I have always been fascinated with horse driving, but it is an expensive and exacting sport. Several years ago when we rescued a Friesian named D’Artagnan, I had a short foray into the horse driving discipline. He was enjoyable to drive, as long as you didn’t want to stop (stopping is actually very important for a driving horse). Still, we had a lot of fun, and he was able to continue to get exercise without being ridden.
Why Horse Driving?
Driving is great for some older horses who may not be able to carry a rider, but still have enough conditioning to pull a cart. Depending upon the cart or carriage, there is as little as five pounds on the saddle of the harness. It does require the horses push from their hind end, so horses with hock issues may not be a good fit for the discipline. More importantly, a driving horse has to have a good mind. When I first started driving, I had visions of driving a lot of Hanaeleh’s horses. To date, only two have been good candidates- either because they were physically or mentally capable of driving. It’s so important that a horse who is driven is both trustworthy and makes good decisions, and he should not spook or kick out. While it’s usually acceptable for horses to be a little silly under saddle, horses in harness should not; the reason being- the worst thing that will happen if your horse spooks is you will fall off. You can get hurt, and yes- you can even die (wear a helmet). The worst thing that will happen if a horse spooks while in harness is he can not only hurt or kill you, but can seriously maim other individuals as well. Yes, you should wear a helmet while driving as well as riding. Seriously, it’s both stupid and selfish not to.
Several months ago I thought about how I could keep Hershey entertained while also improving his conditioning. While I enjoy riding him for horse archery, I decided he might also enjoy learning how to drive.
The first thing we did was ground driving. I started him off with just a bridle and surcingle, and walked him around the arena, teaching him to listen just to the cues from the reins. Then, I put the harness on him, and hitched him up to an old tire. He dragged the tire around the arena for a few months, getting used to having to pull weight. I continued with the tire for another month, adding in the bridle with blinkers so he would be used to just getting the cues from my voice and through cues from the reins.
Some people think that blinkers prevent horses from seeing. That is not true. Blinkers prevent horses from seeing behind them, but they can still see in front without a problem. The reason we put blinkers on a driving horse is that it prevents them from being scared when they see the cart behind them. It does take some time for horses to get used to blinkers, however, so it’s important to gently introduce them.
Once Hershey was comfortable with the tire, we hitched him up to a cart I was borrowing from a friend. I had plans to teach Tamahome to drive, but he gets nervous when hitched, and it just did not seem to be a good fit for him. First we had Hershey pull the cart around without anyone in it- one person walked at his head while I controlled the reins on the ground. We did this for several weeks until he seemed comfortable, and then I got into the cart. I still had someone at his head while I was in the cart in order to help him feel confident for a while. He was doing well, but it was apparent that the cart was a little too small for him.
This past week my friend, Natalie, who has been a friend of Hanaeleh for over a decade, came down and traded out the smaller cart for a larger one (she owns both but is kind enough to let me borrow them). This Sunday we hitched Hershey up to the larger one. It has longer shafts, so it fits him a little better. We drove around the arena, getting him used to the new weight of the cart. Emily, my assistant trainer, walked in front of Hershey so he knew he wasn’t alone while I drove him. He was uncertain at first, but seemed to like the new cart. I think he especially liked the fact that it was a lot lighter!
We will continue to work with Hershey with the cart. Driving will help increase his topline and muscle tone, and will give him something to think about other than his obsession with Gypsy.