Lonely Work, But Worth It!

Willowtrail Wild RoseSometimes being a pony enthusiast is lonely work.  I was reminded of this fact recently when I was contacted by someone whose pony is the only one at their barn amongst dressage horses.  The owner wanted advice on a behavior they were seeing in their pony.  Many at the barn said it was a bad attitude, with the underlying sentiment being “typical of a pony.”  We talked through the behavior and concluded quite differently of course.

I’ve recently been harnessing my favorite pony regularly.  When I am about to tighten the harness girth, she tosses her head, sometimes once, sometimes multiple times.  Someone else might label this behavior as a bad attitude.  I know from experience that she’s reminding me to take care.  In the winter her long coat hairs catch in the girth, and if I tighten it too fast, I pull her hairs and cause her discomfort.  It’s pretty hard to blame her for tossing her head for that!

During this past summer a photographer and her husband wanted to take pictures of my ponies.  When they visited, I worked Willowtrail Wild Rose, my seven year old mare, on-line and ridden.  When Rose was on-line circling at the trot, I could tell she wasn’t focusing on what we were doing because she was occasionally swishing her tail in an agitated manner.  I stopped Rose and apologized to the photographer.  “She has a fly she can’t reach,” I explained.  The photographer’s husband exclaimed, “Wow, you’re observant!  I didn’t even see that.”  I made the fly move off, and Rose and I resumed our work.

My friend and colleague Doc Hammill often recites a statistic that he has heard from respected equine professionals.  The statistic is that 80% of the behavior problems seen in equines are due to physical discomfort.  Doc says, “I feel we have a huge responsibility to help our horses drive and work comfortably.  I ask and keep asking:  is this working better for the animal or not?  If we pay attention, they tell us what works for them and what doesn’t.  Equines are extremely sensitive animals both physically and emotionally/psychologically.  It’s amazing what tiny little changes can make them uncomfortable or, better, comfortable.  Comfort and well-being are what it’s all about.” (1)

I’ve come to believe, because our pony friends are so smart, that you have to treat a pony the way you should treat a horse.  As pony enthusiasts, we must heed Doc’s advice about comfort and well-being because our ponies are more inclined to ‘speak their minds’ than horses may be.  I told the pony owner, “I can easily imagine that people who don’t know ponies would find this to be a disobedient act.  Pony lovers like us, though, know that our pony is communicating something to us, and it’s our responsibility to figure out what they’re saying!”  It may be lonely work, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  And I know there are lots of pony lovers out there who feel exactly the same way!

1)  Morrissey, Jenifer.  “To Pad or Not to Pad”, Rural Heritage, Feb/Mar 2015.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

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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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