I’m riding ponies two to five times a day for short distances. (Yes, I’m really lucky!) For me this sort of riding means tying a lead rope through the halter into reins and hopping on bareback and mostly walking, sometimes trotting, sometimes cantering. Tying the lead rope into reins, though, makes me think about hair.
I’m sure it was a foal that first alerted me to the interaction of hair and halters. Foals, especially in their first few days, are incredibly sensitive to stimulation of their whiskers and hair on their faces and heads. Because I use rope halters a lot and as a breeder I am the first to halter my foals, I have seen the foals react to hair that gets caught in a halter’s knot. Consequently I’ve learned to be careful. I want my foals’ first impressions of my handling to be positive not painful, so I avoid pulling on their hair with the halter (or any other piece of tack.)
The reason I use rope halters is because it’s possible to teach sensitivity to cues (for example, see the exercise “move the snap” by clicking here.) When I work with youngstock, I start teaching progressive sensitivity, so again I’m careful that what they feel is my (progressively more insistent) cue, not their hair being pulled.
Tying a leadrope through the halter to create reins is done under the chin. I’ve learned over time that I need to check that the hairs under the chin haven’t gotten caught in either the snap or the knot. Again, I’ve learned from working with young ponies to take care here. When I’m starting ridden work with a young pony, I want them to feel my cues through the lines to the halter, not their hair being pulled.
Fell Ponies have caused me to ponder a three point checklist when it comes to hair and halter riding. The first point is clearing the hair under the chin, which I’ve heard called goat hair. It takes quite a bit of effort to clear one of my mare’s goat hair because it is so prolific. This first point is the only one that is relevant to riding my Norwegian Fjord horse; the second two points have to do with mane and forelock which are not an issue on him but are on the Fells. Second, I clear mane hair from the results of my tying, and third I clear forelock. My mare reminds me when I’ve forgotten to clear her forelock by tossing her head to try to free it so she can see (or sometimes it seems that she wants to toss it back over her eyes to obscure her vision ‘just so!’) The photo here shows all three kinds of hair – goat, mane, and forelock – needing to be cleared from my rein-tying.
For many people, hair is an attractive defining feature of the Fell Pony. For me, coming from a harness and working pony perspective, hair can be a nuisance, such as when tying a leadrope into reins. But I realize that there’s an up-side to hair. I’m thankful that it has taught me to be sensitive to what my ponies feel so that they in turn can be sensitive to what I am trying to communicate to them. It’s too much fun riding a pony two to five times a day for short distances to do otherwise!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015
If you enjoy reading stories like this one, you might also enjoy reading the book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.