Ponying on trails - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 09:06 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2015
Location: Western Massachusetts
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Ponying on trails

So, it is May. A week ago my horses were delivered to me -- from California to Massachusetts. My seven year old Morgan mare Brooke and a new-to-me 14 year old 12.2 pony, Pippa, who was picked up as a pasture companion/travel buddy for Brooke, by my trainer back in CA. This little mare has never been ridden but has nice ground manners and leads well. There are no other horses or other livestock as yet on my property. Pippa the pony and Brooke bonded very tight on their 10 day trip across country. Indeed I have never experienced Brooke, ever the Queen Mare, being so kind toward another horse; she even lets Pippa eat out of her grain bucket.

I took Brooke out on an experimental trail ride yesterday. Predictably, she was reluctant to go, and a bit bug-eyed with all the new things, but obedient. Also predictably, Pippa raced around screaming frantically until I came back (in 10 minutes).

As I see it, I have three options when I go out, not mutually exclusive (that is, I could alternate them as needed).

1. close Pippa in a small area so she couldn't run. Won't help her psychologically but might keep her from hurting herself.
2. get some other animal/s to keep her company. Probably goats, as we need our neglected pastures browsed down anyway. Do not know if this would work but worth a try.
3. pony Pippa with Brooke. The subject of this thread.

Pippa is a leggy, forward pony with a long trot. She isn't a stubby little Shetland, she could keep up with Brooke just fine. Almost all the trails around here are old farm roads, snowmobile tracks, and logging roads -- big enough for two abreast.

On the other hand, Brooke has never been ponied from and I'm sure Pippa's never been ponied. I don't have a western saddle --no horn -- and Brooke doesn't really know how to neck rein, although I can move her anywhere with my seat and legs.

If anyone has any experience or advice with this -- training, trail riding, etc. -- I'd love to hear about it!
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post #2 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 10:13 AM
Join Date: Apr 2018
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I also have two horses who are closely bonded together and a cow in with them. When I take my horse out for a ride, the horse who stays in the pasture continuously neighs shrilly every time I go out even though I've been doing this for 2 years with the horses. The horse left in the pasture does not run around anymore, but she used to. The cow in the pasture with the horse doesn't stop her from neighing so I'm not sure companion goats would accomplish what you're goal is, but could be worth a try. I'm thinking if you continue to ride Brooke more often for short periods of time (gradually increasing the time away), Pippa might adapt and calm down a bit. Pippa needs to figure out that when Brooke leaves, she'll be back.

Ponying would work too, but might get difficult without a western saddle horn. Would you hold the rope in your hand? If that's the case it may be a recipe for disaster. The horse you're riding might spook and go one way and the horse you're holding might respond and go the other way, leading to a painful fall.

I hope this is helpful in some way :)
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post #3 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 10:41 AM
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From my own personal experience, and I admit it may be wrong...
When I pony I never, ever tie off to my saddle...
Hold the shank in your hand and ride one-handed.
Do not make a coil putting your hand in it, do not tie it to your hand...but fold it so if you need to feed out quickly you are not "arm trapped!"
I use between a 10' - 15' shank when ponying and the ponied animal is at my ridden horses flank or nearer my leg.

Yes, I do this in a endurance, English saddle and the same when in my western saddle...
My horse is accustomed to 2-hands on the rein for guidance, but I can accommodate/cue enough one-handed we get around pretty good.
We mostly walk, some trotting. I have never cantered/galloped doing this...and will not.

Halter on the animal being ponied and if you are going to ride that one later, secured bridle for later use...
I would never risk tying off in case of a crisis situation happening.

Far safer, easier and less damage to human and animal to just drop the rope and give freedom, set the animal free than be caught up and ........ the horrors going through my mind..
I've let go on a trail when ponying just to see what would happen, yes I trusted the ponied horse to not bolt...
Ponied horse stayed with us...there were 4 mounted riders so maybe that made a difference, but stablemates and those used to being together I feel will stay together under regular conditions...
Now, all bets are off if a crisis arises or you are out alone...but if the pair are bonded as it sounds...I doubt ponied animal is going anyplace by itself.
The biggest challenge I face is mounting and not kicking the ponied horse in the face as my leg swings over.
I pony with ponied animal being on my right side always...not sure that is correct either but that makes for the ponied to be led from their left which is how my horses lead from the ground...so works well for me.

Best would be to break that bonding the two have established so independent riding and left behind can be done...
It doesn't always work that way though.
Good luck.


The worst day is instantly better when shared with my horse.....
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post #4 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 10:52 AM
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Subbing as I am not experienced at ponying. Have seen it done many times though, and the person riding held the lead rope in there hand. Would not tie a horse to a saddle; could be a recipe for disaster. You want to be able to turn the pony loose if needed. Always remember safety of rider first.

No western saddle required, lol

It would be easier if your horse could neck rein, but again not required.

If there horse get along well enough to share food, they should be able to pony. When I tried it my horse kicked the other one as they were not buddies. Would practice short ponying sessions at home in an arena or something to test the waters.

One thing I have done quite successfully is to make sure the one left behind is safely in a stall with plenty of hay and recently given some grain. Start with very short trips at first, so the one left behind is reassured by the quick return of the one ridden.

Don't think a goat would work as a companion since they are already bonded so tightly. Not even sure a third horse/pony would work either.

I have a AQHA mare that is the perfect companion horse. She never wants to be BFF with horses, is not aggressive, and prefers to be alone. She doesn't even lift her head from the grass when we load up and doesn't whinny when we return. A true Gem!
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post #5 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 11:03 AM
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I once ponied a Mini up and down a dirt road - never have I appreciated the value of neck reining more! Keeping control of the tension in the reins with varying tension in the lead rope is hard work - you don't want to penalize your horse for some shenanigans the Mini is pulling!

So, I'd agree saying that I wouldn't use the horn even if I had one, but if you have a nice straight line stretch where you can keep your horse straight with your legs and otherwise hold your reins in one hand for a little speed control, it may well be worth a try. I'd start with little sessions: Pony Pippa for 5 mins, return her, ride out 5 mins without her. Pick her up, do another 5 mins with her...and so on...just so she realizes she won't get abandoned.

Since your ultimate goal isn't to pony her along on a weeklong trip so you have a backup horse, you may well be able to make do without neck reining.
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post #6 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 11:09 AM
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I hope to be out on trail, riding one horse and ponying another later this morning (need to let the turkey hunters be finished first). As you know, I ride in saddles without horns, so ride with reins in one hand and the pony rope in the other.

I would suggest you start with Pippa in a secure area while you work with Brooke on neck reining. If she is already very responsive to seat, then it shouldn't take her long to catch on to your riding one-handed. I generally bridge my reins through my hand (versus having both reins come in the same way like traditional neck-reining) as that can give me the ability to cue from just one side of the bit if needed. If Brooke hasn't used a crupper before, work with her accepting a rope under her tail. Hopefully the pony rope never winds up there, but sure don't need a rodeo if it does!

To teach the concept of ponying, I would make sure they will both lead side by side with you walking in the middle (obviously having good ground manners is a must beforehand, but I know your girls are well broke to lead). I prefer to have the ponied horse on my right, so I would lead with Brooke on my left and Pippa on the right. Wander around the paddock practicing walk and halt and turns. I use a lot of verbal commands when ponying.

Next, move to the same type of basics when mounted. I prefer to have the ponied horse in the vicinity of my knee whenever possible (versus trailing behind the ridden horse like a pack string), so I can keep an eye on what its doing. Ride in the paddock, so if something goes wrong you can just drop the rope without having to worry about loose horses. When you feel confident in everyone's comfort level, start in the paddock with the gate open for the first few minutes, then venture out into the yard and down the driveway, etc.

Assuming the horses pace well together, there is no reason you can't do any and all gaits with practice. I use ponying a lot when I am crunched for time and need to exercise more than one horse.

I have also ponied green horses at the start of rides, to keep everyone alive!

Good luck, I am sure you will all be enjoying the trails together in no time.

There is no joy equal to that found on the back of a horse.
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post #7 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 11:23 AM
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In the RDA yard we had to hack the horses every weekend (their time off) 40minutes to the nice field. We're talking 30 horses and most had to be ponied. English saddle etc and the rule was to just hold on with your hand- never tie to yourself or saddle. If in the case no one was around to assist with mounting and we generally HAD to use fixed blocks (heh) we would tie them and once mounted go over to fetch them. None of the horses neck reined in training, if you know what I mean. The ponied horse always had a bridle (no reins though). Obviously they were well mannered and you had to pair the horses in such a way that they got along. It was always a pain in the butt going down tight English trails when BOTH the ponied horse and ridden took advantage to grab food on the way -.- There were times we had to give slack as there was only room for lead file for short periods though it's not cool from a safety standpoint ofc. Some of the ponied horses were brought in their tack and the rider would swap midway.

I wonder about this because I let my parrots free fly. The bond is strong enough and worth more than any harness or gadget. If I lived in a super rural area with no roadwork I wonder what I'd attempt... something stupid I imagine. Anyway, I agree that the separation anxiety should be dealt with but ponying is also fun but better to do it because you want instead of a feeling of necessity :P Can't really say but I hope my experiences helped a little! It's all I know ;)
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post #8 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 11:42 AM
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I think the best option would be to leave the pony behind and train her to accept being alone for the duration of your rides, but since you asked about ponying ...

Ponying is not a big deal as long as the horse you're riding is decent. I can work with a pig on the lead line but the horse I'm riding needs to not be an a**hole and he needs to be responsive to my commands. Neck reining isn't necessary, although it certainly does help. I will work at all 3 gaits when ponying, of course pony the horse at a walk and trot first to make sure there's not going to be a rodeo. Remember, the faster you go, the more things tend to unravel, so make sure you're good at the walk and trot first. Never tie to your saddle, that's an accident waiting to happen. I will occasionally run the rope from my right hand, over the left side of the horn, and back to the horse when I have a fractious colt or when I'm ponying him for the first time, to increase the leverage I have available. This doesn't work well if you have a pony horse that's much bigger than your riding horse (as is the case when I'm riding Dreams and ponying Thunder the Shire, for instance), but this doesn't matter since you neither have a tall pony horse nor a western saddle with a horn.

After that, it's just a matter of building your skill as a pony rider and building the pony horse's skills. You may also be careful about the pony seeing you above her for the first time, since some horses freak out when a human pops into existence on the riding horse's back. A certain amount of desensitizing may have to happen, with you standing on a fence or on a few hay bales so that you appear much higher in the air. Once the pony is okay with you up there, I'd say just go for it.

-- Kai
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post #9 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 12:53 PM
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I ponied for years and years, mainly because I was riding at 6:30 a.m. in a neighborhood, and the horse not being ridden would scream the whole time we were gone. I knew the neighbors would NOT want to be waked up at 6:30 on a Sunday morning every single week. I also took lots and lots of beginner kids who needed to be ponied, as I did not have a beginner horse.

If your horse doesn't neck rein, she soon will learn if you pony very much. Easy to learn, and fairly quickly too. In my opinion, you can pretty much expect to lose, drop, or have your pony rope pulled out of your hand at times, especially if you ride on narrow wooded trails. The ponied horse sees something, lifts the head quickly, and in no time, they are on either side of a tree. I never once had a problem re-grabbing the pony rope at those times. The horses seemed to be pretty happy ponying together, so did not separate when the rope was on the ground.

As someone else said, ponying a young colt is a lot more difficult, but you won't have to worry about that.

I had a funny experience once, while ponying my 4 year old daughter on a longish trail ride. We were headed home, and not that far from the trailers when a huge branch broke off from a tree and landed right in front of my horse and my daughter's pony. My horse went one direction, my daughter's pony went the other. I had a split second to decide--let go of the pony rope or come off my horse. Of course, being a mom, I stayed with my daughter's pony, came flying off my horse, and landed on the ground. My horse stood quietly while we got straightened out. I could only imagine my daughter's pony galloping for "home" with a terrified child on top.

By the way, although ponying is kind of tedious at times, it also can be very very fun.
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post #10 of 20 Old 05-10-2018, 01:17 PM
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I have ponied horses and ponies, I had a pony to keep my horse company, they were ok with being separated but I thought the pony could do with some exercise. My horse was well trained and could neck rein to a degree and had been used for ponying before.
I experimented in a closed area to see how well the pony would be and then out on the trails. I use an English saddle so no horn but I would drape the lead across my horse's wither and down on the left side so if I should drop the lead I could pick it up again easily. As others say NEVER wrap the lead around your hand. Also a good idea to wear gloves.
I had one mare that ponied so well that I would lay the lead across my horse's wither and never have to touch it as she would stay right beside me the whole ride.
I had a flat leather lead that I liked for ponying and I would lay it across the wither and then tuck a piece under my left knee to kind of hold it in place.

one thing with a pony you may have to watch for is since they are shorter and if they lag behind, the rope can get under the lead horse's tail, not something you want to happen, so watch for that and try to insist the pony keep up to avoid it.

I would lead her on single file trails at times and she followed well and I made sure the rope couldn't get under my horse's tail.

Even if my horse doesn't neck rein I often ride on trails with one hand and they learn to follow my seat leg cues very well so using one hand for ponying was no problem.

And it would be a good idea to work on having them separated at times so you can ride alone if you wish, but ponying may be an interim answer for the time being. good luck and happy riding.
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