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Lessons From Lesson Horses: Chapter 8
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Lessons From Lesson Horses: Chapter 8

Meet Tammy, the cutest and sometimes most persnickety little-spotted and roan pony mare that you ever did see.

Where Did She Come From?

Tammy came from the New Holland Horse Auction. My friend Brendon was there and on the lookout for good pony ride prospects. He came home with Tammy, and a couple others. Long story short, Tammy ended up coming home with me.

Where Did Her Name Come From?

My friend, strange as it may seem, names all his mare ponies Tammy, and all his gelding ponies Tiny. So, seeing that she is a mare, she was named Tammy. There is no other great story behind it. Initially, I was just leasing her for the fall pony ride season, so she wasn't technically mine and changing her name wasn't an option really.

At the end of the season, when we decided we wanted her to stick around, we bought her from Brendon, and the name Tammy stuck because nobody could seem to come up with anything more exciting. So, Tammy, it stayed.

Lesson #1

Tammy appears to be an Appaloosa or maybe a P.O.A ..... she has the spots, the roan, the speckling around her eyes and nose. She is medium size about 13.2 hands probably. I'm convinced, though, that she is not purebred anything. She has to be mixed with something gaited somewhere along the line.

You see, when Tammy walks and canters, she looks perfectly normal. Sometimes she even trots normally. Not always, though. Sometimes when she trots, she looks like a gaited horse. We see it a lot of times if she breaks from a fast trot to a canter or if she's being really slow when is she first starts trotting.

Tammy tends to like to go with her head up in the air but understands how to collect and go in a frame when told to by a more advanced rider. When ridden like that, we don't see the weird gaited looking trot at all.

It is not that she is lame, because it isn't that she is favoring one leg or another. Instead, she carries her weight evenly on all four legs and shows no signs of soreness in the body anywhere else. It is just how she is! I have asked multiple opinions and everyone agrees that it is just her natural gait, that she is not in pain of any kind.

Lesson number 1 is that if you find a nice pony, that is sound and kid safe, don't let a little thing like a strange gait keep you from getting them and using them in your program. Safe and reliable is the most important thing. As long as you aren't planning on showing, it won't cause any problems in the lesson program or pony rides.

Lesson #2

Tammy is a mare that loves the geldings. It is like she comes into heat immediately as soon as she sees a gelding. She will literally stand sideways with her back under the crosstie to get her hind end toward a gelding to try and get some attention.

She is turned out in the field with all mares and one gelding. The gelding in her field is not interested in the girls at all, so she ignores him. In the barn aisle, though, when the geldings in the stalls stare at her while she is tacked up, she will do anything possible to get close to them, making it sometimes hard to groom and tack her while she wiggles.

Lesson number 2 is that just when you think you have thought of every lesson safety scenario and have it figured out, another one will pop up. Tammy is by no means unsafe in the barn with the kids. It just makes for a lot smoother grooming and tacking up if she is standing next to a mare's stall instead of geldings. If you have others tied near her, she will be cool as a cucumber if surrounded by mares. With geldings, she will be doing whatever she possibly can to get close to them!

Lesson #3

Tammy was purchased to be a pony ride pony. She is a great size for it, not too big or too small. Generally speaking, she is not easily spooked.

Tammy is a forward moving pony. For a small pony, she takes long strides, so when she is being led the pony walker really has to work hard at being assertive and not letting her get ahead of them.

Tammy knows her manners, and if her handler insists that she use them, she is a doll of a pony ride pony. Give her an inch though and she will take a mile.

Lesson number 3 is the importance of the pony walkers knowing how to properly lead the pony, and that they always have to pay attention, all the time. Tammy notices if her walker isn't paying attention and she will do things like getting to the end of the ride where she should stop, and the walker will stop and she just keeps on going.

Not that she is going anywhere, but then the handler has to turn her in a circle, which can make it hard for the little kid up there to balance or the parent walking next to them to not get their feet stepped on.

The person who is chosen to be Tammy's pony walker needs to be someone who is paying attention and making sure that she is minding her manners all the time. Since just like a lot of other ponies, give them an inch and they will take a mile.

Some of our pony ride ponies are so bored and sleepy that they practically stop for a kid to be put on, walk a circle and then stop by themselves. For the less assertive or experienced handlers, they should walk those ponies. Tammy needs someone who is going to remind her that she is there with a job to do.

Lesson #4

Unfortunately, lesson number 4 is that sometimes, as our dear friend would have said: "you just have to have a come-to-Jesus discussion with them". Meaning, you have to have a hard talk on a serious subject. With a pony, a come-to-Jesus discussion is a firm reminder of who is in charge and what is expected of them.

Tammy has had a few come to Jesus-talks with us since we have had her. She doesn't have much fight in her though. She basically just tests boundaries with new people. Then it all depends on how the person handles her. If they correct her right away, she will be just fine. If they let her do what she wants, then she has to get handed over to someone who is more experienced where we have a come to Jesus about what is expected of her. Tammy knows immediately when she is about to have one of those talks and usually gets back to acting mannerly in no time.

I'm not talking about beating her into submission or anything. Just reminding her to respect personal space. Stop when the walker stops, and to stand quietly when it's time to mount and dismount pony riders, all of which can be done fairly quickly using firm assertive groundwork. Tammy is so perceptive that she will sometimes begin to act better immediately when the leadline is handed to someone who she knows is qualified to hold a come-to-Jesus meeting.

Lesson #5

Lesson number 5 I really learned from all my pony ride ponies, but Tammy was there that day struggling to behave, which is why I associate it with her.

Our pony ride ponies are as quiet and reliable as we can find. Some of the places we take them to are insane. Festivals, backyard parties, loud community events. Places that a prey animal with a flight instinct is going to struggle to handle.

This particular event was intense. There was a rock climbing wall that was so close that when the kids hit the top and rappeled down, they swung out and over our rope into our pony ride area.

There was a stage with different bands playing that didn't have their speakers set up well, and the sound was coming right at us, hitting a privacy fence behind us, and bouncing back through our area again, and it was LOUD!

There were gymnastics kids and karate students doing demonstrations on one side, flipping around and being loud, and exceptionally loud cheering parents.

Basically, it was any horses worst nightmare. Lesson #5 is that sometimes no matter how mad your customers might get, you just have to stop giving rides and take a break until things calm down. The ponies were terrified of their environment and we had no place to take them away from the chaos. For the safety of the ponies, kids riding, and the handlers, we had to stop giving rides for a while until things calmed down.

It is amazing that the ponies did as well as they did that day, considering the circumstances. It was a stressful day for sure, both for the staff from the farm and the ponies. It was a good reminder though that even when you are on the job site working, no matter what, when it comes to kids and horses, safety comes first.

Lesson #6

This sort of goes along with the other article I wrote about the problem with ponies and how sometimes maintaining their good behavior is hard since the little kids who are the correct size to ride them aren't skilled or confident enough to make them listen.

In the course of time since we have had her, Tammy has always been a pony ride pony. That is why we bought her. We have used her in lessons some too. The kids either really like her or really don't like her since she is forward moving.

She is not dirty or mean-tempered at all. She is just a typical pony and if she thinks she can get away with something she will. With that being said, there have been times when Tammy has no pulled her weight in the lesson program.

I was reminded last week what a great thing it is for the more skilled riders to get on and ride the ponies every now and again. Even if they are too big! One of my students rode Tammy in her lesson on Friday since her horse was lame.

Not only was it great for the pony to be ridden well for a change (not that the little kids can help making mistakes while they are learning, but you know what I mean). It was also good for my student to ride an unfamiliar pony. She did a great job with her and I could tell it gave her a boost of confidence that she could be so successful on a pony she wasn't familiar with. She was glad for the opportunity.

Lesson #6 is that I need to give the dedicated students who want to learn more opportunities to do so. By doing things like schooling ponies like Tammy and other things that benefit both the horses as much as the kids who are riding them.

I can still remember the first time I was given an opportunity to ride in a situation like that, where I got to feel like I was using my skills to help "train" the horse. I remember it because it really influenced me as a rider, even to this day. I was grateful for that opportunity, It made me feel good about myself and help build my confidence, which I did not have much of as a young rider. I now am in a position to give my students those type of opportunities, and I should do it more often.

Lesson #7

Lesson number 7 is that I (we) need to do a better job at making sure that all our horses and ponies are being used and in a regular program all the time.

Part of the reason that Tammy has a hard time when she first comes out to give pony rides is that, since she wasn't ridden a ton in summer camp, she was out of the routine and out of shape.

Not that anyone on my farm is ignored or not taken care of, they certainly aren't. The ponies that primarily do pony rides, though, do tend to get left out of the program for the rest of the year. So, of course, they aren't going to want to go back to work again!

I need to be more responsible and keep them all working in the program in some capacity all year long. It will make things smoother and easier for both the handlers and the ponies.

What Tammy Has Taught Me

Tammy has taught me that it is possible for some ponies to do both lessons and pony rides if kept in the right program. She has taught me the importance of making sure my pony walkers understand how to handle the ponies, to keep them respectful and mannerly. She reminded me on Friday of that feeling of being the kid that longs for any opportunity she can get to ride. I think we all need to be reminded of that feeling from time to time. It is easy when you watch kids ride day in and day out to forget what it feels to be horse crazy. Tammy reminded me of this, and I'm grateful for that.

She also reminds us all that, sometimes, you just have to have a come-to-Jesus discussion and get your act back together!

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