My Pony Mischeif…


Dear Natural Horse,

My pony (Mischeif) won't canter when or after I ask him to. I want to show him next year. But I can't keep asking him because my mom needs to work her horse (Onyx) and I can't separate Mischeif because he goes crazy and I'm not a very good rider. What should I do?

From Samantha Jewell Driscoll
New Haven, VT

P.S. Mischeif is five.
P.S.S. We also have another horse 18-year-old Tango


Dear Samantha,

Here's what I would do. Don't try to separate him. If he "goes crazy", it is just his way of telling you that he feels more secure with his horsey buddy than he does with his human right now.

When your mom is working with her horse, you should just hang out and watch her. You don't tell me how old you are, but since you said that you are not a very good rider, that tells me that if you were my child, you would get a lot of help! It's not important that you be a great rider, but there are some very important things that have to happen before you can safely develop your riding skills.

When your mom is finished working with her horse, then maybe the two of you can try some of the things that work for my kids and me.

The first thing that you have to be able to do before you'll be able to get that canter that you want is:
You need to be able to have Mischief come out and stand quietly with you while you groom him. That's all I would do for the first couple of days. When he relaxes with you and your mom, and is not so worried about the other horses, you can start leading him toward the arena or the area that you work with him. If at any time he gets upset or starts acting crazy, just turn around and go back to a place where he is calm and can focus on you.

You see, horses have a comfort zone. They only act up and go crazy when they feel that what you are asking them to do is too too difficult or too too scary. Imagine that you go to school one day and your teacher tells you that you are going to have to give a speech on the effects of carbon monoxide on the ozone layer, at 10 am, in front of the television crew that just arrived. I am sure that you would panic! So, all the things that need to happen before you and Mischief can canter will probably take 2 - 4 weeks to accomplish... But if you spend the time to fix the foundation issues, you will be able to canter, calmly and safely.

I can't give you the whole answer in just a quick letter, but I will be happy to help if you want to try. After he's comfortable leaving with you, and going out to the arena, you should just do simple exercises on the ground. I like to have a 22-foot lead line, and move his feet around. Let him explore, but always ask for his attention to come back to you. The way I ask for attention is by moving his butt away from me. NEVER pull on his head. You'll find that if you direct your attention at his butt, he'll bring his head around and you'll have his mind, not just his body, paying attention to you.

After he can comfortably do walking and trotting exercises on the long line, then I would take an old pair of jeans, and stuff it with sand. If you let this pair of jeans be the rider, then Mischief can practice his canter carrying it, and not you!

Once he gets really really good at cantering with the dummy jeans, then when you ride, he should:
a.) know how to canter and
b.) be calm and capable of cantering while carrying the extra weight of a rider.

This worked for my daughter Jordan and her pony. But I don't want to make it sound easy. It took us weeks of preparation. And the ground exercises are very important, but almost impossible to convey in words. 

I would like to connect you and your mom with someone near you who can show you how to do it:
Kristina Berg Triplat
A Natural Approach to Horsemanship with Awareness - Training, Lessons, & Clinics for all ages, breeds and disciplines
Roxbury, VT 05669

Kristina has agreed to give you a complementary lesson, so please watch for your free lesson certificate in the mail. Once she meets you and Mischeif, she will determine the best way to help you and your horse.

Always keep in mind that the horse's priorities are different from yours. He doesn't understand why cantering is important to you, so it is your job to set him up for success and make it a pleasant experience for both of you!

Happy horsing around!
Nancy Faulconer
Cloud9 Ranch
Naples, FL