GiWaNi Pony Boy
by Marilyn Short

For the first time, GaWaNi Pony Boy will hold a “gathering” in Texas. Pony is one of the worlds most sought after and respected, trainers and animal behaviourist. His gatherings focus on Relationship Training® or what he defines as “using the horses natural understanding of horse relationships to better our riding and training efforts.” Pony, as he prefers to be called, credits horses and elders of different tribal backgrounds for teaching him some of the “old ways” concerning horse training.

Pony was raised with horses, but they were mainly pets for used for occasional trail riding. He started riding at age 7, and over the years participated in 4-H. Although he never took a riding lesson or attended a horse training seminar or clinic, Pony and a natural ability and became proficient in both riding and teaching.

Prior to training horses professionally in 1993, Pony worked in a pet store, at the ASPCA, a vet clinic, animal rescue league and also taught History, which helped him develop his skills as an animal behaviourist and teacher. He also traveled with a traditional Native American drum group for three years. The performances took him around the country where he searched out elders in the tribes he visited learning their ancient tribal horse training methods.

Pony first developed Native American Horsemanship® (NAH), taking years to research the history of how Native Americans utilized their horses in North America. “NAH is different from other training,” said Pony, “Native Americans have traditionally worked within the nature of the horse, rather than to try to make the horse conform to human standards.”
For his NAH program, Pony dresses in traditional Plains Indian dress, and includes weapons, traditional storytelling, lodge (tipi) construction and tribal melodies. This broad-reaching program entertains all age groups, not only in the United States, but is extremely popular in Europe.

In his early days of training, Pony used common sense and the trial and error method. When he encountered a problem he couldn’t figure out, he would consult with tribal elders who were versed in the “old ways” of horsemanship. It was from these traditional Native techniques that Pony created and developed his Relationship Training® (RT) method.

Pony starting teaching and touring with NAH and RT in 1996, and has booked almost solidly ever since. Pony will hold a Relationship Training® gathering at K Bar M Equestrian Center, just outside of Waring, Texas this month. Pony prefers to hold gatherings for NAH and RT versus a clinic or seminar because they are a bit more personal and intensive.
Relationship Training® is based upon the horse and rider building a relationship of trust and respect which results in a harmonious relationship. In his RT gatherings, Pony trains horse owners using examples of horse relationships versus human relationships and places the emphasis on the “relationship” between horse and rider versus the “results” of the training.

During RT Pony discussed the foundation exercises that every horse and rider should be able to perform prior to moving into any specific style or discipline of riding. This method not only works well with starting colts, but is very effective in diagnosing and correcting problems that the horse and rider may be experiencing. RT exercises focus on the building a strong relationship between horse and rider naturally and in a non-rushed fashion. Pony’s exercises are geared toward the owner learning how to work with their own horses. Native Americans believed they were charged with the stewardship of the earth and its animals, they did not believe that they were to rule, subdue, or preside over the animals.

It is very important for you as the horse owner, to be the leader your horse is looking for. In the wild where there are the hunters and the hunted, the hunted animals are also herd animals. In the herd, there are always challenges between the herd members to determine the pecking order of leadership. Developing the status of leader between horse and rider is also a constant challenge.

Pony states that there is only one thing that stands between the horse and rider performing as one – communication. If the communication is there, the horse and rider can do anything together. Communicating doesn’t mean you teach the horse by punishing the horse. Horses have incredible memories and their reward for performing a task correctly is nothing more than not being punished. This doesn’t mean that should your horse not want to move that you kick harder, or use a riding crop to communicate your desire to go forward.

Pony believes that one of the most critical ways to establish communication and trust is to spend time with your horse. In RT, the time spent with your horse is not feeding, working in the barn, grooming or riding. Pony suggests spending a day with your horse – whether it be hand grazing, taking a while, or hanging out in the pasture are opportunities to deepen the relationship with your horse.

Most horse owners these days don’t have the time to spend an entire day just hanging out or watching their horse react with the herd. “Spend as much time as you can with your horse,” said Pony. “some people believe they don’t have the time to spend just hanging out with their horse. If that’s the case then maybe you should trade your horse in for a tractor.”
Since horses are the hunted, they are aware of their surroundings at all times. This also means they are also aware of you whether you are in their pasture or on their back. The horse can also recognize that variations in your weight and balance may mean turn, stop, or switch leads.

In Pony’s RT gatherings he explains verbal, physical and focal as ways of conveying messages to the horse. Verbal commands are used when you wish to communicate urgent information to your horse. Physical messaging can be the shifting of weight or leg cues. Focus is focusing on a point where you wish to go or what you want the horse go do.
Pony’s primary concern is that individuals are able to perform all of the covered topics and exercises when they leave a gathering.

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