A Litmus Test for Riding

My ponies should stand still when a rope is thrown over their back, around their legs, and looped around their necks.

“I would never ride a horse that wouldn’t let me swing a rope around its hind legs, under its chin, and around its neck.”  So said a nationally known natural horsemanship clinician recently.  A client who bought one of my ponies and watched a demo by this clinician shared this statement with me in an email.  I was on pins and needles as I continued reading the email, because I knew my client would be putting my pony to this test.  It passed!  I was pretty sure the pony would pass because I’d worked with it on all these things, but it’s always nice to get third party confirmation!

The clinician also said, “If you bend a horse’s nose around to its girth area, they should step away with their hind end, crossing the inside hind in front of the other hoof.”  I actually disagree with this part of the clinician’s litmus test for riding, and I’m not sure if my pony would pass it.  While I teach bending the nose to the girth area, I don’t want my ponies moving their feet when they do.  I also teach crossing the inside hind in front of the other hoof, but it is a separate lesson.   The reason I keep them separate is that if the pony knows how to do each of these things independently, I can use them as building blocks for other things.  For instance, if I can get my pony to cross its hind feet, that effort is one part of a side pass.  In a side pass, I don’t want to have to put the nose to the girth area to effect proper movement of the hind feet.

I want my ponies’ heads to flex laterally to the girth area softly for a number of reasons.  For instance, this is a very vulnerable position for them, so it’s a test of our relationship, of their trust in me as their partner.  Also I want them to give me their heads without bracing their neck.  That way, if I ever do need them to bend their necks when riding, for instance in the case of a runaway, then I need to know I can get that head around to effect an emergency stop.

To effect crossing of the hind feet underneath their bodies, I utilize a touch on the flank area.  When teaching this, I sometimes have to use the lead rope or rein to bend the front end to encourage the hind feet to move properly, but the goal is to be able to just use a touch to the flank.  Then, when mounted, this translates to using my leg to effect the same movement.  That too becomes a building block because the goal is to shift my weight when mounted without moving my leg much to effect the same movement.

I’m very happy my client is happy with her pony and that it passed the tests she put it to.  I work hard to put a good foundation on all my youngstock to ensure them a productive life with their new owners.  It’s always nice to get feedback that my efforts have been successful.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012


About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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