Begin by gently moving the training stick or whip over your mount then practise some groundwork exercises that mimic the movements required of a ‘lead horse’ for ponying, such as those already mentioned. While you are doing this, your assistant can be doing the same with the horse to be ponied, ensuring its responsiveness to cues to move forwards, sideways, backwards and with the hindquarters and forequarters separately.
(For suitable groundwork exercises, refer to the Steve Brady articles of the ‘Ground Up’ series.)
Mount your lead horse and have your assistant bring the second horse over to your right side, as the majority of horses are
conditioned to be led from the left. If it is reluctant to approach the lead horse and keeps backing away, it’s important that the
assistant doesn’t try to force the issue but simply continues with the groundwork exercises they were doing previously - moving the ponying pupil gradually closer
to the lead horse in the process.
It will not be as effective in terms of the overall training process if you do this the other way around, that is, if try to hold the ‘ponied’
horse still while the lead one approaches
Once the two horses are standing side by side but are still a safe distance apart, ride the lead horse forward at the walk and have the assistant lead the one to be ‘ponied’ alongside on the off (right hand) side. It is a good idea to start this exercise on the right
rein, as then the lead horse will be on the outside - next to the fence - and the ‘ponied’ horse on the inside track, which is less
threatening for it than being ‘sandwiched’ between the fence and the lead horse. It also makes it safer for the assistant if they and the ‘ponied’ horse are on the inside, with more room being available to move away from the lead horse should this be necessary.
While walking around in this manner, try to work towards having the head of the ‘ponied’ horse about level with the knee of
the rider on the lead horse, rather than their noses being in line. This tends to have a ‘follow the leader’ influence on the horse
being ponied and introduces the idea that ‘racing ahead’ of the lead horse isn’t acceptable.
Still on the right rein and if all is going well, try stopping and starting in tandem at the walk - the rider on the lead horse clearly
indicating to the assistant when a transition is to be made so they can prepare for it. For example, “prepare to walk” followed a few
seconds later by “walk on” will give a more co-ordinated result than if “walk” was the only command given.
If the enclosed area you are working in is large enough, turns to either direction can be practised in the same formation - lead horse and rider on the left, assistant in the middle and ‘ponied’ horse on the right.
Extra care needs to be taken, however, when changing from the right rein to the left rein, so as not to place the assistant and ‘ponied horse’ in danger of being squashed against the fence. Walking a series of loops (like a serpentine) that don’t quite touch the sides of a fenced area can be a safer way of giving the idea of changes in direction, without actually needing to complete full turns.
HANDING OVER THE CONTROL
By now, given that both horses are relaxed in each other’s presence and content to walk side by side with only a metre or so separating
them, it should be possible for the assistant to hand over control of the ‘ponied’ horse to the rider on the lead horse.
At the halt, this is a matter of the end of the lead rope being passed to the rider, who should then organise themselves by bridging the reins so they can be held in one hand and looping the excess rope in a figure-eight fashion so it fits comfortably into the other hand. During this time, the assistant can stand at the head of the horses to ensure they remain still.
Most people find it easier to hold the lead rope in their right hand and the reins in the left but, whatever method is chosen, it’s important never to wind the rope around your hand, put your hand through the loop on the end (if there is one) or tie the lead to any part of the saddle.
Initially, managing a whip as well as the lead rope and reins can be a little tricky so this can be left behind if preferred, or tuck it into your boot.
Starting on the right rein is a good policy but, this time, the assistant should not walk between the two horses but on the off (right) side of the ‘ponied’ horse, to allow the rider on the lead horse to be the one providing guidance. The assistant now acts only as reassurance to the ‘ponied’ horse by walking closely beside it then they should gradually
move further and further away until, eventually, the rider is controlling both horses.
As much as possible, the length of lead rope
available to the horse being ponied should be kept short, as this provides a far greater level of control. Keeping your rope-holding
arm down by your side is also much better than having it held away - both in terms of comfort and the fact that muscular strength
is able to be generated quickly from this position if things don’t go to plan.
If the ‘ponied’ horse chooses to engage in a pulling contest, the best way to deal with this is to turn the lead horse towards it, walk slightly past then draw the one being ‘ponied’ around so it follows you - being careful to release any pressure on the rope
once this happens, as an indication that this was the correct response. If this doesn’t
work, it may be necessary to have your assistant ‘chase the horse up’ from behind (from a safe distance by tapping with a long whip) to keep it moving forward.
To establish finer control over the ‘ponied’ horse, a long whip can be draped over its back and left in place while moving around
- this tending to have a ‘cradling’ effect that both acts as reassurance and encouragement
to move in closer.
If ‘all hell breaks loose’ in a training situation in an enclosed area, it is usually safest and simplest to let the horse being
‘ponied’ go, as the highest priority is to retain control of the lead horse and restore your own equilibrium. Once the errant pupil has been re-captured and calmed down if necessary,
the session can continue - going back to involving the assistant again as the handler of the ‘ponied’ horse if this is required.
If you are intending to lead a horse off another on or near public roads, there are a few rules to abide by.
In general, these state that no more than one horse can be ‘ponied’ by a mounted rider at a time and that horses are considered to be ‘vehicles’ while on roads and are therefore subject to all the rules and laws that apply to motor vehicles (for example, stopping at stop signs and indicating before turning). It is also recommended that, in
relation to two horses being ridden alongside each other (abreast), that their maximum
distance apart should be 1.5m, so one would assume this also applies to ponying.
It goes without saying that ponying out in the open, in public places and on the road shouldn’t be attempted unless both horses and the rider have had a significant amount of experience and can reliably cope with all the
distractions that might be encountered in these
environments - that is, dogs, crowds, vehicles, noise and so on.
Once the technique of ponying has been mastered, however, it opens up many possibilities for making more efficient use of the time available for exercising multiple horses and is a great
addition to any equine’s ‘resume’ of skills.