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A good looking pony but difficult to catch

Catching difficult horses and ponies in the field

A new pony reminded me of how horses and ponies which are difficult to catch can waste our time. This 128 cm gelding arrived in my yard, having been sent back to a seller because he was unsuitable for a six year old girl. He is a nice looking, Connemara type pony with no apparent serious problems except that he is very nervous. He doesn't trust humans any more and this, naturally, makes him difficult to catch.

The first thing I do, in this case, is put him with a companion who is well-behaved and easy to catch. I then bring in the quiet pony to the stable and leave the reluctant one to think about things for a few minutes. I did this today and, guess what, the new pony couldn't wait to be caught by the time I got back down to the field. He was galloping up and down, whinneying frantically and came straight up to me.
It's not always so easy, however, especially if you have a field full of horses and ponies. The following tips might help:

1. I always feed horses and ponies in their stables when they come in from the field, unless they are about to be ridden or worked. This makes them look forward to coming in. Bring them in early so there is plenty of time for them to eat and relax before riding. 

2. I bring food in a bucket to the field for very difficult horses but I don't usually have to do this for long if they get used to being fed in the stable. Taking a bucket of food into a field full of horses is not a good idea as you can get pushed about by them. I usually leave the bucket outside the gate and feed them by hand until I can capture the one I want. Or you can put small heaps of food on the ground at intervals to distract the other horses while you catch the one you want. 

3. You will find that the more kind handling and work you do with a difficult horse or pony, the more he will trust you and become easier to catch. Ground work, such as lungeing, loose lungeing or in hand, helps a lot. I would also recommend using Monty Roberts's Join Up method when a new horse first arrives as this is brilliant at establishing trust and respect. If you haven't used it before, you need to know what you are doing. Ask an experienced person to help you or look it up on YouTube, study the method carefully and practice on an older horse until you are happy with results.

4. If all else fails and it is safe to do so (i.e. the field doesn't open onto a public road), lead a quiet horse and let the one that is difficult to catch follow behind loose to the stable yard. Be careful when you do this that you keep everything under control and that the difficult one doesn't gallop off and upset the one you're leading. You need an extra pair of hands to help with this option.

Things to do with a 2 year old

  What to do with a two year old
By Catherine Ryan, Mountain View Stables - www.mountainviewstables.eu

My two year olds aren't even nearly ready to start any physical work, but having already done all the basic handling with them, I have moved onto the next step.

Leading practice and getting used to bandages around them 

They can be led over sheets of wood-marine ply. I lead them over pipes and poles. They have had towels and bandages on every part of them, the bandages (leg and stable ones) can be good to get them desensitised to having things thrown over their backs, around their bellies, etc, and this prepares them gently for a saddle, a leg over a saddle and a girth but using a bandage is a soft start! You can put them around their girth area and just hold them gently so they feel it.

Playing with toys helps bombproofing

I give the two year olds some old hose pipe to play with and they love playing tug of war and beating each other - all bomb proofing! I leave the sheet of wood in with them when they are loose and the filly loves standing on it and stamping her feet making lots of noise. This helps to prepare them for loading and learning where to put their feet. They have a big yoga ball to play with too and I can now put the ball on their backs and bump it up and down, but you have to do all those things really slowly so not to scare them and just a little at a time and take it away again when they accept it - pressure and release. The last pony we broke never even flinched when finally backed and his first riders were novice kids! Get them so they can stand by a mounting block and you can groom them from up there so they learn to stand for mounting. There is loads to do before lunge/drive/ride!

Keep it short and enjoyable for them

The 'work' I do with my babies is never more than about 10 minutes at a time with grooming in between because they love that.  If they are really enjoying things and enthusiastic, I might do a few minutes more to get them used to doing a little more but I usually stop before they want to stop, that leaves them wanting more and encourages only good behaviour. It is VERY important to be able to read your horses, understand them, understand yours and their body language, all that has to start long before you start doing any of these games because, in the wrong hands, you could do a lot more harm than good. There are a lot of good instructors out there willing to teach groundwork and help and encourage you in the right direction.

Build trust and friendship

I only play that stuff with them every few days and only when I know their mind is in the right place. I never force anything with them, but I am always the boss but am not a bully or rough. Don't forget about doing a bit of what they really love too, that they will stand happily for - even if it's just a scratch. You need to build your trust, bond and friendship so to speak. There are some fab books on horsemanship with really easy ways to get them to respect your personal space, but without any fighting or roughness (not saying you are) because then they don't feel the need to protect themselves. Never ever finish anything on a bad note or with them telling you what to do, because no matter what good things you might have taught them up to that, if you finish on a bad note, that is the only part they will remember!

 Happy Horse Play Ball - Approx. 10" (254mm) diameter. An essential toy to hang or just loose to kick around in the stable or field. Perfect for any stable or even just as a soft inflatable toy. You might have a problem getting it away from children and your dog! Click image for more info from Amazon.co.uk.

Important advice to remember when handling two year olds

1. It is very important to be able to read your horses, understand them, understand yours and their body language. All that has to start long before you start doing any of these games because, in the wrong hands, you could do a lot more harm than good. There are a lot of good instructors out there willing to teach groundwork and help and encourage you in the right direction.

Horse and Pony Info is very grateful to Catherine for writing this article for us. You can check out Catherine's own website by clicking www.mountainviewstables.eu where she has all sorts of tips and advice for riders and owners.


2. Never ever finish anything on a bad note or with them telling you what to do, because no matter what good things you might have taught them up to that, if you finish on a bad note, that is the only part they will remember!

Tips for building up muscle on a horse

  • Trotting uphill is a good muscle builder and also good for fitness as apparently uses more energy than cantering.
  • Road work is good for building muscle and fitness.
  • Interval training will help build up stamina and muscle.
  • Hacking is really great! Going up and down hills is good for getting fit quickly.
  • Use an excercise where you alternate between bending the neck left and right by shortening up the rein and pulling gently. It builds up the neck and back muscles.
  • Lungeing with a chambon long and low is a good way to build top line muscle but you need to get advice from an experienced person if you haven't used one before. Or you can ride long and low too.
  • Feed protein and write yourself up a chart on what you are going to do with your horse every day and build her up slowly.
  • Long reining is excellent as well because it keeps the muscle tone even.

(Contributors: Ashley Starforth, Rosie James, Tilly Duffy, Amber Lily Howells, Hannah Hedger, Louise Lazell, Gemma Burridge, Bethany Auckland, Leanne Black, Kieran Ashdown, Hannah Duffy, Rose Lewis, Rosie Allen, Kirsty Hary, Shannon Nicole Wardle, Zoe Wright, Sam Tutty, Tat Tatty, Jos Roberts and Lorren Shackcloth)

Saddle problems - If your horse is misbehaving, it is worth getting the saddle checked

Laura riding ISH Winnie bareback

Laura was having trouble with her Irish Sports Horse mare who used to buck, rear up and sometimes take off on the road with her. Her parents were very worried and thought she should sell her. She decided to ask for help on Horse and Pony Info’s Facebook page:

'I got this amazing advice. One recommendation was to check the saddle fitted her properly. When I put down a deposit for Winnie, I had a choice of two saddles, one of which the saddler fitted.  The one I picked was the one they thought fitted and, when she first came, I rode her in the saddle that the saddler had fitted. So I thought, "What is giving her pain?" When I next went riding, I checked the saddle wasn’t touching the withers and it was so I thought "Oh, it might be this that is bothering her!" The good news is she has been fine and calm since I haven’t used that saddle and she is also well behaved when I ride her bareback.' (by Laura Brown)


Biting Babies - How to discipline a foal not to bite

Foals biting is a very common problem and can be very upsetting for owners. You want to bond with your foal so what can you do to discipline him or her without creating fear? Lorraine Jennings, of School Your Horse (www.schoolyourhorse.com), has some answers.

How to discipline biting foals (pdf)

One of our Greetings Cards - click image
Road work and hill work helps to build muscle and fitness

Muscle Building  

Trotting up hill is good, of course, but to feed extra protein In the diet is just as important. If you are not boosting the supplements in grain and the pony is on grass, then having the proper fertilizer spread through the field will boost protein levels in the grass. (This may upset a few people!) I use mink manure bought from a local mink farmer because it puts out the highest level of protein in the fields with grass reaching 8 ft tall before seeding, then bought in "rock form" fertilizer. (Tara Huntley)

 Any hillwork is good. Walking out uphill is better for joints than faster work and just as beneficial  so save faster work for good ground. Also lunging with side reins (not too tight ) will help engage hindquarters and develop topline. (Michelle Steele)

Lunge in side reins with a tail bandage tied from the roller one side, under the tail where hindquarters slope in before the hocks and tied to the roller on the other side. This works exactly like a Pessoa but cheaper. Also you cannot beat old fashion strapping but get advice where to strap or you will do more damage than good. (Megan Rogers)

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