Herds of Three

Willowtrail Farm PoniesNatural horsemanship clinicians often say that we should be the leader in a herd of two, the other herd member of course being our equine.  I’ve been doing a lot of ponying in the past month, and it’s caused me to ponder my responsibilities in a herd of three.  They’re different than the responsibilities I have when there’s just one other pony and me.

An example of my responsibilities in a herd of two is what I do when I take a pony on a halter and lead rope into a paddock where there are other loose ponies.  I think it’s my responsibility, for instance, to keep the other ponies away until my pony is free to watch out for themselves.  The other ponies shouldn’t be allowed to come up and sniff my pony or lay their ears back or turn and kick to make my pony move when my pony is still constrained by the halter and lead rope.

One of my herds of three is when I’m riding my gelding Torrin and ponying my stud colt Lucky Joe.  At the moment, Torrin is dominant, which I have found is a good arrangement when ponying; it’s less work for me to protect my mount from games the other pony might want to play because with a swish of their tail for instance, they can put the other pony down.

Restar Lucky JoeI still have responsibilities, though, and in this case it’s to protect Torrin’s leadership position.  For instance, Lucky Joe, being an aspiring stallion, sometimes takes advantage of Torrin’s split attention between me and him.  A few times for example, I’ve caught Lucky Joe leaning his head on Torrin’s hip, something he never does when they’re together loose in a paddock because Torrin won’t tolerate it.  Since I don’t have eyes in the back of my head to see this, I have to rely on other cues, of course.  I can sense when this is happening because Torrin lays his ears back slightly or the lead rope is in a different position than it should be.  I immediately get Lucky Joe to move out and up.

Sometimes Lucky Joe will move out and forward too far, though, and this is not only a logistical problem of managing the lead rope but also, at least for Torrin, a threat to his leadership.  So I do what I have to do, usually shaking the lead rope, to move Lucky Joe back where he belongs.

My other herd of three has different challenges.  I’m driving Mya the Wonder Pony and ponying her son Timmy from the jog cart.  Here my responsibilities are easier in some senses because of Mya and Timmy’s relationship – clear leader and follower roles – and because Mya is ‘the Wonder Pony.’  She’s so willing to do her job perfectly – in this case pull the jog cart -that she makes my job easy.  My responsibilities include keeping Timmy from tangling with the cart wheels and making sure he has enough room between the cart and the snow banks, which of course means keeping Mya and the cart in the proper part of the plowed road.

In both cases of ponying, I’m also responsible for managing the tension in the lead rope, which means letting it out when we start trotting, for instance, and gathering it back in so that I have just the right amount to be able to communicate with the ponyed pony.  It also means not letting the ponyed pony ‘hang’ on the lead rope; if they are, I need to understand why and correct the problem.

Inevitably my dogs want to go on the ponying expeditions, and I have found I have extra responsibilities when my young dog William is along.  Mya and Torrin tolerate William’s attempts to herd them, but the two younger ponies, Lucky Joe and Timmy, get very uncomfortable when William is behind them.  They are less likely to listen to me when they are distracted by William in the rear, so I have to be aware of where William is and ask him to get out in front of us.  Since William is a ‘heeler’ type (versus my other dog who is more a ‘header’ and not as likely to cause these problems), keeping William where I want him takes constant vigilance because his instincts are to be behind rather than ahead.

We’ve had a run of glorious winter weather, so it has been delightful to be out with my ponies.  Being out as a herd of three is double the delight!

© 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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