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When Little Ponies
Become Big Bullies


About five years ago I rescued a pint size pony that is extremely aggressive. She came to the rescue after a well intentioned woman bought her from a dealer. She felt badly because the pony showed signs of obvious abuse (she required surgery to repair a human inflicted wound), BUT time spent with this pony has lead me to believe that she was spoiled rotten at one time. She is extremely well trained under saddle and in harness, and with behavior unchecked, someone's sweet little pet became aggressive and dominant. Over time, and in and out of different barns, people chose to responded with abuse. She had injured two people at the previous barn, but this was partially explained when I watched this miniature tank (she under 10 hands but built like a cob) drag this experienced horse person out of the trailer and across the barn yard. Soooo ..... I thought, no problem, with consistency and firmness this will be no problem. Wrong!

Well, we have made progress and she has never hurt anyone here, but she still doesn't prick her ears when she sees me coming. I turn her out with the two mares as they are quick to put her in her place. She cannot go out with the two geldings: they literally go out of their way to run her down. The girls flip their heads and that pony jumps, but I guess she just doesn't respect the boys enough, because I have never seen horses expend so much energy without provocation - they just keep chasing her with ears pinned and teeth bared. (At the last barn she took over the pony herd and would not let anyone enter the field to get the other ponies.) She no longer goes out of her way to attack the dogs, but pretty much ignores them. She doesn't charge the fence line in an effort to eat the unsuspecting people on the other side - at least not too often. I can do anything with her and tolerate nothing: she has never kicked or bitten me. But, she still tries to defend her stall, pin her ears when I walk past her in the field, etc, etc. I always respond to these overtures by entering her space like the mares would and she scurries away, turns and pricks her ears at me. I rule over her food bowl, and she gets nothing until she steps back, relaxes and pricks her ears. We have been going through this dance for five years and it just keeps going on and on. By the way, haltering her changes her entire demeanor - much more submissive.

Many times ponies get a little testy because they are "trained" by giants who overpower and overload them during their training. They often develop a "do unto others first" attitude.

Once the halter has been applied it becomes a little like the bully in the school yard who has been punched square in the eye by someone before he is able to strike first. Once punched, or put in his place, the bully respects the more capable bully.

You have demonstrated to her, along with the mares - and the geldings in their own "let's get her before she gets us" way - that you will not be bullied and everything she has tried with you has gotten her nowhere. She has used all her tricks with you and the bigger horses.

While you have taught her you will not be messed with, I'm not so sure you have been able to show her where she falls in your pecking order. We call it giving a sense of place. More about this later...

But, if this girl detects a note of uncertainty in your body language, she is all over you. There are people (including my mother) who cannot get near her. This group includes children and I now have 4 year old twins. They can do anything with the other horses but not the pony. I halter her and put her on cross ties for them to groom, but am so worried about her getting them in the face. One time, with me standing just a few feet away, she went -mouth open and teeth bared- for my daughter's face. I couldn't physically reach her, but yelled her name and she stopped immediately. I cannot sacrifice the well being of my children for this pony, but feel as though I am her last chance. Her behavior, even when it is not an imminent threat to my children, limits their enjoyment of the barn ... and I cannot stop worrying. Also, I care about her: you cannot take care of an animal (no matter how miserable) day in and day out without feeling responsible for that animal. But, I feel as though I have been lucky so far and can no longer risk my children being hurt.

Horses and ponies are the world's greatest mind readers. They will give you exactly what you expect from them. If you are the least bit uncertain they will pick up on that like a lint lizard on a belly button.

If you can get the people who are afraid of her to act like you do around her she will respect them as well. If they take a longe whip as a walking stick at the ready and walk by her and she makes for them, they need to loudly demand, "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE??!!" and start lighting her up as soon as she gets within range. A couple times of that, if it takes that much, and she'll get the idea.

I also would put her through the herd dynamics procedure I use to develop a herd leader / follower relationship with a horse. It gives the horse a sense of place in that it teaches the horse how to get along with those around it. Yes, it works on ponies (and mules, but not donks and burros, I don't think they ever heard of me). For a free text copy of this procedure send an email to and I'll send you a response telling you some things I want you to know AND where on the Net to find the procedure. (Click Here To Email For A Copy)

I guess my question is this: I have made the pony respect me, but how can I make her respect all other people. Is it human by human, like horse by horse in a herd, with two animals working out the order of dominance for themselves. And if that is the case, how can I make a 20 year old pony respect a 4 year old child? And will it ever be a safe situation?

As I said earlier, you make her respect them the way she does you by making them do what you do. Human by human? Yes, and no. Each human needs to work it out with her IF either party has some doubts. I can guarantee you she probably wouldn't give me any trouble from the get go because I have no doubts and convey that to horses.

As far as the 4 year old children go, I personally wouldn't allow children that young to be around any horses unless I was close enough to take the bullet. But that's just me. I've seen the damage even the most trustworthy of horses can do unexpectedly. If the children were a little older, 7 or 8, they could whip her into shape pretty quickly.

I have several DVDs available dealing with connection aggression respect issues. You can find my DVD inventory at

Thank you for your time.

My best to you,

Click here to check out my very reasonably priced DVD inventory covering many of the subjects featured on my site's pages in greater depth.

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