How to Train a Pony for a Cart

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Ponies excel at driving with proper training.
Ponies excel at driving with proper training. (Image: horse and cart image by Tom Davison from Fotolia.com)

Teaching your pony to drive can be a very rewarding experience for both you and your pony. Ponies are very intelligent and learn quickly. The keys to success are to never rush the training and to let the pony tell you when he's ready for the next step. There are no short cuts, and by taking the time to properly train your pony, you'll enjoy a safe, enjoyable driving experience. Your pony should have already mastered all basic groundwork skills before moving on to more advanced training.

Train your pony first to be handled from both the left and right side. This can be done by leading and grooming him from both sides. Teach your pony voice commands such as "Whoa," "Walk," "Trot," "Back" and "Canter." "Whoa" is one of the most important commands for a driving pony. He should immediately stop when he hears "Whoa!" You can use a cue such as a clucking or kissing noise to train him to increase his gait.

Once your pony has mastered these steps, get him used to wearing a driving bridle and harness. Leave the driving equipment on him for 30 minutes to start and gradually build up to an hour. Use lots of praise and petting to reassure him during training, and never leave him unattended while he's wearing a driving harness and bridle.

Tack your pony up with a bridle, harness and reins. Stand directly behind him with one rein in each hand, and ask him to move forward with either a voice command such as "Walk on" or a clucking sound. Ground-drive him straight ahead, and then use the left rein to gradually put pressure on the left side of his neck to train him to make a right turn. You may have to pull gently with the right rein until your pony understands how to neck-rein. Drive straight again, and then use the reins to put pressure on the right side of his neck to train your pony to turn left. During these exercises, ask your pony to "Whoa" and "Walk on" several times. These lessons should be done over the course of several weeks until your pony is comfortable with both the harness and commands.

Your last exercise should be to train your pony to back up. With the reins in hand, pull on both reins gently while giving your pony the command "Back up." Gradually work up to three or four steps backwards. Always make your pony go forward again after backing up.

Hitch your pony to a driving cart and let him get used to the feel of having weight behind him. Stand directly behind the cart, and ground-drive your pony forward. If he seems comfortable, continue driving forward. If he is stressed or agitated, stop and just let him sit with the cart attached. Once he's comfortable, continue to drive him with the cart on and practice walking, trotting, turning and backing. Initial training with the cart attached should be done for short periods, with gradual increases over several weeks. Once your pony has demonstrated that he's comfortable pulling the cart, you can get into the driver's seat and drive your pony from inside the cart.

Hitch the pony to the cart and begin to "finish-train" him. Finish-training involves fine-tuning all of the basic skills your pony has just learned, and it takes a lot of patience and repetition. For example, if your pony has trouble turning, then practice doing figure eights until he has mastered turning the cart. Vary your route so he can get used to driving in different surroundings.

Tips & Warnings

  • The average length of time to train a pony to drive is 30 days, but some ponies may take longer.
  • Use a kick strap on the harness when training new ponies.
  • Double-check tugs after hitching the cart to be sure they're secure.
  • Before driving your newly trained pony on busy roads, desensitize him to noise and fast movements.
  • Driving ponies can be dangerous, so it's best to always have someone else with you while driving. Likewise, always carry a knife in your pocket to cut the harness off in an emergency.

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