“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.