Partnered Pony Blog

Posts in Natural Horsemanship
I Under-Estimated Them

It wasn’t until I put the second pony on a transport that I realized it, and even then it took a few days more.  A sudden change in my life had caused me to need to rehome four ponies quickly.  Two of the ponies I delivered myself into the hands of their new owners.  It was the other two that I delivered to a third party that showed me so much.

190417 Torrin departure5.jpg

When I parted with those two ponies, I was in tears.  One had shared life with me for nineteen years, and the other for thirteen.  We had done a lot together, and I considered them friends.  It’s normal for me to cry when I say good bye to a pony.  This time, though, was different, as these two showed me.  Neither of them would look at me as I said my final good bye.

I try hard to never be angry around my ponies or to have an argument with another person around them.  Over the years, they’ve shown me they don’t like that emotion.  Research has indeed shown that equines respond differently to happy and angry faces.  “Psychologists studied how 28 horses reacted to seeing photographs of positive versus negative human facial expressions. When viewing angry faces, horses looked more with their left eye, a behaviour associated with perceiving negative stimuli. Their heart rate also increased more quickly and they showed more stress-related behaviours.” (1)  One researcher said, “It's interesting to note that the horses had a strong reaction to the negative expressions but less so to the positive.”  I certainly have perceived that difference in response with my own ponies.  They are much more reactive to negative stimuli than positive.

The tears I shed as I said good bye were not angry ones, though, so I didn’t think the ponies would be affected.  I was wrong.  My tears were full of grief, heavy with emotion.  I underestimated these two ponies and the effect my emotions had on them.  One transporter later told me that the pony in their charge perked up after 24 hours.  The other was labeled a hard traveler, and it took her even longer to come around.  These ponies did react to my grief, and if I could apologize to them, I would. Next time that I am emotionally heavy when saying good bye, I will try harder to make it easier on my departing pony friend.

1)      University of Sussex. "Horses can read human emotions." ScienceDaily, 9 February 2016.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

More stories about the amazing relationships ponies make possible can be found in my book The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Don't Drill Them 2
Fjord gelding Torrin

I am bringing my Fjord gelding Torrin back into work after a long time off.  When Torrin is out of a working mindset and under saddle for the first time in awhile, he will sometimes lower his head, waggle it back and forth and then occasionally waggle his whole body before offering a small buck and then taking off at a run.  I’ve worked with him long enough to arrest this sequence before it progresses too far, and when I’m successful, it will even make me laugh!

I was thinking about my work with Torrin when I wrote the article “Don’t Drill Them,” inspired by a very simple, clear, and accurate discussion of the topic by an owner of two of my ponies (click here to read it).  A conventional approach to dealing with an equine who is out of a working mindset and has lots of energy is to lunge them to get their excess energy out of them or at least reduced.  I’ve never ascribed to this approach.  For one, I appreciate an active walk, like Torrin has, and I don’t want to work it (drill it) out of them.  And second, my goal isn’t to get their energy out of them; I want their cooperation in the activity I have in mind and for them to use their energy in that activity.  Lunging seems different from what I do; instead I want to work them on-line in a way that is about communication, where I can ask for their cooperation and then assess their willingness to give it.

I do put Torrin out on a circle, and I ask for particular gaits, transitions between gaits, and changes in direction.  If he changes gait on his own (usually up when he’s not in a working mindset!), then I know he’s not ready to be ridden safely.  In fact, he’ll often start his amusing sequence, lowering his head, waggling it back and forth, etc, including trying to take off at a run, which of course only goes as far as the end of the line in my hand (and a few steps on my part to arrest his momentum!)  I will continue to ask for compliance with my requests of specific gaits, changes in gait and direction, and when Torrin chooses to work with me rather than go his own way, then we will progress to the activity I had in mind when we came together.  I’m definitely not drilling him; I’m continually asking for something specific and assessing Torrin’s response.

One day I went out to work with Torrin, and he was lying down napping in the sun.  I put his halter on and stepped back, inviting him to go work with me.  He got up and followed me out the gate.  When I put him out on a circle, it was clear I had a cooperative pony, so I mounted and took a short ride.  On this day, I’m afraid if I had done much work on-line at a trot or canter, Torrin would have woken up more completely and reverted to his playful self!

Today after several days in a row of his antics on-line, Torrin showed me in an on-line session that he was willing to listen and respond promptly to everything I asked.  We then took a marvelous ride with not a step misplaced.  I didn’t do a prescribed number of circles at each gait or a prescribed number of gait or direction transitions; that approach feels like drilling.  I did just enough to know we had two-way communication.  Torrin’s response was feedback that not drilling works very well indeed.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019

There are more stories like this one in my book The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.