Charlie - Backing With Hesteyri Horses
"I sent my pony to Meg and Lauren to be backed. I was worried about everything! Sent lots of messages asking lots of questions before I sent him and they answered all my worries and concerns and made me feel at ease and I felt 100% sure that they were the right place to send my little blonde boy! Charlie settled quickly with them, I was sent updates on what he was doing and how he was doing. The girls really love the horses like their own and that made me so happy and knew he was in the best hands possible. Charlie is home and although my daughter is still working up the courage to ride him, (she’s sat on him and he’s perfect) he is so patient and I know he’s going to be an awesome pony. Thank you so much" ~ Charlie's owner.
When Charlie first arrived, he was an extremely spooky pony! In his first session, a walk in a bridle, a cat jumped off the garden wall and he bolted to the end of the leadrope, reared and span! We settled him again and carried on but he spooked at pretty much everything on the drive! We praised him for the things he didn’t spook at, rather than when he was worried. On the way home, we halted him on the driveway for a good ten minutes to chat to our neighbours and cuddled him the whole time. The difference in him when we moved off again was remarkable! We often stop to chat to people or just take in the scenery, particularly on youngsters. This teaches them that ‘work’ isn’t always hard and they are allowed down time, particularly when they’re doing a job well! It also means that should there be an emergency, like having to hop over a gate and rescue a sheep, the horses stand and wait for you. We receive a lot of compliments about how well our horses stand and it’s easier than some might think to train!
Charlie’s second session had him in the arena and going over a plank and water tray. He was worried to start with but we let him be at the end of the lead rope so that he could go around the objects if he wanted but he saw that we weren’t worried so gained his confidence. Every time he went over, he got a treat and the times he didn’t, we ignored and repeated. He ended up wandering over totally at liberty because he learned to trust in what we asked of him.
We use bribery a lot in our work, whether it’s ridden problems or learning from scratch. It still takes trust to get horses to go over or past scary things, they just also trust that they will be rewarded for it! This is why it is so important to be constant when training horses. They are so clever and they will get the measure of you quickly. We are always kind and firm, they know when they are doing well as they get treated and cuddled, they also learn when they’re not doing what is expected of them because their treat is withheld or they don’t get a break. Horses need a herd leader, when we work, we are taking them away from their herd so we have to lead, boundaries are very important to help the horse feel safe and secure with us. We can’t be afraid to ever say ‘no’ as being too soft can lead to an untrainable horse. Even mouthy ponies have incentives, usually scratches on the neck or a good cuddle!
Next, he had a long reining session over the same obstacles and was such a star! Long reining is so important to teach aids, particularly for a pony like Charlie, who’s first thought, would always be to spin! However, we nearly didn't go ahead with it as he was too small to fit in literally any equipment we owned! His owner had managed to get him a cub saddle but he needed a 7 inch girth which none of us could find anywhere! Our roller could almost have gone around him twice (but not quite or we could have just done that!). When long reining, you should always have the reins threaded through something to keep them from going over the horse's bum, we usually tie stirrups down to the girth but couldn't do that with Charlie! Instead, we agreed that if he had any mishaps at all, Meg would drop the lines straight away and Lauren would look after him. There were absolutely no mishaps and Charlie was so good and learned a lot!
Next, we had to get him used to a rider. He was so worried about it at the start of his session that he was spinning away from us whenever Lauren gave Meg a leg up. Meg was armed with grass to get him to turn his head the other way and realise that it was her on his back, not a lion. Because he's so tiny, we stopped legging up and Lauren just held him and cuddled him while Meg stood on the ground and leaned over. When he stopped worrying about that, we tried legging up again a few times and he was totally relaxed! We didn’t tell him off for having a natural fear, just did it again and again and showed him that there was nothing to worry about and that he could trust us! Feeding grass is great as it’s a longer reward, but we make sure that they never have a snack from the ground with a rider on board so don’t develop any naughty habits!
The next session, he was like a different pony, he had ended the previous session on a good note and then must have been thinking about it in the field! When Meg first leaned over, he stood like a rock so she wriggled about a bit and he was still laid back and happy! Meg climbed aboard and he didn't bat an eyelid!
We always back bareback. There are a few reasons for this:
Riding in no saddle is one less thing for a pony to have to adapt to, they can get used to the weight without having that on top of something else. We always get them used to tack first but the first rides are sans saddles!
One of our tag lines is #backednotbroken. That is not to say that we are against anyone using the word ‘broken’! It’s just there are still people out there who will ‘break’ the horse in by quashing the spirit of a flight animal. That is just not our way of doing things. We do enough groundwork that no horse who we have backed from scratch has ever bucked or reared with us. If they do, we haven’t done our first phase thoroughly enough and the horse is still worried. We’re strong riders and regularly jump and school bareback so we have good balance and sticky bums. If a horse throws a little buck, it won’t dislodge us but if a horse is flipping out and we need a saddle to stay on, we shouldn’t be on as the horse isn’t ready! That being said, we get a few problem horses in with failed backing attempts and sometimes we do have to solve them by riding out a few broncs!
Another reason for riding bareback right at the beginning is that there are people, like us, who enjoy riding horses bareback but a lot of horses worry about the change on their back and rear or buck, they don’t do so if it was the first thing they’ve ever known of a rider!
After the first ride, Charlie progressed really quickly, it wasn't long before he was off the lead rein and then he enjoyed his first trot and was a touch worried but perfectly behaved!
For his first canter, Lauren ran with Rowan and Charlie dropped straight into this gorgeous canter transition and floated along behind! Unfortunately, we only have helmet camera footage of him cantering but you can just about see the difference between gaits!
After his first canter, we started hacking him with bigger horses and totally on his own, as well as getting him used to being ridden in the arena.
He was a bit sharper in the arena to start with and span when we tried to get on but we settled him and left it after a calm walk.
The next time in the school, we took Rowan in with him and he relaxed and even had a little trot, before going it alone the following session and being nice and relaxed!
By the time his owner came to pick him up, Meg could ride him with no reins and flap her arms around on a hack and he didn't even bat an eyelid! He also had a rather entertaining hack with a herd of sheep running and leaping their way past him and he stood like a rock.
We couldn't be prouder of this little pony and the transformation he made!
Please Note: Meg is obviously too big for Charlie. However, he's a whole hand (4") shorter than his owner had originally thought, and there aren't many children out there who back ponies so it usually needs to be a small adult. Meg is well under 20% of Charlie's bodyweight (he was ideal weight), with tack and rider equipment and she is also well balanced and careful not to ever hurt the horses! If it was an option between Meg falling off or putting strain on the pony, she would have taken the fall!