Question: I have a welsh section a driving pony, he’s 12yrs and I have owned him for 18months. I was a novice driver and he was a very experienced pony, his previous owner drove him out alone without any problems. I believe I have spoiled him by being too soft, due to this he has no respect for me and I believe he has a learned behavioral problem of rearing now. When I ask him to stand and wait at a junction, I ask him with soft hands but he’s very quick and goes up, very scary. I have had him physically checked and there are no problems. Please can you offer any advice. Thanks, kind regards. Debbie
Answer from April Reeves: Hi Debbie, I have seen this a lot. It’s a common habit a driving horse/pony can get into. Depending on how long it’s been going on – will determine how long it will take to change it.
Start back at ground driving. Begin to drive him as you normally would in a cart, but stand to the side, not behind him. Walk him around for a bit to get use to being back on the ground again, and when you are comfortable and handling everything well, ask him to halt, with you standing to the side (enough to avoid being kicked).
If he halts nicely, walk forward again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. What you are doing is changing a habit. You can’t punish a habit out of a horse. You can only exchange them, so you are simply exchanging rearing for standing or moving forward.
It’s likely he will rear. This is why you are not going to stand in firing range of his back legs. Remember, a horse or pony can kick out as far or sometimes farther than his entire body length. The second he rears, and I mean the second, not as he is finishing, but the very second you see him begin to “stall out” and draw his weight on his haunches so he can rear up, take the long buggy whip and just clip his back heels with it. You don’t have to hit him hard. You just want him to think that his back feet may be in jeopardy should he stand on them too long. He may kick out, he may bolt forward. If he kicks out, let him have his little tantrum, move him forward and do it all over again.
If he bolts forward, go with him for a few strides and back to a walk. Then ask for the halt again. Each time he rears, you must get his heels instantly. You are making the wrong thing difficult. That’s all.
Eventually he will be a bit apprehensive when he goes to rear, and will watch for you to move in and catch his heels. That’s fine. Let it move through this process. Don’t try for perfection or micro-manage him at this point. Remember, every lesson is a single lesson. Don’t complicate the training by adding another task. Just allow each lesson to ‘soak’ into his brain.
Soon, he will become less apprehensive, and likely just go back to standing quietly and moving forward when asked.
In between each thing you do, be quiet and let him figure out the solution. Humans really get in the way of our horse’s learning process. It’s up to them to learn to think things through. It’s up to us to set up this lesson so that they can think.
If he gets silly, just stay quiet and soft, and let him sort out his temper tantrum. Once he is ready, walk forward and continue your training.
He may get very aggressive for the first few times you catch his heels. Horses do not like to feel that their feet are in danger, as they need them for flight. If he continues to fuss about being ‘heeled’ while trying to rear, keep doing it. Sometimes we humans give up too early, just before we get the response we are looking for.
You only need to ‘heel’ him once for each rear. Don’t continue to swat him. If you time it right, (and it is all about timing) he will likely come back down on his front end quite fast. Good. If he jiggles around but stays on the ground, good. Let him figure it out. Stay out of his way of learning.
The first time he is good and tries even a bit, tell him softly that he is good. It is the only time I want you to speak to him.
Once he gets his feet back on the ground and there is not much chance of him rearing any more, ask him to back up a step or two. You don’t want to rush this as reining back puts a horse in the position of rearing again if the lesson was hurried. He does need to know that reining back means four feet on the ground, not two! You need to complete your ground driving with this though, or you could get caught in the buggy and cause the problem all over again. Much easier to do it on the ground.
Take the time needed; don’t be in a hurry when working with driving horses. You can’t skip steps or you get into really big trouble. I have seen some of the worst driving accidents you could imagine, and they happened because someone got lazy or pushy. I equate driving a horse to flying a plane. There is little room for error, and I know: I am a pilot.