How to Build Trust With My Shetland Pony

Updated November 21, 2016

Ponies, which are horses less than 14 hands (at 4 inches per hand) high, live in a hierarchical culture as do all horses. They search for an authentic leader, one that makes good decisions and keeps the others safe. You become this leader when you are with a pony; this role is especially important when you are working with the often stubborn Shetland pony. Assume this role by keeping the pony safe and by using confident body language and posture and by spending time--at least 5 days a week--with your pony. Ponies trust such a person in this herd of two, and your Shetland pony will be easier to work with if he trusts you.

Feed the pony a treat, such as a carrot or handful of sweet feed, when he comes in from the pasture. Use the treat as a draw, and do not use as a bribe or give too many sugary treats, sticking instead to apples and carrots as much as possible. Hand out another treat before you turn the pony back out to pasture.

Spend time with the pony. Stand with him, read a book, or sit beside him as he eats. Brush and groom the pony and discover where he likes most to be scratched. The more time you spend with your pony, the better your relationship will be.

Use the halter--a soft rope one is most comfortable--and lead the pony on walks. Be sure to push the pony's comfort level; for example, ask him to pass scary objects, go over bridges, pass flags and cross puddles. Trust builds as the pony starts to see that you will not lead him into danger or get him hurt.

Ride or drive the pony (if he is trained). Use clear signals, and never use harsh words or rough pulls on the bit.

Use appropriate body language, the primary means for equines, to communicate with the pony. Stand tall and move confidently, but slowly, and stay calm. Use a firm but quiet voice.


Children never should attempt to train a pony or to handle one without adult instruction. Never strike or bully the pony. Do not use treats to bribe the pony; this does not build trust and can lead to aggression or disrespectful behaviour from the pony.


Never leave a child and a pony to work together unsupervised. Poor pony behaviour can emerge from neglect, awkward or fearful handling, or unskilled handling.

Things You'll Need

  • Rope halter
  • Lead rope
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