(Disclaimer – this is strictly an opinion column and readers should always consult the advice of a recognized, licensed and professional horse trainer if they have questions or insecurities about proposed process).
On Short Time – My friends and I pretty much live by the rule “Everyone Gets out” when it comes to caring for our horses on a daily basis. Although many of our horses get turned out (allowed to roam in a slightly bigger pen or arena) we don’t believe they move enough. So we put the “ponying” process into play. You often see this task at the racetrack when the thoroughbreds with their jockeys aboard are led to the starting gate by another horse and rider. I often do this exercise with my rescue horse Daphne and gelding Hadley. Because I know my horses’ temperaments pretty well, and I have done this exercise many times, I know my mercurial appaloosa, Hadley, likes to lead and Daphne is content in either position. Therefore, after grooming both horses (I always groom them), I will usually tack up Hadley and keep Daphne in her halter with lead rope. We start our process with a walking warm-up of three laps around the periphery of the arena or the track, which at our barn, is outside of the ring. I choose where the footing is best, and the dust is the least. After we’re done with the warm-up, we then work into an extended trot for 2 to 3 laps and then back to a walk. We walk one lap, and then progress into a slow jog for one lap. After returning to the walk for another lap, I move into the lope (which I don’t advise unless you are super skilled at the ponying process). Then I repeat the same process but in the other direction. The success of the ponying process is dependent upon each horses’ willingness to cooperate with you and each other. At any pace, whether walk, trot or lope you can find yourself pulled in opposite directions literally, especially if the horse you are ponying is resistant to move forward or in some cases, taking a “poop break” and stops dead in their tracks. The best way to start this process is from the ground up. Start by hand walking both horses together for short distances making sure you can safely manage both horses at the same time. Watch their behavior and see how they interact with one another. If there is an occasional nip or two, it’s probably not the end of the world. But if it’s more than that, like ears flat back and an attempted kick, you may want to re-think the ponying combination. Face it; some horses just don’t get along. Before ponying horses for the first time, try to ride or lunge at least one of the horses involved beforehand to get some of the energy out. Also, be sure to ask for help from someone on the ground by having him or her hold the horse you will lead, as you get on the other horse. it’s too dangerous, to try to hold on to one horse while you are getting on the other. Make sure it’s a quiet day at your barn and start in the arena preferably with no one else in it, except you and your ground handler. Be sure to wear a helmet, and once mounted up, start out with small tasks like walking in a big circle. Even if all you do is walking and nothing else, that’s huge! Walking is great for horse’s circulation in their legs and hooves and is a great place to start. As you become more skilled at the ponying process and the horses grow more accustomed to it, you can mix it up where you go, making it more stimulating for them than just lunging or being put on a walker. If you put in the time to teach the ponying process, it will save you time in the end. So on those days when you are short on time, you will have a way to make sure “Everyone Gets Out.”