Long-reining a Shetland Pony

Today with Coco I really started to work on long reining. I have been planning to do this so over the past few days I have been preparing her for it by guiding her on left and right and not doing too much facing up. I hooked up the halter, and guided her left and right with one rein; then I joined the halter and guided her from the left. To change sides I would quickly step around the back of her. She would loose me for a moment as stepped across but I was quick to move over to her right side so that her right eye caught me and I only turned her once her right eye had seen me. It is quite easy to have a horse turning to the left long reining and then as you pull them to the right they loose you and get a little bit confused – they don’t want to turn and they can fight against the rein so what I started to do was to get her used to me walking from one eye to the other (or from one side of her brain to the other) first.  I would have her turning to the left, then I would let her straight out a little bit, then after she saw me with her right eye I would put her onto a right circle, so it was very much like she was back on a right circle if you were just lunging her on a little circle. I continued this until she got soft at it and started to find the change of rein quite easily.

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The next stage was to start to walk across behind her rump and change rein at that point so for example if she was going to the left I would let her straight out for a bit and whilst I was still behind her rump I just gently take up the right rein, then squeeze the right rein before stepping out to the right side of her body till she could see me.  She would relax and offer the right side of her body until she got to the stage where she could start to look for me through the feel of the rein and bend and turn to her right whilst I was still centred behind her rump.

Once she was comfortable with this step I would ask her to hold a straight line, and then turn, then hold a straight line and turn. I did this in the halter first so that if she tried to spin or fight she can’t get into too much trouble. I don’t want her to step on the reins with a bit in her mouth and pull it through her mouth. I also had prepared her with the in line work by touching her on her blind side of her body with a stick almost feeling like it was a rein falling over the back of her hocks, over her rump and that side of her body that she can’t see.

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So by the time I got her doing that in the halter then I got her to do a similar thing in the bit, she was right for the long reins. If she tensed and tried to rush, I would get her to do a circle around me because that is what she got used to and could relax in. Then when she relaxed I would open her up get her to walk out on a straight line until she could go around one way, turn right and left and she was happy with me trailing along behind as I steered.


Once she could turn left and right and I could walk comfortably behind her I started to apply a stop. To start off with, when she was standing I would squeeze the reins and get her to soften, and take a few steps back, then soften again and more steps back. Then when she was walking I would squeeze and get her to soften, then stop, then ask for a few steps back. I make a habit of asking her to take a few steps back as it gets her body better prepared to stop and we want to constantly improve the back up – it is an important thing for every young horse to learn.

Then I did a bit more with the whip, cracking it, and at the end the kids wanted to play with me in the big round yard. I was running around crazy with the kids and she was stopped in the middle standing quite calmly. She is really figuring out that we are not there to hurt her. She still has a disapproval of the whip when it is cracking close to her. Over time her tolerance to it will improve.

The next lesson will be taking her out like a work horse and long reining her over the hills.


Educating a Shetland – day 3

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Today with Coco I started off just with a saddle and a long lead, guiding her out at a distance, just following the lead, getting her to bend and do some soft circles and follow the lead of the rope. I wanted her calm and walking in nice rhythm.  She was far more relaxed, and when I ask for energy it was energy without any flee. I quite quickly went to steering her just laterally with the bit in her mouth – same thing really – opening up a circle and then tightening up a circle and steering her, then following me for a bit, then I would do the other side until she started bending to the bit and softening in the circles to the feel of the bit.

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Once she was doing that I put Ebony on and just started to guide her around with someone on her back. I worked on getting Ebony to speed her up a little bit just to get her to bump her and get some energy using her legs, then slowing her down and picking up energy again. Ebony had a couple of little trots on her back to help Coco to relax and balance at the trot.

She is slowly getting more relaxed and not so worried about things. I was walking around and I would lift the rope up and there was a lot happening – the dogs running around and Ebony’s little brother was climbing on the fence. I noticed that Coco was really starting to relax to random things that were happening and focusing on the guidance that I am offering her which is nice.

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I then took her out in the paddock with Ebony, though a gully and on some big circles that bought her back into the lead before going back out on the circle again. She looked about a bit at the other horses in the paddock but she handled herself well and on the whole lesson she didn’t spook and rush at anything.  All of this is deliberately done at a calm walk. There is no point going faster until she can handle the walk.

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Towards the end of the lesson I introduced the whip again – she wasn’t completely relaxed but she is starting to accept it and isn’t so frightened of it – I could be quite close to her to crack it today.  She had a bit of a rush to the whip on her bad eye but she calmed down.  It still does create tension in her.

So this time I introduced it after she had worked and she was focused and relaxed.  Originally, I introduced the whip right at the start of her training to find out how reactive she was when I hadn’t done a lot with her. I also wanted to show her right from the start that the whip was a part of me and it wasn’t a tool of punishment or something to be frightened of. Imagine if she was scared of my hat – well I wear my hat – it’s a part of me so she doesn’t need to be afraid of it. She needs to know that from the start. The other factor is time – she is only here for a short time so it was important that any potentially big issues get tackled with time to resolve them thoroughly.

I am really just doing things like this so that if I find something that worries her I can work on that and offer different things. Eventually it will the relaxed focus that she has in her personality together with her accepting the leadership that people offer that will make her not worry about the random things that happen out the paddock that you can’t really control.

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Finally, teaching her to soften in the bit and take some backward steps. If she softens I release. If she takes a backward step I release. She will put the two together soon enough. 


Educating a Shetland: day 2

Educating a Shetland: day 2

Today I started Coco on the long lead to give her plenty of space from the stock whip.  I just kept walking away from her with the whip, putting a crack in every now and again.  I kept encouraging her to follow me until she would just walk along behind me at a distance and calmly follow the whip. This was also designed to build her confidence because whilst ever she is following it, it will make her more confident and brave as oppose to the whip coming towards her.

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She started to cope really well until she would stand dead still whilst I cracked it. Then I asked her walk up to me one step at a time, then I would crack it and ask for another step. Still when she is close to the whip she is worried, but this is a big improvement from yesterday.
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Then I started to do some guiding on her and getting her out on a lead, getting her to follow the rope, getting her to look into the turn and then change directions – as in change directions in front of me – this was encouraging her to change from one eye to the other because she was quite nervous at the start with anyone on her off side.  She started to change directions really well, I was really happy with her progress. She started to do turns quite evenly and comfortably.


Then I introduced the stick. The stick was not there to chase her or to make her change directions so I deliberately put it up in the air or away from a horse when they change directions so that they can think about the pressure on the rope and change their focus through the guidance of the rope. I was using the stick to encourage energy so I would give a gentle bump with the stick as a rider would with legs. I wasn’t chasing her or driving her with it, I was just getting her used to the stick and to not be frightened of it. I was using it to touch her in all areas while she was moving. I could touch her down her legs and down her rump and find any areas of worry.


Then we introduced Ebony. I would say this is the first time she has had anyone on her guided from a distance so I led her around for a while and then let Ebony out from a distance and she went very calmly and changed directions smoothly with Ebony on her back. I also got Ebony to bump her with her legs occasionally to encourage energy. She started off reacting a little bit abruptly but became a lot smoother with understanding.


I am very happy with her progress. I think people spend a lot of time trying to quieten a horse of this type whereas I have spent my time guiding her and slowly introducing things – I kept her mind busy whilst I introduced things. My guiding has been to build focus, trust and leadership – I guided her by leading her towards me and then when she was ready, I allowed her to walk around me.  I haven’t chased her around at all. Just guiding her. Now she is less worried and she is remaining more focused and starting to relax more.

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Re-educating a Shetland Pony

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Meet Coco, a Shetland pony who has come to me for some education.

She’s a lovely natured mare but her owner is concerned that she may not be safe enough for her young children.

So for those of you out there with similar ponies, I thought you might be interested to see how I approach her education.  She is booked in for 5 lessons at the moment – we’ll follow her daily progress in this time.

In a quiet environment Coco can be quite relaxed and quite trusting of people but as soon as something changes and there is a lot of energy or you introduce say a whip or something scary she panics and goes straight into flight mode. Today I noticed that as soon as I walked in the yard she ran around trying to look for an escape so we worked on getting her calmer and trusting me; to come and relax when I catch her.


Then we worked on a lesson of getting her used to some tools that I knew she would be scared of.  On a long rope I just let her find me through the rope and relax and I just kept her moving and kept introducing the stock whip in a way that hopefully built a bit of curiosity until she started to relax.  At the same time I still tried to ask her to do things and to think and to follow the feel that I offered her and to keep her feet moving so that she learnt to work and relax whilst her feet were moving and remain focused whilst the whip was touching her and also being cracked.  She didn’t like the whip at all; but she did well and at the end of the lesson she stood still whilst I cracked it.  I was very pleased with that.



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If you have a little Shetland like this my advice is to treat them like a big horse: it is very easy to be all over them; it’s easy to get a kid on them and to lead them around but we still need to treat them like a big horse and we need to build their trust in people.  I think some people treat them a little bit like dogs but this horse is a very soft kind little horse and is just very frightened, I don’t know if there is a history behind it or whatever but the basics of understanding that pressure is an okay thing is something that she doesn’t understand so as soon as you apply some pressure or something happens, she gets worried and I think she has a certain worry about people.  She is frightened of people but once she trusts somebody she feels safe around them; but as soon as that person applies energy or something new she loses trust and runs away quite quickly. So it is important that you not only build trust with people but build trust AND give your Shetland little jobs to do that require a little bit of energy and introduce things whilst they are working, don’t desensitise them to things so that they stand there rigid whilst you do things like flap bags; it is more about introducing things while you are working, and while you are asking them to do things.

They will follow leadership and put trust in leadership.  If something happens out in the paddock that you can’t control then if your horse feels happy and safe around you things are less likely to become dangerous. If they do worry, it is much easier to re-position their focus to take their worry away.

Mark Langley