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Starting a pony under saddle


“I have an 18 mo old colt and hope he’ll make a great kid pony in a few years. He’s currently 12.2 hh and 500lbs, so I don’t expect him to get very big. What can I do with him on the ground over the next few years to get him ready to ride? When the time comes to saddle and ride him, how do I go about that, with him being so small?”-Ariella G.

training a small pony to ride

My son Joshua, this pony was also trained to drive.

Great kids ponies can be worth their weight in gold…but not quite as easy to find. The challenge comes in training such a small steed. I like that you are already thinking about groundwork because so much can be accomplished there.

My first recommendation would be to do all the ‘standard’ groundwork that you saw me do in the Jac series plus any extra that occurs to you. Keep in mind that your goal is to have this pony trained for kids…so try to think like a kid. Kids do things that adults just don’t think of, like climbing the front of the stalls or riding a bike down the isle way. Your challenge is to think like a kid but correct like an adult. This means that you might think of something crazy a kid might do, but then break the training process down into steps.

Another thing I would highly recommend is training the pony to drive. Many great lessons happen during the cart training process that can directly carry over to riding. If you watch the Jac series you will see that I normally ground drive my colts. Breaking your colt to drive will have the same benefits, only better. One of the biggest drawbacks to ground driving is all the running around the handler has to do. Once your colt is trained to drive you will be more likely to continue the ‘driving’ lessons because riding in the cart is more fun than running behind him. A well trained driving horse, or pony, is soft and responsive to the bridle reins and the advantage for you is that it doesn’t require putting any weight on his back.

Groundwork, ground driving, ponying, and teaching him to pull a cart are all great things for creating a well trained pony without even mounting up. All of this preparation will make the transition to riding easier when he is grown and ready. The last challenge will be finding a small but experienced rider. Just because I say small doesn’t mean this needs to be a young person. I have met many ladies that were small enough to ride the pony you are describing.

It takes years of training to create a nice horse and it should take the same to create a great pony. The advantage of training your own will be that you will know him very well and will be able to prevent many of the problems that are common in ponies.

Horse training as a lifestyle: Thanksgiving on the road


I had the opportunity to speak to the students in the Equine Program at the University of Findlay last week. Many, if not all, of them are planning on a career of some sort involving horses. Years ago when I was a student there things were pretty much the same including the desire of many to become horse trainers.

The students were great, asked lots of questions and I found myself repeating one phrase frequently:

“Training horses is a lifestyle.”-Stacy Westfall

In many ways this can be seen as the perfect choice if you love horses. For others the reality of what it also means can come as a shock when you begin to

A photo of our Thanksgiving meal in our motorhome while headed to a horse show.

A photo of our Thanksgiving meal in our motorhome while headed to a horse show.

live it.

Training and riding the horses is the fun part but, remember, I said it was a lifestyle. This isn’t casual anymore. A lifestyle means that you will be ‘living’ this job choice in many cases seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Here is a photo of the Thanksgiving meal that we had in our motor home today. We are headed to Oklahoma City for the NRHA Futurity show that starts tomorrow. I have had the privilege of attending this show as a spectator and as a participant.  Horses showing in the Futurity began arriving two days ago. The show is always scheduled for this time of year and they even host an annual Thanksgiving Dinner right there at the fairgrounds. Unfortunately we left later than we had hoped to yesterday and won’t arrive until after the meal is over…hence the meal in the motorhome.

Giving up a traditional Thanksgiving, or at least modifying it, is just one example of this career path being a lifestyle choice. Even if you choose to skip showing there will still be the every day, twice a day, minimum need to feed and care for the horses that have been trusted to you. It isn’t a typical 40 hour per week job you can walk away from easily on your days off.

Most jobs involve some kind of lifestyle choice but some require more than others. Embracing this knowledge makes it easier to see a career choice from a different angle…as a lifestyle.


Video: Horse that falls down to avoid being ridden.


“Stacy Westfall , Have you seen this video? What would you do to fix this?”-Ashley N.

No, I hadn’t seen this video until you posted it here. It was an interesting watch and I think I will answer your question in two parts.

First, if the horse is laying down to avoid being ridden he has learned that there is a reward for lying down. The simplest answer is to either prevent the behavior that leads up to the horse going down or to make it uncomfortable for the horse to stay down. Tapping persistently until the horse chooses to stand up would be enough to make him think about getting up.

My issue with the video is that it looks like this horse was trained to lay down on purpose. I have seen horses trained ‘accidentally’ to lie down. One example of this was when I was in college and I saw a horse get dizzy while learning to spin like a reiner. All was fine during the spin but when the rider said ‘whoa’ and the horse stopped he started wobbling, lost his balance and chose to lie down. It was slow motion and no one got hurt…in fact the girl got off and laughed. Everyone laughed. The horse got a nice break and eventually stood up. Apparently the break was long enough because the next time the girl asked him to spin he started to…but then chose to lie down. Again she laughed and didn’t make him get up. Within a couple of days he would lay down every time she asked him to spin…then she stopped laughing.

The key difference with that horse and the one in the video is that the one in this video doesn’t lie down smoothly like a horse in a pasture would. Horses choosing to lay down usually look like…well, horses choosing to lay down. This one is unnaturally stiff. He does get smoother on the second time but he also backs into it which is also unusual unless trained.

This one looks like it was trained to bow on two knees and then had its head pulled to the side. Notice how stiff the horse is when it collapse to the ground. When is the last time you saw a horse lay down like that on its own? If this horse had thought of this on his own, the odds are he would be smoother. Even if it is trained he will get smoother with practice.

I have trained several horses to lay down. The first few I taught to bow and then lie down and they all had this stiff look shown in the video. I didn’t like the look and the horses had trouble connecting what I wanted so I changed my methods. Now my horses draw their legs together and choose to lay down very smooth the way they do naturally.

Once down most horses do tend to lay very still, almost stiff, when on their sides. I have never tried sticking a carrot in their mouth to see what they would do…but I think I will be buying a carrot and giving it a try with Newt, lol.

Who knows, maybe I am wrong. Maybe this horse did just start doing this stiff fall on his own. Stranger things have happened. Horses are certainly smart enough to connect the dots if they find an easy way out of work.


Why does my horse paw while eating grain?


“Help!! I just got my mare a year ago, and from day one, whenever I feed her grain, she picks up her front foot. She isn’t aggressive in any way, shape, or form. Has anyone ever seen any type of behavior like this? Eating grain is the only time she does it. Thanks!!”-Kelly S.

When I watch horses eat their ‘natural’ food source, grass, it is easy to see that they have to work a little to eat it.  If you watch a horse eat grass they pull, tear or rip it up.

If you give a young horse hay or grass from your hand they gather it in their lips and pull like they are going to tear it from the ground. As they get more experience they often learn that this isn’t necessary, but it does tend to be their first response. I have even seen horses that pull apart round bales seeming to prefer to eat hay that requires them to pull on it over the loose stuff on the ground. Not all do this and some horses are content to eat the loose hay on the ground.

Low corner feeder discourages pawing while eating grain.

Low corner feeder discourages pawing while eating grain.

My theory is that the grain is easy for them to pick up but easy isn’t what they were designed for. Some horses that are picky eaters are ok with nibbling but others seem to struggle with feeling satisfied by the method of feeding. There have been entire books written about the the pros and cons of feeding grain so I will save that topic for another day.

If the grain feeder is raised the pawing is generally more animated with the leg being lifted higher. If the grain is fed on the ground the horse tends to spread it out…and then nibble around for it.

In our barn we built low corner feeders with a concrete base that was ground level and the boards were about knee height. This eliminated almost 100% of pawing in all the horses because it is more difficult to paw with their heads down and the board in the way. Occasionally a new horse would paw and bump their leg into the board but either the board or the difficulty of the position discouraged pawing and they stopped.

My horses have free choice hay and the minimum about of grain necessary. I use a ration balancing feed that doesn’t require a large amount which makes it easier to digest and they tend to eat it and then return to their hay.

We have also noticed that the horses that we have that would normally paw while eating alone in their stalls don’t tend to exhibit this as much when out in a group. They seem to know that they had better spend more time eating and less time playing if they want to get their fair share.

Try experimenting with some of the things listed above and let me know how it goes.

Have a suggestion or thought? Leave it below.



What horsey items would be on your ‘must have’ list if you had to reduce?


The newest twist to our crazy adventure is the three horse bumper pull trailer Jesse bought yesterday. The plan is to leave Ohio this week and head to Oklahoma City to visit the NRHA Reining Futurity and see Jac (yah!). Then we are headed on to New Mexico, Arizona and California. We will return to the Mid-West in March for appearances and to attend The Road to the Horse.

Today was a minor repeat of the packing process we went through last January and February when we were moving out of our house. I completely underestimated the amount of time it would take to move from our six horse trailer to the smaller one. About half way through our almost eight hour day of reducing and repacking I declared, “In a few years when we settle down we are going to be hoarders!” On some days (like today) it seems that life would be more simple if I didn’t have to calculate the weight, shape and necessity of every item we have with us. That’s the tough part. The easy part is that once we leave on this four month mini-adventure, house keeping and organization will be simple.

Some stuff was easy to leave behind but I had to laugh, we will be traveling this leg of our journey with only two horses…yet we packed four saddle pads (color options) and four sets of leg wraps (some with knee protection and some without). What is the bare minimum you would need if you had two horses traveling around with you? What horsey items would be on your ‘must have’ list if you had to reduce?

new (used) horse trailer

There is more in the front dressing room, it took us all day to sort through what to keep and what to leave behind until March.

P.S.- The good news is that each time we repack it gets easier. Still tiring, but I guess it is like many other things…the more you practice the better you get at it!

…I’m gonna be an expert…