If you’ve ever watched a horse race, you’ve seen horses being ponied. High-strung Thoroughbreds walk alongside quiet, relaxed horses wearing western tack. While the point of ponying a racehorse on the way to the starting gate is to keep the horse in control and help him stay calm, ponying is a also a valuable tool for recreational riders.
Green horses can also benefit from ponying. If you have a young horse that is just learning to go under saddle or hasn’t been broke to ride, but you want to get him used to the trail, ponying him can do the job. He’ll become familiar with the trail with the comfort of a more seasoned horse in the lead.
Before you can start ponying a horse, you need to prepare. First, the job is best done with a calm horse in the lead, one who is reliable under saddle. An older, well-broke horse is your best candidate for the job. Ponying is best done on a horse that is not prone to kicking or biting at other horses. If the horse you’ll be ponying is young, your lead horse should be patient and tolerant of young horses, which can sometimes nip at the lead horse in an attempt to play.
It’s best to ride in a western saddle when ponying. Although you want to keep your non-rein hand on the lead rope while you’re ponying, you also want to have the rope dallied around the horn. This will keep the excess rope from hanging down, and will also make it easier for you to grasp the rope in case the horse you are ponying tries to pull away.
If you’ll be ponying a young horse that is likely to act up while you’re riding, you may want to consider threading a stud chain through the horse’s halter and attaching the end to the lead rope. The stud chain will help you keep control of the ponied horse’s head, eliminating the likelihood that he will be able to pull on you. The stud chain can be handy in helping keep the ponied horse from forging ahead of the lead horse.
Before you pony a horse on the trail, practice in the arena. Spend a couple of sessions ponying in both directions, at the walk. Once the horses are behaving and your feel comfortable, you can move into a trot. You may find that things fall apart at the trot, with the ponied horse forging ahead or getting frisky. If it all goes south, go back to the walk until everyone calms down, and then try trotting again. Don’t attempt this on the trail until you’ve conquered it in the arena.
With just a little practice, you’ll be able to master the technique of ponying, opening up your options for exercising two horses at once.
Audrey Pavia is a freelance writer and the author of Horses for Dummies. She lives with two Spanish Mustangs, Milagro and Rio.