Pony training question?

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Well-Known Member
Apr 26, 2006
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The Exact Center of CA, 3,158 mi from the north p
We have a small pony[ Sugar Bear] that we got for our granddaughters [4 and 9]. the 9 year old lives several hundred miles away so she is only here in the summer and on holidays. The pony came to us with classic pony problems, because of her size she had not been handled much by an adult, and was not respectful of little kids. The pony was not mean, just would not cooperate well with them. So when she came to us I started driving her as a way for someone my size to work her. In one way this has worked out very well for us! Her and I have bonded enough that she follows hand signals, and verbal commands easily. Too the point that when leading her I can take off the lead and just hold my hand like I am leading, And she will follow along like she's tied!

Here's the problem.... This works great for the 4 year old, she feels like she is doing it all by herself. But the 9 year old wants to ride a little more independently. She's not ready for Grandpa to be too far away but still wants control. The pony was saddle broke in English tack, and is driven using a direct rein. The 9 yr old wants to ride western, and the pony has never been exposed to neck reining or leg ques.

Now the Question...How do I introduce neck reining, and leg ques without getting on her? Sugar Bear is definitely smart enough to learn that with a change of tack there's a different set of rules, But how would you teach this? Thanks DR
I am actually working on neck reining with my minis! It's not easy, because you have to be able to keep your reins high enough so they push against the neck rather than the shoulder. This is easy for me because my guy is 29" tall, I'm not sure how tall yours is? What I have been doing is walking alongside & when asking to turn to the right (for example) I stand on the left side with my reins up & not contacting the horse when I want to turn, I lean the left rein on his neck for 1-2 seconds, making sure that it isn't pulling on the bit, but that he can definitely feel it, then ask to turn with the right rein. Eventually they get it that the rein on the neck means turn. No matter how tall your horse is, you should be able to do this. I encourage you to not try to turn the pony into you because it could become you unintentionally teaching her to run you over & it sounds like you've worked hard to get her to respect your space! As for tack, when I drive, I use blinkers, when I work on dressage or my daughter rides, it's an open bridle. For the most part I use the same bit, but I feel like they know what to expect when they have the different bridles on.

As for leg cues, work on the ground with your hand. I wouldn't worry about cues to move forward at all, voice cues will be all you need there. There are 3 areas you need to cue from: right at the girth to move the shoulders over, slightly behind the girth (center) to side-pass, and just ahead of the flank to move the hind over. I start with the halter & a short rope so I don't get all tangled up. Stand next to the horse, put your hand in the area you choose & touch gently for a couple seconds, then put a little more pressure, a little more pressure, until you are pushing pretty hard. Once you start, don't stop until you get one step in the desired direction. As soon as the pony tries, stop the pressure, pet & praise. Again, you will be surprised how quickly she picks it up. Patience, consistency, & short sessions will be your key!

Can't wait to hear your progress!
Thanks I'll give that a try! The pony is just over 9 hands, So if I'm not getting good results I may hire one of the local girls to work her for me. I think I can teach the leg ques from the ground, But I'm going to have to give the reining another try! DR
When teaching a horse to neck rein I cross the reins under the neck so that when I lay the rein against the left side of the neck there is some pressure on the right side of the bit thus giving the horse a somewhat familiar cue that I am asking for a turn to the right.
I always start out teaching a child that age to ride using two hands (direct reining just as in driving) and a snaffle bit so that the rider learns how/where/when to move the horse and stop the horse. That way you are also only working with one at a time on training something new to.

I also teach the child how to hold the reins with both hands, with one hand and using the other to reach down to pick up slack for directing to the side (and they learn to do it with both hands) and just holding the reins with one hand while holding the mane or the saddle horn with the other (and again swapping hands on the reins). Also, the pulley rein, one rein stop or emergency stop (all the same, though called by different names) is taught as is how to dismount a runaway.

Here is older (9 or 10?) Jasmin's 2nd riding lesson. She has graduated off the lounge line and is in the open since I don't have an actual arena.


3 lessons later - back on the lounge line and doing more rein exercises.


and riding off our property on a 2 mile walk about...


In September, Jasmin did start doing some neck reining. Most of that work was done in the round pen only as she started grasping the concept that she wasn't to pull while neck reining but only to lay the rein on the pony's neck between the saddle horn and her head.

Magic does have the general concept of neck reining herself, but she was mostly ridden as you see in the pics above with a snaffle and 2 hands by children only beginning to ride, so not much. She never was introduced to a curb or shank bit and was just as often ridden english as western.

Laura was a couple of lessons behind Jasmin due to being sick and not coming to any lessons at first. Then she had major fear issues. We spent much of her first lessons with her just mounting, sitting, dismounting and getting comfortable with the pony. She took much longer to graduate to any rein use, simply because in her fear her body would go rigid and she'd snatch the reins up to her chest and lock up.

But here is a good pic of her grasping the turn around and yield the hind quarters to the left while turning right...


2 months of 3x week riding lessons and Laura still often locked up. While the stirrup irons could have been dropped one notch, she does have enuff length to get her legs down and back, but she's drawn her legs up as well as her hands/arms. She was practicing her turns - the bucket was a focus and she was to ride forward and around the bucket. It was a hugely frustrating exercise for her as she tried to get everything working together while handling her fear. She did worse when in a western saddle. Now, 5 yrs later, Laura no longer rides at all, but will go for rides in a cart or a wagon. She has no desire to learn to drive herself, though. She does sometimes groom and do ground work with the ponies her grandmother owns. Laura would have been 7 or 8 here... Not sure.


Stuffy does well neck reining with a snaffle and in either a western saddle or english. I never purchased a shank bit - was getting ready to when the above girls quit riding. I may get one later for her - I just leased her out again for a young rider. Right now, she's learning how to ride using two hands.


I am a little bit different than PoniesRule, in that I use the right at the girth on both sides as "forward" and behind the girth to give sideways or yield, with the reins giving direction as to whether it's the front or the rear end that was disengaged. BUT since doing more NH type riding, I drop my leg further back to disengage the hindquarters, use slightly behind the girth with both legs as a "go forward" and right at the girth to disengage the forequarters. I never got into the "reining thing" of using my toe or boot heel in front of the elbow or on the shoulder.

That said, I found the 9 yr olds I worked with not able to reach very far back w/o unbalancing them forwards onto the front of the saddle or the neck. So I teach them to use both legs at the girth for forward and one leg just a little back of the girth (and it takes a while for them to grasp that concept) to yield - and use the reins to direct them as to whether forehand or rear quarters.

AS to teaching the neck reining to your mini - I agree with all above as to how to go about it. Since yours is so well trained already, it shouldn't be difficult at all to teach her to move over by just laying a line or rein against her neck. Most of my advanced ponies will "neck rein" from either side now, since I often lay the lead against their neck as I ask them to yield away from me. I use a tap with either my hand or a solid object (a short crop or a NH "stick") to increase the pressure until they respond to just the lead or rein laid on the neck. That "tap, Tap, TAP, whack" is a very effective training tool, LOL. Once they learn that the light cue is followed by progressively stronger ones, they get it quick!

Once your mini yields with the lead rope/halter, you can introduce neck reining with a bit and I think you will be quite surprised how easy it is. The hard part is teaching the child that it is literally just laying the rein against the neck - not pulling - which actually pulls the head the opposite direction of what is desired. I still sometimes have issues with that one myself and I've been riding western and neck reining since I was a kid. I like using two hands and a snaffle - but then again, I've spent most of my life starting green horses, not taking them all the way to finished riding horse. Most of our shetlands have more training than the riding horses I've started under saddle before returning them home or selling them.

Hope you don't mind that I prefaced this post with pictures of direct reining and learning to handle the reins. To me, it does pertain to learning to neck rein (for the child)....
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