Ponying Over an Obstacle
Colorado horseman Marty Marten of Berthoud says preparation is the best way to deal with a potential obstacle.
Photography by Jennifer Denison
Anyone horseback who has ever led another horse probably has had the pony horse balk at some obstacle along the trail. Colorado horseman Marty Marten of Berthoud says the best way to deal with a potential obstacle is the same thing he recommends to make the initial ponying experience a comfortable one for both horses—preparation.
In a 2012 article titled "Pony Up," Marty discusses the importance of having a broke, solid riding horse and a pony horse that's light and responsive on the halter rope. He also describes how groundwork and preparation in an enclosed area can build both the horses' and rider's confidence to minimize risk before they hit the trail.
Likewise, you can set up obstacles at home to help your two horses develop a matter-of-fact approach to a trail obstruction. For example, ponying a horse over telephone poles, landscape timbers or crossties at home simulates traveling over downed timber. Leading a pony horse through a narrow gate at home can help accustom you and your horses to dealing with tight spots along the trail, just as crossing a creek or pond in your pasture is a practice run for any water-crossing.
Approach an obstacle first with your riding horse. Be sure that he's comfortable with any obstacle you set up at home before you try to pony the other horse around or over the obstacle. Then check to be sure that your pony horse is really responsive to the halter rope. If necessary, go back to your groundwork to develop the light response you will need in guiding him through the obstacle.
Even though your pony horse might be uneasy about the situation when you lead him to an obstacle, two things should work in your favor. He most likely will feed off your riding horse's confident approach to the obstacle, and the groundwork you've done with halter rope gives you a way to direct and support your pony horse through the obstacle.
Just as you do when you introduce anything new to your horse, direct and support your horse without force at an obstacle. Give him guidance and time to figure out what you want. If your pony horse tries to crowd your riding horse or get ahead of him, simply reposition the pony horse just as you would when leading him afoot. As long as you leave a path of travel open to him—even one over one log —sooner or later, he figures out to take that path.
Be creative. Anything around your place that might make a good learning experience to prepare your riding horse for the trail also might make an interesting test run when you pony a horse. However, as Marty cautions, prepare your horses for the challenge and know they're responsive before you introduce a new challenge.