The World of Living with Horses

For The Love of Horses: Patience and a Drugstore Pony

By Caroline Invicta Stevenson

I was 3 years old when I discovered the drugstore pony.

I was fortunate to have a loving nanny and we walked everywhere in what was then a peaceful Beverly Hills. I was still tethered to her wrist by a leash attached to a pale blue leather harness. She walked, I pranced – even in the rain, sheltered by a huge black umbrella. I had started to whinny and snort by then, pretending to be a horse tugging against the reins, in my case the harness!

One day, we turned a corner and there, right in front of a drugstore, was a brightly painted steel pony. Wow! What luck. Nanny gave up some coins and I spent a glorious few minutes rocking, snorting and whinnying in the steel pony’s voice as we shared our glee. All too soon my ride became slower and slower, until we came to a full stop. Oh, the frustration. I stammered my rage through the stutter I had in those days – to no avail. I tried kicking, flailing my arms and jumping up and down in the saddle. Nothing, nada, zippo.

As a teacher I see riders who remind me of those times suffering from “Drugstore Pony Syndrome.” Frustrated when their horses don’t move or are just plain pokey, they lift their hands up and down, move their seat back and forth or push the reins forward while flapping them at their horse’s face. Try this on a hard-to-move horse and he’ll be at a deader-than-dead stop looking back at you to see what’s wrong.

When trying to help a rider in this situation I ask, “What exactly do you want your horse to do? Why are you moving all over the place?” I of course get a variety of answers, but will share some of my favorites: ”I’m driving him forward with my seat.” I suggest they save that seat for the car. “I’m kicking him and moving him forward with my legs and hands.” I ask, “Is he responding?”

You, as a rider, must above all be patient and still while communicating. Your thoughts must first go from your brain, to your body and then to your horse’s brain and to his much bigger and stronger body. Patience and consistent repetition is what will help your horse understand what you want and make him perform better for you.

If you are holding 5 pounds of pressure in your hands and reins, you must push at least 5-and-a-half pounds with your legs. Keeping your horse in front of your leg is paramount. Your hands must be steady and follow in the straight line between your horse’s mouth and your elbow.

These life experiences and the tips I share with you are what I have found helpful in my day-to-day training. I hope that you’ll tell me whether and how you find them useful in your life with horses.

NEXT: My first experience on a real horse


Caroline Invicta Stevenson

My career has taken me from the world of thoroughbred racing to the training of equine movie stars, with many stops in between. I designed several major equestrian centers in the Southwest. Most recently I was responsible for the day-to-day running of Las Campanas, a Santa Fe, NM facility I designed that became a benchmark for top equine centers nationwide. Today, I oversee, teach and train with my daughter, Sarah, at Invicta Farms in Nambe, New Mexico -- a full-service hunter-jumper barn.

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