All ponies are different. At most yards, you can find everything from a Mr Plod to a Mrs Speedy Gonzales. Some ponies can be forward-going and strong, which can sometimes be worrying but, if you can channel his enthusiasm into really nice work, you can use these characteristics to your advantage!
Most of the time, the trick to improving your riding sessions when you have a strong pony is to increase the time you spend on flatwork, even if it means doing less hacking and jumping fora while. Be prepared to at least double the time you’re spending doing flatwork, teaching him obedience and flexibility and improving your ridden connection.
Until you manage to get your pony to really relax while you’re riding, so that he’s supple, interested and responsive, you probably won’t overcome his forward-going-ness!
Back to bitting basics
It’s possible that your pony has been ‘bitted up’ in the past, which means that his rider may have used a too-strong bit to force him to do what they wanted. If this has happened, you may need to undo all of this previous work, and re-start his education.
Force rarely works with strong ponies, as usually the more you pull (and possibly hurt your pony), the more he will pull against you, and try to run away from the discomfort he’s feeling. Remember that ponies are a great deal stronger than you! However, as a human, you’re much more intelligent than he is, and can find other ways of achieving your goals.
In the enclosed safety of your arena, ideally return to basics with a simple snaffle and a loosely-fitted running martingale. Ideally, you want to be able to work in a snaffle at home, and save a stronger bit for showjumping competitions and going cross-country, if you need it. He’s more likely to accept the stronger bit if it’s used less often, and this will help him develop a softer mouth, too.
Begin with simple school exercises at walk and trot – use plenty of school shapes such as circles and serpentines, plus changes of rein and pace. Include canter when he’s ready, but be prepared to go straight back to slower work if he pulls. When you’re working towards jumping, take it slowly so your flatwork is established first, then move onto ground poles and cross-poles with your trainer, focussing on producing a pace in the arena that you’re happy with.
Hold it together
The best way to stop a pony ‘running through the bridle’ is to train him to accept supportive leg aids, which will allow you to hold him together between your hand and leg. Putting your leg on doesn’t need to mean ‘go faster’! Dressage superstar Charlotte Dujardin always says: “Hot horses have to learn to be ridden with your legs on.”
You’ll know you’ve got it right when you’re able to take your supportive leg off, and your pony instantly slows down. If you’re struggling to achieve this, then it’s worth asking your trainer or a very experienced lightweight friend to undertake re-schooling your pony for a short period. You may be amazed at the difference, and this can be followed up with lessons on your newly trained pony to reach the perfect partnership!
Did you know?
Some fast ponies that can be improved by pushing them on, rather than asking them to come back and work more slowly. Professional riders will often be happy to let the pony go forward into their own pace, and without any pulling, ‘ride them through’ a naughty period, until they slow of their own accord and begin to listen. Ask your instructor about what your pony would respond best to.
Jenny Richardson is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, a venue that offers cross-country training breaks in the heart of Ireland. Visit castleleslie.com