My Shetland pony has been pulling me in a cart for seven years.
Neither of us are show quality, we enjoy working together in the indoor arena at the boarding barn I stable her at. Living in Vermont, the winters are long, and every spring she is a bit barn sour, and we need to recalibrate our driving relationship.
This spring she became particularly ornery, refusing to drive in one direction while the other way, she glided along smoothly without any bother. Balking, shying, and crow-hopping was hazardous to other equestrians in the ring. I lost confidence and worked with our trainer to address performance issues to no avail.
Her crankiness persisted for weeks. The pony and I were both frustrated, so I decided to give us a staycation. No more hitching up and pulling in the cart, but lunging over poles on the ground and then over small jumps got us into a more playful relationship. Of course, treats were never too far away, she certainly knew which pocket they lived in.
Weeks later, we began again with our trainer as if we have never driven before. Back to the basics, working on engaged, but not too tight rein controls, keeping the pony straight through the shafts even in turns, half halts to moderate tempo when necessary, and me relaxing while still maintaining control.
In breaking down and analyzing these components, I realized I had been unconsciously triggering the pony’s behavior by tensing up in the area where she had been shying, cueing her instead to pull away. It became an interesting exercise to release my grip on the reins exactly where the issues had been.
As well, I was continually reminded to look beyond the pony in the direction I wanted to go. How many times had I heard this before? Far too many I admit. However, I had gotten focused on the problem at hand and not the horizon ahead. Once I focused on the desired destination in front of us, the pony relaxed and trotted forward easily.
Beginning again with a beginner’s mindset allowed us to reset our relationship. We are having fun again. Her mouth is soft and foamy after a drive—signs she is happy with a job well done. I too am joyful once more as the pony and I fly unabashedly together.
Yet again, barn lessons help in life: giving up control is not always a bad thing and looking beyond difficulties is sometimes necessary. How grateful I am to have this Shetland pony.
About the Author
John R. Killacky is running for a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives this November.