Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Riding with hand horse, is useful training and lots of fun. To pony along gives young horses the opportunity to experience the world while building courage and strength. It is also a great way to desensitize unridden horses to saddle, packsaddle or other tack, as well as to having someone above them. The hand horse also learns transitions and cues.
Riding with a well-trained hand horse is like a dream, just as riding with a horse that pulls forward or drags behind is a nightmare. The key here is to teach the horse in hand to find and follow the slack. Make sure the lead rope or rein is slack when the hand horse is in the right position.
I like to have the hand horse beside me, but slightly behind the horse I am riding. This is where I leave the horse in hand free of all pressure. Horses learn from the release of pressure (not the pressure itself) and always seek towards the least amount of pressure.
When done right, horses quickly learn to self-regulate and stay in the right place.
That's when ponying becomes enjoyable and you can ride as if the hand horse is not even there. Once you have taught your horse to pony nicely, you can add on a horse with a so-called hand horse girth.
Ponying was the main method used when taming horses in Iceland back in the ’90s, mainly because we didn't have any fences to ride in. The process was: ponying with a halter, ponying with a bridle, ponying with a saddle, ponying with a rider. Then let go, and hope for the best! Usually, the taming process went very well. The young horse had learned to carry the rider, steer and stop as hand horse. If it didn't go well, we would just pony the horse a while longer, before attempting to ride again.
When ponying, it is essential to be aware of the fact that horses are always learning something, and it's either something good or something bad. If the horse you are ponying rushes and ignores the lead rope or reins, it will probably do the same when you ride the horse as well. If the hand horse is lazy and drags behind, the horse will probably do the same when ridden or led.
The fact that horses always learn something is why ponying is ideal to slow down a hasty horse or motivate a not so forward horse. This makes ponying a great training tool to balance a horse mentally and to teach cues. Plus, like our equi-therapist says, "It's some of the best training a horse can get." Why not bring a hand horse along next time you ride and train two horses at the same time?
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