You’ve spent heaps of time tweaking your riding skills and creating a special bond with your fave pony, but how often do you fine-tune your groundwork? Handling and leading your pony’s a daily task, so making sure he’s well-mannered is not only important for your safety, but it also makes life easier for anyone else who handles him, too.
When leading your fave pony, always stand on his left-hand side – this is also known as the near-side – next to his shoulder. It’s the side you tack-up, mount and dismount from, too. Whether you’re leading with reins or a leadrope, your right hand should be nearest his head, a few centimetres down the rope away from the clip. Position your left hand further down to stop the reins or rope from dragging on the floor or getting caught in your pony’s legs.
Ponies are very good at reading body language – they can sense when we feel nervous. So, while you’re practising, be positive and firm to let him know you’re in control.
Walk this way
When you ask your pony to walk on, use your voice and step forwards. He should be listening to your aids straight away, but if he doesn’t respond, ask a pal to stand to one side and encourage him by using their voice, too. Remember that you want to stay by his shoulder all the time, so try not to drag him even if he’s being really lazy.
It’s super-important to wear the correct gear when handling ponies – always wear a correctly fitted hat, sturdy boots and gloves. It’s best to practise your handling skills in a safe, enclosed area in case you have a bit of trouble getting your pony to listen. This’ll keep both you and your pony safe and help to prevent accidents.
If your pony’s very tricky to handle, use a bridle and lead with the reins over his head so you have more control.
Get your pony used to halting as soon as you ask him to – especially if you hack on roads or in busy areas. To ask for halt, slow down your own pace and apply a bit of pressure on the leadrope. Don’t forget to use your voice, too, try saying ‘whoa’ in a gentle tone. Have a go at halting and walking on around the yard – his reactions to your aids should get quicker the more you practise.
When he’s engaged and listening to your aids, be sure to give him a reward or scratch on his neck so he knows he’s done a good job.
Standing to attention
Getting your pony to stand perfectly still is a big part of teaching him manners. Whether you’re riding or holding him for the farrier, it can be frustrating if he doesn’t stop fidgeting.
When you ask for halt, start off by counting to three then walking on again. Increase the length of time he has to stand still for – sometimes he’ll have to stand patiently for five minutes while a vet is looking at him. If he tries to move on before you ask, walk forward another couple of steps, then ask for a halt transition again. You might have to repeat this a few times before he gets the hang of it.
The right way
Whether you’re heading to the field or doing polework in-hand, you’ll need to teach your pony to turn around or change direction. Always ask him to turn away from you – you don’t want him to tread on your toes or trip you up! Manoeuvre him away from you using your body and turn his head to face the direction he needs to go. Make sure he’s respecting your space and not barging through you.
Don’t let him pull you towards the tasty snack he’s spotted on the other side of the yard. If he tries to do this, ask him to halt then turn away from where he wants to go.
Once you’re sure that you’ve perfected his manners – you can put your new skills to good use. Ponies feel more confident when they’re being led past scary things. So, if he gets nervous out hacking or in a new environment, spend time leading him past spooky objects on the yard to help boost his confidence. Don’t let his good manners slip away just because he’s anxious – take your time and give him plenty of reassurance.
If you’re happy that he’s listening to your aids, why not try taking him into a more open space? It’s sure to put your groundwork skills to the test!
A polite pony on the ground makes for a polite pony in the saddle. You’ll soon notice a difference in his behaviour, so get practising your groundwork and your riding skills will improve in no time!