Gates provide us with so many opportunities to improve our relationships with our ponies. I mentioned in my last post about opening a gate while riding my Fell Pony mare Lily. We also rode through it. I’m working with Lily’s four year old son Willowtrail Jonty right now. He lives in a paddock with five other Fells, two of which typically want to go with him when he leaves. Extracting Jonty and leaving his two sisters behind is my first opportunity to work gates with Jonty, with the added benefit that his sisters get a little peripheral work, too!
My favorite experience with Jonty and gates was a few weeks ago, shortly after I’d started working him. In an earlier session, I had introduced the idea to him of backing out the gate of the round pen, with me in front of him waggling the lead rope (and occasionally repositioning his hind end so it didn’t hit a gate post.) As is typical with a pony the first time they find themselves outside the gate after backing through it, there’s a look of surprise as well as some licks and chews of understanding. The second time I lined Jonty up with his hind end to go out the gate backwards, he checked briefly with me, and just backed right out without any prompting other than the initial confirmation that that’s where we were headed. I almost fell down laughing. He seemed quite proud of himself for getting after the job at hand.
Today I worked with my four-year-old stallion Willowtrail Black Robin on respectfully going through the gate of his paddock. Sending him out on one side was fine; he was slow and respectful and turned and faced nicely, waiting for me to follow. Sending him out with me on the other side was a major yee-haw though. I was glad that my friend and gentle horsemanship clinician Doc Hammill had shared with me recently some work he’d done with a client’s draft horse and gates. He drove the horse past the open gate as many times as it took before he could pass it without looking out it. Only then did Doc drive the gelding through the gate. And then he only went a few feet and turned around and repeated the exit until the horse was relaxed and calm. I used a similar technique with Robin. We did circles past the open gate until Robin quit trying to go out it and quit even looking through it. Only then did we return to going out the gate. After about six yee-haw exits, we got a nice calm one.
I know someone who badly injured her shoulder in a gate-and-pony encounter , so I am always mindful at gates with ponies. I try to always set both the pony and me up for a positive experience. If we have otherwise, I turn it into a learning opportunity. It always is for me, at least!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012