What to do with a bolting, bucking pony?

“Dear Stacy, I have a question and it will be a little long to ask. I know your awfully busy and there’s little chance you can find time to answer it, but since there is a girl and her pony at stake, I thought I’d go ahead and ask, anyway.
Last year in February we decide to buy our 5 yr old daughter a pony (she’s been taken lessons since she’s 3 and is quite proficient for her age, not extraordinary, but pretty skilled). We found a 10 yr old mare in a riding school going bankrupt. She was rail thin and poorly maintained, but she seemed docile enough. We bought her (saving her, really), put 120 lbs on her, trimmed her feet, clipped her, etc. I started some groundwork with her as she had no basic manners and zero notion of personal space. Our daughter started riding her twice a week, and things went reasonably well for a while. Later I started working again and we could only get to the stables once a week. In the meanwhile the mare had put on a lot of weight, had become the boss in the herd she lived with, and had really gotten an attitude. Nice and behaved in hand, but she started trying to buck our girl off on a regular basis, and our kid being a good rider, the mare really had to amp it up to get rid of her. This evolved to the point that every time our daughter would mount, within a few minutes the mare would start showing signs of annoyance, and then bolt, crowhop or plain buck violently until our kid was off. It’s been a month that our daughter has been totally demoralized and hasn’t even visited her mare, let alone wanted to ride any horse, whatsoever.
My understanding is that our mare had been previously underfed and overworked, and even too tired or weak to protest about the heavy schooling she had to endure, but had never been properly trained, and that with renewed strength and self confidence, she is now fighting work with all her might.
What is your interpretation ? I don’t think the situation is fixable and have plans to put her up for sale in the spring, with a heavy heart, as she is a beautiful and kind animal, but those bouts of violent behavior I cannot risk, as a mother.
Sorry for the lengthy message, but this is my bottle to the sea, hoping it’ll reach your shore. Thanks for all that you teach us, I’m enjoying the Jac series beyond words.”-Claire D.

Claire D

I would say that your assessment is probably pretty reasonable. While we will never know exactly what lead to this end, we can still make a plan on how to go forward.

My first recommendation is to check that there are no physical causes for this behavior. This can involve many steps depending on how in depth you want to go. A vet is the obvious choice but also include experienced horse people, chiropractors, dentists, etc who can all be informative. If you check out physical causes and find nothing then we can move to training and conditioning.

In the best circumstances I train with prevention. To me this means that I prevent as much as I can from going wrong and I prevent as much as I can from letting bad habits grow. While challenges will still arise they are different than issues that have been allowed to ‘brew’ for a long time.

If I had to modify one thing that you said it would be that she is ‘fighting work with all of her might.’ By the sound of it she does a fair amount of work when she is trying to get out of her situation. For some reason she has it in her mind that this is what she needs to do. Maybe somewhere in her past she had this habit, or a minor form of it, and the lack of weight and strength held it in check. Maybe she had a lack of training and on a particularly bad day in the past she dumped her little rider and found some relief. We can come up with many possible situations that would set this up but in the end we alway end up back at where you are today with two questions: What is best for your daughter? What is best for this pony? Sometimes it is easier for me to look at it as two separate issues and then look at the whole again later.

It sounds pretty clear that your daughter is not enjoying her mare or any horses at the moment. As a mom you will need to determine how much this has affected your daughter. Maybe take her to visit other friends that have horses and see if she gets excited or interested just being around them and their horse. Another idea would be to take a trip back to the place where she originally took lessons. Watch her and see if she lights up again or asks to ride the safe quiet horse she knew from past lessons. How she responds to these situations will tell you a lot about how long it will take her to regain an interest.

It is also clear that the pony is in need of some training. This may be something that you decide to take on yourself or you may hire someone to train. I cannot tell the ponies size from the photo but you may be able to find a small adult that is able to assess the issue. It would be interesting to know if the pony was this testy with other riders or if she does respond better to a stronger rider. One of the issues with kids is that they really are tiny and lack both experience and strength to execute some things. I would NOT allow other kids to ride to find this out. Find a professional that you trust to evaluate the pony. A good candidate may be the person your daughter originally took lessons from. That person may be able to either assist in the hands on evaluation or give you contact information of someone who can.

There are also other ways to train or add to the ponies skills if you have the time and mindset to do so. Teaching a pony to drive can help keep their energy level in check with regular workouts where they are held accountable by adults. If you are determined to keep the pony you can be creative about ways to assist in the retraining.

It also sounds like you are considering selling. If you do sell it is your responsibility to tell any potential buyers of this ponies habit. I would recommend reading a blog I wrote titled ‘Should I sell my horse?’  In this article I site three things to consider: safety, enjoyment and purpose. Sometimes the thought of selling causes people a great deal of stress. I don’t think people should buy and sell horses without care but I do believe that there are many good homes out there and often a better fit for a horse and rider.

I also love reading the comments below the blogs as they often add to or highlight the information.

“…First it is your responsibility to ensure you find a good home before selling. Second, if nobody sold their horses that are no longer suitable to their needs than many of you would not have found your first horses or your perfect partners. … Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and ideas however, keeping a horse forever is not always feasible to everyone and although a lot of you appear to feel it is wrong to sell you should not make others feel that they are wrong for wanting to sell and find a new partner. It may benefit the horse as much as the individual.” Heidi I.

To read the full comment as well as others click here.

This decision won’t be an easy one and we haven’t even discussed your daughters response to the idea of selling. Keep asking and answering the two questions (What is best for your daughter? What is best for this pony?) and as you take her around other horses and have your pony evaluated by professionals I think you will find your answer.


  1. […] Pirouette the bolting, bucking pony that made it to the front page of Stacy Westfall’s blog ! […]

  2. horsegentler on January 6, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    Wow, this sounds like a mystery, and mysteries with horses are just the thing I love! Every horse is different, and they all need something just a little different to make them understand what is needed of them. Personally, I would say that the mare could be retrained (but I am not the mom here, so my advice may be quite different than what you will decide to do) – she sounds like she has a lot of spunk and ‘go’ and is simply looking for an outlet for it, which can be one of the easiest kinds of horses to train. In my view, bucking and bolting are conflict behaviours, born from the horse not quite understanding what is needed, and how to deal with it by ‘asking’ the rider, in a sense, instead of taking matters into her own hands.
    I wish you all the best with this!

  3. Bre on January 3, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Saddlefit may also be part of this pony’s issues, as you mention a great change in her condition from when first bought. Do you or the other riders all use the same saddle or different saddles. Bucking issues, especially when requesting forward motion often may indicate an attempt to escape from pain. At one time it was not unusual for small childrens ponies to be outfitted with an overcheck to stop them from pulling the reins out of their hands and dropping their heads too low. If the pony is trained to harness you might already have an overcheck as part of your harness. Care needs to be used to set the overcheck long enough it doesn’t put any pressure on with her head in the normal position but only engages when she attempts to lower it too far. Just a few thoughts to consider.

  4. Julia on December 28, 2014 at 12:14 am

    I’m going through a similar (though not even remotely as scary!) situation with my daughter and her POA (who we sometimes lovingly refer to as her POS). My daughter is 10 years old though so bigger and stronger than 5 years old but still a tiny little thing. And luckily her pony does NOT buck or try to get her off. But he will literally turn and leave the arena to go eat grass with her on his back and use Herculean strength to ignore her. Sadly, he is too small for me to ride but I have been working with him on the ground. They stopped using him at a riding school he came from because he was chronically lame, so once we got that taken care of he still had his wonderful quality of being bomb-proof, but he also started feeling good and showing his super stubborn side. He is the only horse in my life that has ever whirled and kicked at me in protest (and boy did that not go over well with me! I do not tolerate that kind of disrespect!). Luckily, he has never done that to my daughter – he seems to know where some boundaries are. But my daughter is extremely frustrated and we’ve had the talk about whether or not she wants to keep him. We’re trying out having her take lessons on him with my trainer and although she’s a little nervous about it because it means working hard and going outside of her comfort zone sometimes, I see it helping a lot. But I’m right there with you, flipping back and forth in my head should we keep this pony or not? In our situation the fact that he spooks at literally nothing and never bucks is what keeps me attached to him. My daughter can learn how to handle the stubborness, but I also don’t want the frustration to outweigh the fun. Aaaah! I never thought her first pony would be so tough, but then all of my own horses have been lots of work so I guess it makes sense! 🙂

    • marla2008 on December 29, 2014 at 9:47 am

      Thanks for stopping by Julia ! I fee your pain, but yes, the pony being bombproof and not bucking sounds pretty sweet, especially from where I am now with my own, lol… I’d go ahead with a handful with sessions with the trainer and see how your daughter likes it, which will most likely depend on the trainer’s teaching skills (and as I wrote a bit earlier, this is a whole different can of worms, isn’t it ??). If he’s good than chances are he’ll make the challenge hard work BUT fun, and worth it, and if she sees progress in the control of her pony she might get addicted and enjoy getting out of her comfort zone, after all…

  5. Helsnic on December 27, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Looks like you have done a great job bringing her back, she looks fantatsitic. I would say though that getting your daughter a pony that gets her back into the swing of things again has got to be a priority for her to keep riding. The emotional attachments to this mare must be strong but there are obviously some fundamental problems that need sorting, not by a small rider :(as I child I had a mare who was under weight when we got her, despite getting her up to weight pretty quickly she was very strong and always looking for grass/food and had a tendancy to bolt to get home. I lost a lot of confidence and it took getting the next size when I had outgrew her up to really get me back into competing. I hope that you can find this pony a good home and your kid a pony that gives her enjoyment again. Just wanted to share with the perspective that it is ok to move on if it isn’t working, I held in there due to the love of my old mare but with hindsight I should have moved on…hth

  6. Kori Nestibo on December 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I saw the comment about not seeing a Dentist. Since horses teeth keep growing throughout their lives, their teeth do have to be looked after. It can be done by your Vet, but the teeth do have to be floated for sharp edges that are made by the way horses eat. It should be done at least once a year. All of my older horses, not only develope the sharp edges that cause ulcers in the cheeks. They also get waves, and side ridges, which make it harder for the horse to grind their food well, and get the full nutrient value from the food. I also had bought a very thin, weak student gelding from a bankrupt stable, who was a dream to ride, until he too had the strength to protest. The first thing we found out was he had a tooth cap that had not fallen off, pinching his cheek when the bit was in. ( he was only 4, but unless you put your hand in his mouth, you could not tell that the cap was in there pinching the cheek.) In short when your Vet is checking her over, the teeth should not be forgotten.

    • Lori B. on December 30, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      Amen to getting horse’s teeth done on a Regular basis! You cannot “Tell” when a horse’s mouth needs attention, until they have needed help for a very long time. We are the stewards of these animals, it is our responsibility to do what we can for them.
      And as for chiropractors determining if a horse has physical issues, I look at how long my veterinarian went to school…and then, well, I just go to the veterinarian. Try to find the vet that the pros use…then you know the veterinarian is actually getting results with his treatments, and not just an opinion of an owner that ‘the horse seemed a bit better after that’. Not to say that there are not great vets that are only working on backyard horses, I am sure there are. But I like to see the results that cannot be denied. Did he jump cleaner, or go faster, or turn better after he was treated? And why are these professionals spending their hard earned money on getting help for their horses at their vets? I am thinking because it Works, and the proof is in the pudding.
      The same reason why the pros condition their horses, and keep them in shape for the job they are asked to do. It’s just good management, and when horses are your living, you know that taking proper care of them is the cheapest thing to do, overall.

  7. Kye on December 27, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Could be many things, but I’m kind of partial to your thought of her learning the tiny riders aren’t strong enough to correct her & if she dumps them she can get out of work. I HATE to suggest this in a way, but at the same time am curious, if she is ridden 1st by lager stronger rider (short warm up) Then given a “break” by your daughter riding & if the pony shows any sign of bolting/bucking, have your girl get off NOW then you immediately hop on & work the snot out of the pony, then have your daughter get on so she can learn your daughter riding IS the reward. She needs to learn that the bucking/bolting is NOT acceptable & is NOT the answer to get out of work…… just a thought. Whatever you do, I wish you & your daughter & the pony the best! (I was giving a 4yr old lessons on a small horse that was in his late teens that was once a trick horse so I was told, but any time he gave this un-confident, (honestly quite scared, but taking riding lessons by sake of his parents being ranchers) any protest, I’d take the boy off, jump on (either in the tiny saddle or bareback) make him WORK for just a few moments, then put the boy back on & we seemed to get along okay.

  8. Steffi on December 27, 2014 at 8:47 am

    I would still have the horse looked over by a professional – or several, like Stacy said: vet, dentist, chiropractor. Regardless of her overall work ethics and what she had or hadn’t learned in the past…if she was owned by a riding school too broke to feed her right, the chances are that nobody has looked her over well. She’s at an age where teeth problems and aches and pains from bad riding or accidents in the past may very well take a toll on her, and a lot of these issues are invisible to a layman’s eye. If she is actually in some sort of pain or discomfort, you are fighting an uphill battle trying to retrain her…what if by bucking she is trying to say ‘My neck/back hurts and my mouth does too?’ A complete health assessment should really be the first step when trying to ‘fix’ a horse’s problems. That may be a few $100 well spent and save you thousands on trainers and human medical bills, and may yet make the little mare a happy, compliant little family member, either for you or someone else. In this horse market, a pony that wants to buck, etc., will likely end up on a big trailer headed for dog food, so it would be very much in everybody’s best interest to make doubly sure her behavior is not a response to pain and therefore a silent cry for help..

    • marla2008 on December 27, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Thanks Steffi, I actually plan to have her seen by a chiropractor. I’ll skip the dentist for the moment as she gives NO sign whatsoever to be bothered in that area, I’ve had horses with dental issues in the past and a lot of signs pointed that way, not so with Pirouette. But her behavior, good for the first ten minutes, then suddently bad going on worse, makes me curious about what a chiropractor might find…

  9. Julie Mills on December 27, 2014 at 6:48 am

    I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself, many ponies end up the same way. Some can be reformed and some are always opportunists. I have to agree with the comments on the photo though, the pony is very definitely trying to get your daughter off balance. The usual trick is to take the reins away from the kid and then drop a shoulder or pretend to spook sideways when they become unbalanced. Look how far forward she has your daughter already. Very smart!

  10. Kate Farmer on December 27, 2014 at 5:15 am

    Interesting question Maria – and I think it’s a situation a lot of people find themselves in. Stacy’s reply is brilliant, and covers all the bases, I think. As my speciality is the equine behaviour side – I’d just like to flag up one paragraph in Stacy’s reply…

    “If I had to modify one thing that you said it would be that she is ‘fighting work with all of her might.’ By the sound of it she does a fair amount of work when she is trying to get out of her situation. For some reason she has it in her mind that this is what she needs to do. Maybe somewhere in her past she had this habit, or a minor form of it, and the lack of weight and strength held it in check. Maybe she had a lack of training and on a particularly bad day in the past she dumped her little rider and found some relief.”

    This summarises the “why” – and just to underline it further, the horse (or pony) is a horse, and behaves like a horse at all times. That means that whatever the horse does, it makes sense from the horse’s point of view – and if we want to change that point of view, we need to offer an alternative viewpoint that makes more sense to the horse.

    Unfortunately, in cases such as this pony, it’s common that they have “behaved” in the past because they didn’t have any choice, and not because they were really happy with the situation of having a rider on board. The more she had to inhibit her natural instincts, the more concentrated they became – rather like a pressure cooker – so when she had the strength and opportunity to express herself, it came out in a very explosive way.

    It sounds as though you made an excellent start, getting her respecting your space on the ground, and she got more responsive under saddle – what happened in between? I think that might be the area you need to look at to find out what is going on, and what this pony needs to become a happy and safe ride. While it is down to weight/strength of rider, you’re still relying on force (or threat of force) to get the pony’s cooperation, so you’re still suppressing the problem rather than overcoming it. I’d break down that bit in between being on the ground and being in the saddle and find the point where she first becomes unsettled/uncomfortable and proceed gradually from there. Look for the first tensing, the first hardening of the eye – the thing that happened immediately before that is the trigger. It might be just a few seconds before the bucking and bolting, or it might be a much longer sequence that starts when the person stands on a block and is higher up than the pony. The bucking/bolting is the symptom, not the cause.

    Going back to what Stacy said – the pony is doing what she believes she needs to do. Working out what happens that makes her believe that is something that can be done by going right back to square one and rebuilding the pony’s relationship with the people around her. Somewhere along the line she’ll “talk” about her issues, and you can work to help her overcome them. Then she will be a safer ride because she is happy with her situation, not because she is bottling up her anxieties.

    Everyone else has done a great job on discussing the human side – I hope you don’t mind me pitching in on behalf of the pony! 🙂

    • marla2008 on December 29, 2014 at 9:43 am

      Not only do I do not mind, but I am extremely happy that you did, as it was the biggest part of my initial question. While we have dealt with the situations in ways that I believe are the most appropriate, I am still curious as to the *why* of the behavior. One thing I firmly believe is what Stacy and yourself have underlined, whatever a horse does, from its point of view, is justified, and what the horse thinks/feels it needs to do for its self preservation. I think the first folks to really highlight that were the Dorrance brothers, and I am totally fine with that concept, even when it means the horse doing extremely “negative” things, by our standards.
      I also still think the entire key to this situation is time. In all senses of the term. Time because Pirouette did not exhibit that behavior when she was ridden much more regularly, when it was a routine for her to have all sorts of kids hopping on her back. Time because it was the one changing factor that caused the problems to first erupt, then generalize, and finally become the norm. I lacked the time to continue with her ground, and ridden, work, I lacked the time to bring my kid to the stables to ride more regularly. The less she was being worked with and ridden, the less the mare was fine with it, the more she did to evade the riding situation. Even on the lunge line during that period she has expressed her discomfort, bucking and swirling her head and not being acceptant.
      Time would be the key to ironing out all the wrinkles and getting her back to being a safe and enjoyable ride. I also still think having her checked up for back of dental pain is a great idea, we’ll have that done a little later, in the spring.
      Thanks again for your input !

  11. marla2008 on December 27, 2014 at 4:22 am

    Guy, thanks a lot for your comment. You are touching the “why” part of my question, which is the one that eludes me the most. When we got the mare it was very clear to me from the first days of ground work I put her trought that she had kinf of “cheated” all her previous work life so far. She’s so pretty and cute (and white, with gorgeous mane and tail, quite the Barbie pony if you see what I mean), that whenever she tried to escape work (and she wouldn’t lunge properly, for instance), she’d just walk right her into your space and put her head in your chest, but she did it in a way that most people got fooled into thinking it was “so cute”, and I bet she got away with it. The very first day I had her up on her back legs, waving a stick in the air and telling her that I *meant* for her to yield and go the way I asked her to. Then gradually she got better, then much better, backing off the wriggling rope, staying “in her room” a few yards from me and focused on me for longer periods of time, yeilding to pressure on both sides, lungeing properly on both sides, disengaging the HQ, flexing laterally… Under saddle she got quite responsive as well, was all too happy to give to the bit, bent well, etc.
    The first phase of things disintegrating was the length of time she’d be untroubled for while ridden by my kid. It was like her acceptance time was very short, and within 10, 15 minutes, tops, she’d start pulling the reins out of her hands, trying to circle back to the inside of the arena to come and face me (and BE DONE). She’d get very sticky to go back to the rail and if we pushed and ignored that, then the bolting/bucking would start. So there is a question in my mind about pain (though I fail to see how a featherlight 5 year old would generate pain, when she didn’t peep with my 130 lbs ??), and if not physical pain, some sort of emotionnal issue that would trigger this after this specific 10-15 minutes period ?? It is still a mistery to this day, though my guess is that she went from a very poor maintenance/heavier workload scheme, to an optimum maintenance/very light workload one, and she must have blossomed to feeling healthy and comfortable and dominant, and then whatever little work she was asked to perform was not regular enough to not be felt as an annoyance ?
    I’m pretty confident that if I, or a heavier and more confident kid/teen would rider her 5 days a week, she’d ease right back into a working state of mind and would probably become fit and safe to ride by younger riders again.

    • marla2008 on December 27, 2014 at 4:37 am

      Thanks to all for your comments so far, feel free to keep them coming !
      Your all input really helped me crystalized what I already sort of glimpsed, and that is that this situation escalated to where it is now entirely by my fault (ok, the coach should have felt more concerned, but that’s a topic of its own…). I saw the signs, I even read them pretty well, I was lucid on all the pieces of the puzzle, but I failed to put them together and see a global picture. I am confident that if Pirouette could have been worked 4 or 5 times a week, things would never have gotten to that point. She really is a nice and athletic pony who just needs her vitality and dominant temperament kept in check by very regular work and impeccable discipline. We might sell her (to the right people, and with full disclosure of all aspects of her personality), but then again, we might keep her, because I would hate to have “failed her”, and given *time* I know for a fact she’d be a great family pony to have. I will visit back this post and update you all in the future, thanks again for taking interest and for your very wise and useful input.

      • Julia on December 28, 2014 at 12:18 am

        Oh my gosh – what you said about seeing the signs, reading them, lucid of the full picture but failing to put them together to see a global picture – I have SO done that myself in certain situations! The fact that you can see that is wonderful and I respect that. Just remember, it is all a learning process (or at least that’s what I tell myself 🙂

  12. judi smith on December 26, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I read this article and it makes me think of what my daughter and I went through. When my daughter was 10 we went out and bought a 17 year old Arab Mare. Not knowing anything about horses.we decided to get her.So when we got her she was perfect my daughter could ride her perfectly. After about a month she started Bucking her off.the boarding barn that we were at told us maybe we shouldn’t have bought a horse.Needless to say we left that barn and went to a training barn.and got real training on our mare. I have to say my daughter is a better rider for having this horse.We still have her she’s 27 years old now and in my pasture at home.My daughter is 20 now and she has Her own horse and she knows how to ride and take care of a horse. So don’t give up on your mare. She just might be the best thing for your daughter.

  13. Guy Ramsey on December 26, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Check the back and saddle. Generally horses with good ground manners and good basic training want to work for you, not against you. This is not normal behavior.

    • Jen on December 26, 2014 at 9:42 pm

      If you can ride pony, you can deal with anything! BUT…it is tricky to match rider, age, pony and have them create a mix that is safe, yet progressing. I am a Mom too…and have watched my daughter struggle through some pony growing pains. Safety has to come first. Your daughter may do well to build her confidence with another horse for awhile, gain some age and maturity- and get back to this pony later. If you continue to lease, that would give you that option. I am also a sucker for a pony!

  14. Maggie on December 26, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    I may be seeing the picture wrong, but it looks like the little girl’s helmet isn’t buckled. So important, especially when riding a difficult pony.

    • marla2008 on December 27, 2014 at 4:03 am

      Thanks Maggie, your concern is quite justified as it is the look of things indeed. Normally we are very conscious about safety, so I hope it is only the straps looking funny, but you might have been right. We will definitely pay extra attention to that in the future.

  15. Terrie Goiney on December 26, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Yes this picture says a lot. I saw a fB video with a little girl and white pony about this size, continually bucking her off and bolting then bucking.. Mainly pulls the reins out of the little girls hands and bolts and then bucks a few strides into asked forward motion. This Pony is pulling the little girl up out of the saddle, next move if ponies head goes down and butt bucks up the little girl will fall off. Pony definitely needs some retraining.

    • marla2008 on December 27, 2014 at 4:01 am

      Hi Terrie, thanks for stopping by. I did see the video you are mentioning, and it was just a pain to watch. However, the situation is slightly different. As I explained in an earlier comment, the moment this picture was taken was a peaceful one, during an uneventful session. When we got Pirouette she had been hung on via the reins by literally hundreds of kids, and I decided we’d never pull on her mouth again, so I rode her a bit and offered her a soft feel, that she was all to happy to give back. Ever since she has been light and flexible and the neck, poll and mouth. Here since Marla had her reins in contact, the mare just tucked her chin in a bit to ask for a complete release, like I’ve taught her to.
      The pony in the video was way worse than ours, but weirdly enough, the kid seemed almost immune to the falls (though they appalled me) and just got back on and on. My daughter didn’t fall half as much, but she grew apprehensive after a series, and I absolutely don’t blame her, I would have grown scared way quicker than she did.
      However, and though this particular pic does not fit the pattern you describe, the rest of Pirouette’s behavior does. She has never once tossed her head up, like many ponies/horses do, her way is down, pulling reins along, and ending up in the perfect position to buck. While she can be a very speedy little mare, when she becomes troubled, she gets sticky, and the lack of forward motion completes the wreck…

  16. Michelle Thompson on December 26, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    Unfortunately the severe change in feed, amount of work and possibly in the housing of this pony may have influenced this new behavior as well…. sounds like she needs a large area and only grass or grass hay seeing as she is only ridden once a week.

  17. Gayle Allen on December 26, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    They don’t forget the good things or the bad things they are taught. I wouldn’t keep this pony.

  18. Lahle Ehrlich on December 26, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    I have two daughters who ride, so mom-to-mom, it has to be safety first. When one of my daughters was just learning to ride we got her a lovely, kind, forgiving 16-year-old gelding. He was calm for everyone else but she was anxious and after a month of her riding him he started to bolt with her. We had other people ride the horse, had him longed first, and worked with a trainer but the horse started getting more anxious and his behaviors escalated. However, we loved him and had the resources to keep the horse and my daughter was 17. So she started working with a natural horsemanship trainer for about 8 months only doing ground work with the horse and not riding him at all. Once she became competent and comfortable working with him on the ground she started to ride again under the supervision of a trainer. Now that the two are actually communicating her stress levels is very low when she is with him and she can even ride her horse in a halter he’s so calm for her.

    The pony may be responding to some cues or “messages” from your daughter’s fear, frustration or anxiety. I am NOT blaming your daughter at all — just saying that I agree with Stacy — get an adult who knows horses to ride the pony and do an assessment.

    I sincerely hope you have as much success getting them to work together better as my own daughter had with her horse. But having your daughter to ride the pony under the present circumstances should not be an option.

    Hugs and positive thoughts from a mom who has been there!

    • marla2008 on December 27, 2014 at 3:53 am

      Thanks a lot Lahle for your input, and some of your comments are spot on. There is *defnitely* a learned response from the mare now, to that specific rider’s stress and apprehension. My daughter has been braved and really never made a big fuss of most of the falls she took, but time after time, she has come to fear getting on her horse, and boy, do I understand her !! I have a 3.5 colt myself and I’d lose my confidence way quicker than she did if he started acting up on a regular basis. As I commented later, our mare does sometimes tries things with heavier riders, but very rapidly goes down into compliance when she doesn’t get her way. Obviosuly the lack of strength, coupled with the apprehension of my little girl, are now established triggers to her bucking behavior. They haven’t interacted for weeks, the mare is doing well with the 11 yr old that has a lease on her, we leave it at that for the moment. Our daughter will probably start showing some interest in riding again in the spring, and then we’ll find really calm and tame ponies for her to hop on.

  19. Janette on December 26, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    Another awesome post, thanks Stacy.

    Sorry for interfering but I must add, there is a lot of warning signs in the above picture. No offence intended to anyone. The previous ridding coach obviously did a great job building this little girls confidence, but it looks and sounds like it’s time to find some FRESH knowledge

    • marla2008 on December 27, 2014 at 3:48 am

      Janette I find your comment very interesting but it leaves me really scratching my head. I kind of pride myself in usually being a good body language reader, and our mare sure does sometimes give signs of an upcoming wreck (unfortunately, sometimes those signs are too fast for the human eye to catch), but in this particular picture they had a quieter moment after a couple of laps at the canter I think, and it was a peaceful situation. Is it the lowered head and slightly arched neck that suggests a thought of the pony about putting her head between her legs and bucking ? As you can see, she is nicely forward in this pic, so that wasn’t very likely to happen (and it didn’t, during that lesson I think). I’d love to hear your input about the “lot of warning signs”, that personally I miss to see in the above pic. By the way, your remark about the coach is absolutely spot on 😉

      • Janette on December 28, 2014 at 7:05 am

        Dear Marla,
        I’m very pleased you are scratching your head. That’s what I love so much about Stacy’s blog. This blog is so thought provoking.

        Unfortunately I struggle to explain myself well at the best of times, but my short comings are made even worse trying to use my only access to the internet, my phone. My replys must be short and to the point because my phone limits the space I have to reply. So I don’t have the space here to explain exactly in detail why I had an emotional outburst when I saw your photo, but really it is better for you to keep asking questions and try new things. You will find answers to questions you didn’t know to ask if you keep looking. You, your daughter and that pretty little mare will gain a lot more that way.
        The “Master” (Stacy) has all the answers here for you (and DVD’s). You just need to be ready to receive the answers.

  20. Marcia Evans on December 26, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    One thing not mentioned by Stacy was your statement that the pony was dominant with the other horses in the field. This indicates to me that she is a dominant personality in general, and likely to need more direction and work than riding just once or twice a week. Find a good trainer and send her to school, then keep her busy.

    I hope your daughter regains her confidence. Stacy is right on there with her advice. It’s horrible to think a kid is anxious about getting bolted and bucked off every time she puts her foot in the stirrup! I sure wouldn’t ride if I thought that was the case!

  21. Nikki Schleppe on December 26, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    I have a gelding I bought/saved. Turns out it was the same situation, he was so good because he didn’t have the energy not to be, completely emaciated. A year later after many assessments and treatments he is happy and healthy. I’ve ridden him many times, had kids and friends on him over the last year with no issues he’s always been good. About a month ago I went for a ride and he bucked, I was shocked. However being an experienced rider I put him in his place and I made him work, I let him know right away it was unacceptable behavior and he hasn’t done it since. The key is to put the behavior to rest the first time. The first time is an accident, the second is on purpose and the third is a habit. Now you are in a position where you prob need a professional barring any physical ailment which I agree should be checked first. What I would do is have her ‘ tuned up’ by a pro and have that person give your daughter tools she can use if she feels the mare is thinking about it again. Because in the end your daughter needs to be able to cut the behavior short if it happens again. She is prob a little traumatized and defeated but the proper tools can help her regain her enjoyment.

  22. marla2008 on December 26, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Stacy, all I can say is WOW, THANK YOU. When I wrote my question I had only little hope you’d actually answer it, yet a tiny voice in my head was telling me that this issue might spark your interest (and I’m immensely grateful that it did). I didn’t give you all the information, and only because I didn’t want to write a mile long post.
    I’ll answer some of your suggestions here :
    While it is true that sharing this passion for horses and riding with my kid is extremely enjoyable, in the end it is HER interest that matters, and as long as it is down, it’s down, I totally respect that and give her a full break from the horsey thing. It’s probably the best route to go to have her wanting to ride again one day anyway. Should she show some interest again at any time I asbolutely *will* make it easy for her to have access to well trained ponies, get her riding gear her size (gosh they grow so fast) etc…
    Regarding the pony, she is currently partially leased to a 11 yr old girl who is a little heavy and much stronger, and things are going fairly well. Pirouette (our pretty mare) is still a little tricky to ride, but both of them get along and they work on the flat and jumping some, with my daughter’s long time riding coach.
    I have ridden the mare myself quite a bit and she always responded very well to me, and to a teenager friend of mine with excellent riding skills (actually much better than mine). Which sorts of confirms that she is an opportunist at heart, who tries to “defend herself” from working, and that has proven successful with tiny riders, while it has failed with heavier, stronger ones, hence she has literally trained herself to dump smaller kids.
    We discussed it extensively with our daughter, and while in the beginning she was totally opposed to selling, she also made it very clear that she would not ride the mare again, and she is now comfortable with the idea of parting with her.
    However, since we will move to a much more rural area within 6 months, if the mare hasn’t been sold by then we might just take her along, and should I have the time to ride her 4 or 5 times a week, I’m pretty confident she would become much more compliant and safer again.
    So again I really THANK you so much for your kind comments and pointers, I will check everyone of the links you provided. I’m watching the Jac series over again and enjoying them beyond words, all the more so as my 3.5 yr old is *extremely* similar in temperament in behavior to Jac, so I have to smile at a lot of their common antics. Thanks Stacy for all you do, you are a gift to horses and their humans.

    • Stacy on December 26, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Thanks for writing. You are not the first person with a pony that has asked this question but you gave me enough info to attempt an answer. I am glad to hear that you have already done many of the things that I recommended and I am especially glad to hear that Pirouette (great name) does respond to the stronger rider because that means that she has more options. Thanks for the well written question that gave me a chance to touch the subject AND thanks for the followup.

  23. Flo on December 26, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Cut the grain. Ponies don’t need grain. Then do everything else Stacy said.

    • PL Packer on December 26, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      Amen…….ponies don’t need anything like grain or alfalfa if they are in good health. If she needs to take off a few pounds her attitude may change a little as well.

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