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.
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.