A Tail of Two Ponies, A Case Study in Training…Days 6-8

This is the third installment of my driving pony training log. For those of you just joining us. I’m training two different ponies to pull a cart. I’m doing a side by side comparison of their progress along the way.

March 30, 2019…Moonshine Day 6

Moonshine had shown signs of some prior bridle training, and was handling driving through the back pasture like a champ, frankly it was pretty boring that she was responding so well. I decided to progress her to the next step of ground driving off property. It’s always a little disconcerting for a pony the first time they leave the property. They are headed into unknown territory with more perceived dangers, and they can no longer see or hear their friends in the adjacent paddock.

All in all Moonshine did very well for a spooky pony. There were a few times that I had perform a figure eight or serpentine in the road to slow her down, but for the most part she did well. She even held it together when we were approached by some neighborhood children that wanted to pet her and talk about the rest of our herd. The adventure taught me that she will need some more desensitization work.

March 31, 2019…Apple Jack Day 6

Today was Apple Jack’s first day in full harness. We did not work Apple Jack, but simply wanted him to get used to full driving tack. Not knowing if Apple Jack had ever worn a bridle with bit, we fitted him with the bridle leaving a rope halter on underneath. We led him around, fed him treats and let him graze until he was comfortable with the bit.

April 1, 2019…Day 7 for Moonshine

Moonshine had a very bad driving session tonight. I failed to realize that she was coming into heat, and decided to give her another session working in the neighborhood to further desensitize her. We did not even make it past our fence line before she freaked out without warning began to spin, rear, and attempt to bolt. It took a good 20 minutes to return her to our property after the psycho behavior started.

5 minutes before freak out

Once returned to our property, she seemed to settle slightly, and I worked her in the area in front of our barn for a few minutes before heading into our back pasture. While she drove, responded to rein cues, and stopped when asked Moonshine remained a little powder keg throughout the whole process. She was behaving like an advanced show pony, stepping high with her head high in the air. She remained light on the bit, but refused to drop into a relaxed walk. Moonshine also spooked at the slightest sounds, a pine cone crunching under my boot, the rein rings on the hip straps jingling, etc.

April 2, 2019…Day 7 for Apple Jack & Day 8 for Moonshine

Today was Apple Jack’s first day ground driving in full harness and bridle with blinders and bit. Because this was his first time, ground driving with the bit, I started Apple Jack out in a round pen. Just in case he had a freak out moment, he would be limited in how far he could travel. For a first time driving with a bit, Apple Jack did reasonably well. He responded to light cues occasionally, and a few times tested the process by attempting to spin. He did rear once or twice when asked to stop. Apple Jack did this during his halter work as well when asked to stop. Rearing seems to be his default behavior when he becomes confused.

After Moonshine’s shenanigans from the night before, I decided she would need several days driving in the back pasture before we should try the neighborhood again. She’s proven herself to be extremely mare-ish, and it isn’t worth the fight until her hormones settle a bit. Once she’s in a better place mentally, we can extend training back into the neighborhood. Tonight wasn’t much better. The awkward prancing and high head carriage still continued along with the spooks at small noises and occasional bolt attempts. The funny thing is she stays light on the bit through it all. I wasn’t prepared for her to show such collection and animation. I’ll admit, I’m at a loss for what to do with her, and I’m racking my brains on how to get her to calm down. My usual bag of training methods are failing me on this pony.

April 3, 2019…Day 8 for Apple Jack & Day 9 for Moonshine

Apple Jack had some very good moments where he lightened significantly rather than bearing down on the bit. He also had some moments that were slightly worse than the previous day. I could see him trying to figure things out, but occasionally right when he seemed to have the process down pat he would attempt to rear and spin. There is one section of the round pen that seems to be a trouble zone, and I’m not sure what that’s about. There isn’t anything different about that side of the pen, but the majority of his bad behavior occurs there. However, I calmly continued to work him through that area, and he gave me some nice light turns and complete stops.

Ground driving in full harness is the longest part of training, and I always spend at least a full month on this part before the pony is consistently soft, responsive, and obedient. The first few days of ground driving are usually when they try to get out of work with small tantrums, not unlike toddlers, and both of the ponies are going through that now.

Moonshine is still in heat, this is day three, so hopefully it will be over by Saturday. Tonight after a rough start to ground driving, and some very disrespectful behavior, I decided Moonshine needed two things 1) exposure to something loud on noisy on her rear end to distract her from insignificant sounds 2) some round pen work not driving. I removed her bridle, but left her harness on. I attached sleigh bells to her hip area, and decided to let her figure it out in the round pen. I’ve had people with more pony experience than me, tell me they haven’t really found round pen work effective for training ponies, and I held that thought in the back of mind in case tonight was an utter failure.

I’m happy to say Moonshine behaved like every other horse I’ve ever worked when put to the round pen. Now round penning is not my favorite activity, and I don’t utilize it unless absolutely necessary. I’m sure some of the professional trainers I know that primarily focus on “natural horsemanship” would say that’s why some of my training takes longer, but so be it. Anyway, I turned Moonshine loose in the pen with the sleigh bells, and she freaked and frantically started running around the pen as expected.

After a few rotations, I stepped up to ask for a turn and she turned away from me toward the fence. For those of you that don’t know, this is either a lack of training or sign of disrespect. In this pony’s case it is disrespect (she’s had the training), so I pushed her on to run, and asked again. This went on for about ten minutes before Moonshine figured out that she better start facing me if she ever wanted to stop running and catch her breath. In fifteen minutes she had reverted into a delightful little pony again. She stopped running like the hounds of hell were on her heels, and when asked to change direction, Moonshine turned towards me. When I turned my back on her, she came into the center and stood quietly beside me.

It seems my little pony and I have been engaged in a war of wills the past few days, probably because her heat cycle is making concentration difficult for her. I can’t afford to have her disrespectful due to that cycle though (it’s dangerous to allow), and so we had a moment yesterday. We ended on a very positive note, much better than we started, and I’m weighing the pros and cons of giving her the day off versus working her again tomorrow.

Hopefully we’ll be returning to the neighborhood soon.


  1. May I make a suggestion? I typically don’t use the blinders until further along in the training process. I have found that the very difficult ones seem to settle better if you drive them in an open bridle for a bit. Some never do transition into the blinders very well. We had a Haflinger that was a spinner and a bolter. She would ONLY drive in an open bridle. She was trained before we got her but luckily I had my mom start driving her with a travois in harness. (She wanted to hitch straight to the mare’s marathon vehicle.) Marley spun and bolted and got away from mom rampaging down in the creek through the trees and destroyed the travois. We went back to basics and I took the blinders off and walla! She was great. Some just like to be able to see ๐Ÿ™‚ Just a thought! It sounds like things are going a long pretty well though ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m working against every horse person I know saying never work without blinders, but I’m keeping this in mind. If she doesn’t settle on our next training session I may try it. She did great the first 3 sessions with them!

      Liked by 1 person

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