Some years ago I used to have people over to my farm and we would do group drives. Often we would start out in my little grass arena, do a nice warm up and then head out on the road. People would bring their seasoned driving horses all the way down to horses still pulling the travois.
One time this gal brought a middle aged miniature horse stallion that was pulling the travois. She had expressed a desire to possibly hitch him to a cart while she was at my place, if I was game and the stallion was being good. She told me that he had been pulling the travois for a while but there were some behaviors that had her wondering if he would be safe in the cart. So I told her bring him over and we would do whatever he needed!
Now, I had known this gal for a long time. My first miniature horse came from her farm. So I was familiar with her stallion. One thing I didn't know at the time was how long he had been pulling the travois. When they got to my place he did his normal stallion stuff. Some whinnying and pracing around, letting everyone know he had ARRIVED. We just walked him around and then harnessed him and ground drove him a little bit before attaching the travois to him.
She told me that he had been balking while pulling the travois as well as trying to spin and face her and backing up uncontrollably. Understandably, this all made her nervous to put him to the cart. I watched her ground drive him a bit and sure enough he did a few of the things she had been telling me about. (Isn't it nice when they act out while you are in a place to get help? At least then you don't seem like the crazy pony lady who has the nicest quietest pony that doesn't take a step wrong. LOL!) I asked her how long he had been pulling the travois and she said about 3 years.
Okay. 3 years is a loooong time to stay stuck in one place. Typically I find the ponies, horses and donkeys that I have trained pick this stuff up pretty quickly. If you don't find ways to keep things interesting, THEY WILL. That is exactly what happened with this little stallion. They had stalled out at the travois, so he was keeping it interesting. Coming up with his own ideas and making it seem that he was not ready for the cart. I have had ponies start this behavior as soon as 3 weeks after they start pulling the travois for the first time. This is exactly why I don't have a set time that I keep them in the travois. I like to mix it up, keep them learning and guessing a little and keep things interesting for all of us!
One thing I notice is they tend to get bored just walking and trotting for short distances. Unless you are a long distance runner, it's very hard to run along behind the travois so they get to trot for a mile or two, something they LOVE to do. Getting out and moving their legs is enjoyable to them and just walking, at our pace everywhere, gets boring very quickly. This is why I also sprinkle in obstacles, jumps, cantering on a circle, pulling the travois in the mountains and over trotting poles, to keep things interesting and keep them moving. (Of course we practice standing for different amounts of time when they are hitched to the travois but movement is the key to a nice stand.)
If things start falling apart, the pony starts getting particularly spooky or balky or just "naughty" think about how bored they may be - provided you haven't rushed them. Certainly 3 years of pulling the travois is a long long time to stay in one "step". And her stallion was letting her know that.
So, that day, I pulled my training cart out and we hitched him up! I drove him around the arena and he was perfect. She drove him around the arena and he was perfect. She took him out with the group and we drove down the road, trotting, and he was perfect! She was a little nervous so we kept it short and sweet and brought him back to my place while all was going smoothly. I think it was about 2 weeks later that she was hitching him with his daddy as a pair and driving them together. She was happy, he was happy and they drove many miles and did parades together for a long time.
So if you have been "stuck" in a rut for awhile consider taking that next step. Whatever that step may be! Your pony may surprise you (in a good way) and you will both be so happy to be moving forward.
The next post will be about taking a step back to help you move forward... everything in balance!