ponying with an older horse can teach the young horse how to negotiate poles in the ring, as well as small obstacles and natural obstacles like ditches, streams or puddles. The older horse's company and example teaches the youngster how to react positively to new challenges.
Plus, if your riding area is limited, especially if it's limited to a ring, ponying provides a nice change of pace for both horses. it's something very different to do in the very same place.
Before You Start.
The customary method of ponying is to lead the unridden horse on your right side, with your right hand, steering the horse you're riding with your left hand (and legs and seat). This has historic roots but is also because most people are right-hand and feel more comfortable this way. If you're left-handed and would feel more comfortable with the horse on your left side, there's no good reason why you couldn?t do it that way.
In fact, some riders lead two other horses at once, one on each side, with the lead rope from the horse on the left held in your left hand along with the reins. We've even heard of riders working two horses on one side and one on the other. Obviously, you need to be an experienced and confident rider, be working horses that get along, and have wide spaces in which to ride for this to work.
Having a solid horse to be your lead pony will make everything a lot more enjoyable and safer. You'll want an experienced and willing, obedient horse you can trust and who isn?t inclined to kick, especially if the other horse bites or shoves him or her. It helps if the horse you're riding is a dominant horse, or at least higher in the pecking order than the one you're ponying. That way he or she will be in charge of the horse you're leading. Leading the dominant horse is much more likely to result in biting and shoving, because he'll try to command the weaker horse you're sitting on.
You can lead the unridden horse in either a halter or a bridle without reins. We recommend using either a leather halter or nylon halter with a leather crown piece for safety. Leather, cotton or rope lead ropes all work well, although we prefer the lead rope to be a bit stiff because it's easier to grip. It should be attached to the ring at the bottom of the halter.
We advise against using a nylon lead shank because it can badly burn your hand and because it won?t break should the horse pull away from you and catch it on something.
Some horses need a chain for control when you pony them. If the horse you're ponying is very energetic, disobedient or just trots markedly faster than the horse you're riding, run the chain over the noseband and attach it to one of the rings on the right side of the face (depending on the length of the chain). This way you can best influence the horse's speed and attention.
If the horse you're ponying is lazy or tends to balk, run the chain under his chin and attach it to one of the rings on the right side of his head. This will allow you to basically pull the horse along if he tries to fall behind or pull backwards.
To introduce both horses to ponying, start in the ring with the gate closed, in case the unridden horse pulls away from you. Once everyone is happy and comfortable, you can move to a field or head out into the countryside. If you're an experienced and competent rider, and you trust your horses, you can ride almost anywhere you?d go with just one horse. We recommend restricting your gaits to the walk and trot because two cantering horses are often difficult to control.
Most horses quickly accept leading another horse from their back, but a few (especially mares) object to having another horse in their personal space. Read both horses? body language to prevent a fight (by using your forward aids), and be prepared to let go of the unridden horse if a fight starts. While any horse might object to ponying a certain horse, rarely does one horse object to ponying every horse.
If the horse you're ponying has never done it before, start with a person on ground holding a long dressage whip or a longe whip. Their job is to follow you around the ring and to strongly encourage the ponied horse to go forward if he balks, dwells or falls behind the horse you're riding, using their whip and voice. Unless they?re really lazy, most horses grasp the concept after a few circuits of the ring and will keep up with the horse you're riding, with at most only minor encouragement.
A helper is a good idea outside of the ring at first too, although he or she should also be mounted (unless they?re a fast and fit runner). Usually just riding up behind the ponied horse will get him moving if he balks or refuses to go forward, but swinging a dressage whip will provide further motivation.
Remember that you're now in control of two horses, not just one. Pay close attention to both, so You'll be ready if something surprises or frightens them or if they have an argument. Be certain to keep the ponied horse's head close to your right knee, to keep him from trying to bolt ahead of or fall behind you. When the ponied horse gets tired, he'll often try to lag behind, and You'll need your voice, the lead rope and perhaps your helper to keep him next to you.
We don't generally use boots for ponying, unless one of the horses has an issue that normally requires their protection. We've never found boots to be useful in this situation. If one horse kicks the other, it's usually higher than knees/hocks and unprotected by boots.
Article by John Strassburger, our Performance Editor.