Pony or Horse?

By Terry Golson

Yesterday in my lesson I learned a new term: hony. Tonka is a hony. Horse + pony = hony.

I’ve never measured Tonka with an accurate stick, but the best guess is that he’s 14.3 hands (a hand is four inches, and you measure from the ground to the top of the withers) which makes Tonka one inch bigger than a pony. This has implications when riding a line of jumps. The distance between jumps in the hunter ring is standardized. For my lesson yesterday, the jumps in the outside ring were set up so that a horse would take five strides between them. A pony six. Steph, my trainer, says that Tonka is a hony, so he is capable of doing either. A lot depends on how big Tonka jumps the first jump, how forward he’s moving, how straight he is on the line, and what I’m doing on top of him. Because Tonka is a hony, (and athletic) it’s easy for him to change up his strides. Because of my inexperience, instead of doing either five even large strides, or six steady short ones, sometimes Tonka mixes up the big and small in one line. The result can be an awkward vertical takeoff, or a jump that is too big and flat.

Having an eye for distances is an acquired skill that takes years of experience to develop. I’ve had fewer than 20 jump lessons, so when I land after one jump I don’t know how many strides there will be until the next. Steph is trying to teach me to see the distance. Yesterday she said we’d practice, first doing it pony stride and then horse.

In trying to keep Tonka together to do the six strides, I relied on my years of riding experience. Which has been in the dressage ring. Where communicating through the seat is paramount.


Like the well-trained dressage rider that I am, I thought that I to condense Tonka’s strides between jumps that I needed to sit to use my seat to communicate speed, and to contain his energy through my hands. Tonka isn’t going in a dressage frame here, and I’m not upright, but I am blocking his forward movement with my seat. My hands are giving, but are close to me just in front of his withers.


I can ride like this, get the correct number of strides in, and not yank on Tonka’s mouth over the jump, but it’s not ideal. Because my hands started too far back, I’m not able to release fully. Tonka is tight over this jump.


Steph explained that I had to do the opposite of what I’d been trained to do as a dressage rider. I had to fold my body at the hip joint, keep my butt out of the saddle, and send my hands forward. Even when I wanted a pony stride!


But to get the point across, she told me go ride the line in a horse stride.

I got up out of the saddle. I put my hands forward. This made Tonka happy.


I didn’t interfere with him over the fence. Do you see how his nose is further out?


Because of that fold and my more forward hands, I can stay balanced and over his center of gravity on the way down.


Here’s the landing.


Which is way better than what I was doing before I let go of my dressage seat and lost my fear of the fold. Here’s what it looked like before the fix.


You can understand why Tonka, having been allowed to go light and forward into the jump, and then jump big, with a perfect bascule, and land unencumbered, was so pleased that he decided to do a happy dance. A couple of strides after the landing he ducked down to buck in play. I put a quick stop to that so he leapt up in front. (You know how you’re told to keep your heels down? This is why. When your horse cuts a dance move like this, those heels down keep you in balance and in the tack.)


I sent Tonka forward into a canter up the long side, and then we stopped by Steph. She told Tonka what a brilliant boy he is.

And then we did the line again. This time without the bouncy celebration at the end!

I like the idea of having a hony, which gives me a range of strides to utilize on a course. However, Tonka has something to say about that. As far as he’s concerned, he’s a horse all the way. He wants to go big on the ground and big in the air, and he’d appreciate it if I rode him like the animal of stature that he is.

I’ll try, Tonka!

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