Two emails came in this past week that were so related as to make me smile. The first was about three Fell Ponies who had conspired to lift a gate off its hinges. The second was from a horsemanship company, and the email carried the title, “Help! My Horse is WAY Too Smart!” (1)
The owner of the three gate-lifting Fell Ponies thinks it’s very important that prospective buyers of Fell Ponies understand that these ponies need jobs. The owner cited as evidence that in a pasture full of grass to eat, these three ponies had nonetheless modified the barn’s entry out of sheer boredom. In an adjacent pasture inhabited by a herd of Welsh ponies, no such mischief occurs.
I agree with this owner’s assertion that these ponies need jobs, though I don’t think it’s just a Fell Pony characteristic. I have found that working ponies in general, if they are truly interested in work, need jobs. The type of job needed by the particular pony, though, varies. For many mares for instance, raising young is sufficient. Other ponies are content to have eating be their job, and it’s not uncommon for them to lose their ribs under deep layers of fat. This ‘job,’ of course, is a management challenge for their owners since obesity can have life-threatening consequences. And then there are the ponies who prefer jobs that provide mental stimulation. Gate and fence manipulation is a very common ‘job’ undertaken by these ponies; we owners devise all sorts of gimmicks to foil the job seekers.
The horsemanship company’s email described how horses have different personalities. One type is “fearful, unconfident, spooky and impulsive. They’re quick to blow up and take a long time to calm down. Once you know how to interrupt their explosive patterns and build their confidence, they become willing and curious.” (2) The author then goes on to say that this first type is actually easier to deal with than the second type. The second type “can be quite testing mainly because they’re not intimidated, are self-confident and constantly working their way up the pecking order ladder…. It’s not your average timid little prey animal, this horse is running things his way. He’s highly food motivated, excellently stubborn and sometimes downright aggressive.” (3)
Most of the Fell Ponies that I have met fall more into the second type than the first. This advice from the horsemanship company therefore applies: “…safety, comfort, play and food are important to horses in general, and in that order. Until they feel safe, they are not concerned with comfort. Until they feel safe and comfortable, they will not be interested in play. And when they feel like playing, food rewards work like a treat! …If you know that your horse is [the second type], then safety and comfort are not issues…but play and food are!” (4) I equate ‘play’ with mental stimulation as well as physical, and it can also be about giving them jobs to do. I have found that food rewards need to be used very selectively and often are not needed with these ponies.
The advice that the owner of the three mischief-makers articulated about giving these ponies a job to do is important, and it needs to be understood in context. Every pony is different, and finding the work or play that interests them individually is the challenge. As the horsemanship email states, “…these calm characters are not given to great expenditures of energy and are not very spooky. They usually love trail rides but are bored to death in an arena. They love learning new things but they’re bored by mundane repetitions and especially circles!” (5) It’s interesting to know that the horsemanship company considers the second type of horse to be more challenging than the first, but I also know that I wouldn’t swap these ponies for any other kind because they make life so interesting!
1) Parelli, Linda. “Help! My Horse is Way Too Smart!” http://www.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com/help-my-horse-is-way-too-smart/?utm_source=Parelli+Natural+Horsemanship+List&utm_campaign=ec36f32b64-Parelli_Connection_9_13_12&utm_medium=email
2,3,4,5) Same as #1.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012