ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – For American Indians of the historic Great Plains, the horse was more than just a mode of transportation. The horse was a symbol of wealth, a bartering tool, a hunting partner, a guide, a companion and a friend.
“Native American riders, who only had access to horses for 150-200 years, did one thing better than most, thereby becoming the greatest horsemen this continent has ever seen – they viewed their horses as guides and they listened to their horses,” said 37-year-old horseman, teacher and author GaWaNi Pony Boy in his 1998 book “Horse Follow Closely, Native American Horsemanship(TM),” published by BowTie Press.
GaWaNi Pony Boy has earned a name for himself in the horsemanship world. He and his 11-year-old equine partner, Kola, have traveled to schools, universities and equine events providing training clinics for the past 10 years. “Kola is like a brother to me, not the romantic-sounding ‘brother’ used by people who have a common human bond, but really like a brother. We argue, we hold grudges against each other and we are best friends,” said Pony.
He also plans to open the PonyBoy Learning Center this spring in St. Augustine, Fla. “It is a horse resort centered around education and understanding of horses. It is a place to study horsemanship or a place to vacation with horses,” said Pony in a Dec. 27 interview with Indian Country Today.
Pony is not only recognized throughout the country as an authority on horsemanship but is also considered an innovative educator in the field of American Indian history. “My grandfather encouraged me to tour with a Native drum group. We traveled all over the country, performing traditional music and dance at fairs and expositions. But more importantly, I lived with these men, many of whom were in their seventies, and I listened every day to their wonderful stories. It created within me a burning desire to learn more of the traditional ways. And I felt a responsibility to share that knowledge with others, to pass those traditions down,” said Pony in a question and answer session with his publisher.
Pony, a mixed-blood Tsa-la-gi (Cherokee), did not learn horsemanship from formal classes. Rather, he learned through trial-and-error and by questioning respected tribal elders. Pony took the advice of the elders, combined it with his own experience and formed his own teaching method trademarked Relationship Training(TM).
Pony’s training methods may sound like a lot of new-age shamanism to people raised with a “cowboy” mentality. Relationship Training(TM) is based on the Lakota philosophy of Hunkapi – I am related to everyone.
In order for horse and rider to function as a team – a herd of two – humans must earn the horse’s trust. Only by accepting the horse as an equal partner, listening to his needs and respecting his agenda can the human become the itancan, the leader of the herd.
“Horse, Follow Closely” is designed to help riders become itancan by explaining herd mentality, the reasons behind some of the horse’s behaviors and how to communicate in a way the horse can understand.
Pony focuses more on teaching the human how to communicate his desires to the horse than he does on teaching the horse to perform. After all – the horse already knows how to walk, run and jump. It is the person who needs to know how to tell the horse where to walk, how fast to run and how far to jump.
Pony follows through on these nebulous concepts by offering practical exercises and explaining the proper use of riding tools such as the bit. He also provides such down-to-earth lessons as how to minimize injury when you fall off.
“Horse, Follow Closely” is wonderful even if the reader has no intention of ever getting on a horse’s back. The 145-page hardcover book is printed on high-quality paper with full-color illustrations and breathtaking photographs by Gabriell Boiselle on nearly every page. The book also contains short stories and quotes that embody the American Indian mind-set.
Pony has released three other books with BowTie Press: “Time Well Spent” (1999), “Out of The Saddle” (2000) and “Of Women And Horses” (2001).
To learn more about Pony’s books and videos or to discover this year’s schedule of appearances, write to The Pony Boy Learning Center, P.O. Box 2110, St. Augustine, FL. 32085, phone (904) 824-6113 or visit www.ponyboy.com.
GaWaNi Pony Boy’s next few appearances will be at the Horse World Expos. He can be seen in Timonium, Md. on Jan. 16-19, in Edison, N.J. on Feb. 14-16 and in Harrisburg, Penn. from Feb. 28-March 2. Visit www.horseworldexpo.com for more information.
For more information about BowTie Press, a major publisher of “companion-animal books,” visit www.bowtiepress.com or write to Bow Tie Press, 3 Burroughs, Irvine, CA 92618.
You can purchase this book on Amazon at