Pony Sunday: How to Exercise Three Mules at Once

Recently, my wife Julia and I exercised our small herd of three mules and one pony all at once. I thought you might enjoy a few photos of how we did it.

Three for the price of one: here, I’m riding mule Brick and leading Polly (L) and Cracker (R). We’re coming around a turn so everyone’s a little all over the show

Usually, when you think of saddle riding, you think of a person sitting in the saddle riding a horse or mule up the road. Or trail. Or arena. But there are times when it’s handy to ride one animal and lead another one – or many more. That’s called “ponying” – riding one horse and leading the other. In this post, I want to give you an idea of how to do this.

Why to Pony

There are lots of reasons you might want to ride a horse or mule and lead another. You might be on a long saddle voyage, like the time Julia and I rode from our farm in western North Carolina to Virginia and back.

On the road to Virginia: Julia is riding Dusty, who she borrowed from our great friend Ronald Hudson. Mule Polly, in the center, is carrying our pack saddle. Brick (R), is carrying my riding saddle (outside Creston, NC)
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The outbound track of our voyage. You can read Julia’s account at ConsideringAnimals.com or my thoughts on the first 100 miles right here.
Ponying Brick the last day of my 202 day mule journey from North Carolina to Idaho. I do a lot of ponying.

But ponying a horse or mule isn’t just for pack trips. You might be exercising polo ponies. Or rehabing a horse that’s been injured and needs light work without a lot of weight on its back. Maybe you’re leading a young child that’s young enough to ride by not steer. Or you might be legging up a race horse.

Or it might just be a beautiful, lazy Sunday, like today, where Julia and I wanted to go for a short ride around our hay field. We could have each ridden one animal and left the rest at home. Or we could just take them all out, as we usually do. So we just saddled two (Julia rode Pie, I rode Cracker), put halters on mules Brick and Cracker and headed out.

Too pretty a day to stay inside: a recent day up our mountain.

Together or side by side?

If you’re leading two animals, you can lead them both on the same side. This is the prefered way to do it when road riding, especially if the road shoulder is narrow. That way you can lead both animals you’re leading on the side away from traffic.

Heading home: the mules and I heading back to our cabin

Or, you can lead them on either side of your mount. For general, around the farm use, I prefer this method. It seems like the animals you’re leading have a slightly easier time walking either side of your mount.

Coming up through the hay field side by side

What to do With all That Rope

Riding one animal and leading two can quickly lead to tangles. In addition to holding your reins, you’ll have to deal with one or more lead ropes. There all kinds of ways to do this. I prefer to drape the lead rope of whatever animals I’m leading over the horn and tuck the loose end under my leg. This frees up my hands for steering, photographing and reading maps (when I’m on the road).

This is how I lead the animal on my right side. The rope goes over the saddle horn. The loose end goes under my leg. The friction of my leg holds it in place. In case of emergency, I can just lift my leg and the rope will pull free. NEVER tie the rope of the animal you’re leading around the saddle horn. In an emergency, you and your saddle can get dragged off the side of your mount.
The view from above. That’s mule Polly I’m leading.
If you manage one lead rope, you can manage two. Here, two lead ropes draped over my horn and under my leg. They’re crossed because I’m leading one mule on either side.
Maneuvering. With the ropes tidily sorted I can use both my hands to make small adjustments as needed.

End of the Ride

Okay, a few more pics from the end of our ride. After we got home we pulled our mounts’ gear and turned them out to graze.

Back at the barn: Brick hangs while we unsaddle Pie
Off with their boots: Julia taking the hoof boots of her pony Pie. If you’re curious about hoof boots and haven’t read it already, be sure to check out the Hoof Boot Report. It’s an in-depth account of spending a month and a half on the road with four different brands of hoof boots.
Oldies but besties: mule Polly and Snookie enjoying a snack and drink off our back porch.

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More ponying: here I’m riding Brick and ponying Cracker on my latest voyage through America (Sue Waddell photo)

I’d love to give you a heads up of my next book when it comes out. It’s called “Trash to Triumph” and is about my 2,200 miles saddle journey from North Carolina to Idaho. Just sign up for the RiverEarth.com Newsletter and I’ll give you a shout when it comes out. That link is right here.


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[…] other one. It’s great training for packing and also gets two animals exercised at one. Plus, it’s just plain fun. Heading out through the hayfield The prints she left behind. I can tell by how round they are that […]


[…] recently wrote a piece called Pony Sunday on how I took all three of my mules out for a spin all at once. I rode one, Brick, and lead the […]

Will McIntyre
3 years ago

Hey Bernie and Julia,
What a nifty explanation of ponying. Many long-time equestrians try to avoid it, but there are times when it is absolutely necessary. Nobody taught me. I learned by doing…and making mistakes like putting a bridle on the horse being led rather than a halter and a lead line. It’s great to see you out and about! We miss y’all and need to collect that free lunch I caused you to miss.

3 years ago

Getting twinges of homesteadsickness over here!


What!! No 12-hooves-in-the-air communal roll after untacking?
Were the 5 squashed opposums (opposi?) all convened on the banana when a dreadful incident occured? Or were some pealing off strips of street pizza? Lucky opposums are prolific breeders – numbers DO make of for absence of brains, as it turns out…


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