Re-schooling Horses & Ponies

If you have a horse that always rushes and hurries even on the flat, you will not slow it down by holding it back or using a more severe bit. Mark out a school of 20 X 40 m (22 X 44 yd), using cans and cones, and work the horse in this area in rising trot, never going straight, but always turning, circling and changing direction by using an endless pattern of serpentines and circles that are large enough for the horse to keep its balance.

At first stay on the same rein all the time. Because you are constantly circling, you will not need to hold the horse back; later the constant changes of direction will slow it down for you. You may need to do this for a full hour before a fit, strong horse will begin to relax and slow itself down, so you need to be fit too. Repeat this twice a day, stopping within a few minutes of the horse relaxing and slowing down to walk.

Always work in the same area until the horse begins to work quietly, then move about the field or school, still working in the same rhythm of rising trot and still changing direction. If the horse becomes excited or strong, immediately return to your original work area until it has relaxed and become soft in your hand. This really works but may take days, or occasionally weeks, depending on the horse (and rider). Progress to a few steps of canter, then trot again, aiming to keep the rhythm and lightness, and returning to the schooling area for correction when necessary.

By always cantering for only a few steps before returning to trot, you will take the excitement out of the gait. Knowing that it is going to be asked to trot again almost immediately, the horse will not get so much on its forehand and, for this reason, will find the transitions down much easier.

Progress to cantering only on the short sides of the school, using a circle in trot before and after each canter to steady and rebalance the horse if necessary. Next, canter along the long sides and trot on the short ones, using a circle in trot when you feel the horse has become unbalanced or is trying to hurry, and always be ready to go back a stage if things are not going well.

Reschooling Ponies

Ponies are very intelligent and quickly learn how to get their own way, especially when ridden by very small, light children.

Perhaps the commonest trick is napping towards the gate or door of the school, with outside shoulder bulging and so much bend in the neck that the head is round on the rider’s knee! The more the rider wants to go left, the more left rein they use, leaving the right rein (which controls the outside shoulder and the bend in the neck) in loops. The pony leads with its right shoulder and uses its near hind leg to push itself to the right. To correct this you must either long-rein the pony without a rider or get a good, lightweight rider to ride the pony forward into a strong contact on the right rein and, by using their right leg, to ride the pony forward in the required direction, thus preventing the neck from bulging out well before the pony tries it on.

If neither of these methods is possible, I would use side reins from the bit to the girth, fitted so that the rein is in a straight line when the pony is standing still with a normal head carriage. Lunge the pony first in the area near the gate so that it can feel the side reins before the rider is put on. Once the rider is on board, keep the lunge rein on at first and teach the rider to use the outside rein and leg for control. Now leave the side reins on and try without the lunge rein. The outside side rein will help to prevent the neck bulging out and will thus give the rider more control.

Lowering the head to gain control is another trick of little ponies whose small riders are easily pulled forward out of the saddle. To break this habit I again use side reins, but this time I cross them at the withers so that the left rein comes from the bit over the withers and is attached to a D in front of the right side of the saddle, and vice versa. To ensure that the side reins will not ‘open up’ I tie them together on the crest of the neck where they cross. The tie must be far enough forward on the neck to prevent the head being lowered. The side reins must not come into action with a normal head carriage – only when the head is lowered. Lengths of baling twine can be substituted for side reins, but they must be adjusted very carefully to an equal length.

If the rider needs to have more control when jumping I put the side reins (or twine strings) from the bit up through the loops of the browband, knot them on the crest and fasten them on the front Ds of the saddle. The pony can then stretch its neck out to jump but cannot put its head between its knees or eat grass, the latter being the cause of a lot of trouble in the summer when fat ponies have to be kept short of grass to prevent laminitis.

For ponies that put their heads up to get control, or that nap and whip round, I use a Market Harborough. This looks like a running martingale but the straps continue through the bit and back onto the rein where they are attached by a buckle or clip to Ds on the rein. They must be adjusted so that the rein comes into action just before the Market Harborough does in order to have a correcting action, not a forcing one. This action lengthens the pony’s top line and can really improve a ewe-necked animal by developing the muscle along the top of the neck. It is safe to jump in a Market Harborough because it allows the horse to stretch forward and down, but make sure the pony is used to the feel of it before jumping in it. (You may not be allowed to use it when competing, so remember to check the rules before entering a competition.)

If the pony behaves it will not even know it is wearing a Market Harborough. I have found this a safe, successful correction for ponies and one that can be used without constant supervision because the single rein is easy for a child to manage. l have also used a Market Harborough to improve the head carriage of young ponies whose riders lack experience. It lengthens the top line of the neck and gives a good outline, without the rather ‘set’ look that is produced by constant lungeing in tight side reins or riding in the running reins that are used on many show ponies.

A Market Harborough can safely be used out hunting and has enabled many children to enjoy hunting ponies that would otherwise have been too much for them. As with a running martingale, the riders must be warned to be very careful not to let the straps get caught on gates.

Riders must also be warned to push their hands forward and ease the rein immediately if a horse or pony wearing a Market Harborough starts to run back. When worn for the first time, it must be adjusted loosely and used only under the supervision of an experienced person because some animals may not accept it.

A lot of damage can be done by gadgets used incorrectly but there is a correct time and place for many of them, particularly for reschooling when you want to get a result quickly and safely and remain in control. Before Using any gadget, ask an expert to advise you, fit it for you and then to check frequently that all is going well. Dispense with it as soon as possible.

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