Should You Teach Your Horse How to Drive?
By Michele Cook
Driving horses is often associated with something from another era. After the advent of cars, there was no need for us to ride in horse-drawn carriages anymore.
We could hop in our cars and get there much faster than in a pony-powered wagon. While driving your horse to the grocery store or work might not be practical, teaching your horse to drive has some amazing benefits for you and your horse.
Photo by Michele Cook.
Spook Proof Your Horse
Last week I had the pleasure of going out driving with a friend of mine. He hooked his favorite welsh pony to a four-wheel cart and we set out to view the countryside. My friend teaches all of his horses to drive, he considers it part of their basic training, and after just a few miles, I understood why.
The rigging jingled and the cart rocked as we headed down the driveway onto the road. The pony kept going. A large feed truck zoomed by without a tap of the brake. The pony kept going. Four dogs jumped a fence and ran up to the pony barking and carrying on (and scared the bejesus out of me). The pony kept going. I think you get the idea. This pony was pulled from a field as a stud, gelded and trained just three months before we took our little drive.
Driving your horse gives you the opportunity to expose your horse to many different things that they wouldn’t see in the ring or on the trail. That exposure will help your horse trust you and teach him that not everything is a horse eating monster.
Steering and Voice Commands
When you ride a horse, you can use your hands, legs, seat, and weight to control your horse. When you are driving, you have only your hand and voice to control your horse. Teaching your horse to drive will greatly improve these two aids.
Many trainers use ground driving to improve these commands before getting on a horse for the first time. I can tell you from experience, steering is a nice thing to have on a young horse who isn’t quite sure what you are doing up there on top of him.
Photo by Michele Cook.
Getting Started Driving Your Horse
Ground driving is always a good place to start. You can use a plain bridle with the reins removed. For safety, use a surcingle and run your lines through the side loops to keep them from dragging on the ground (you can use two lunge lines if you don’t have a harness yet).
Start in a round pen or small paddock and position yourself behind and slightly to the inside of your horse. Ask him to walk forward with the command of your choice. You can use a cluck or a shake of the lines to encourage him. If he is sluggish, you can hold a carriage whip and give him a light pop on the butt to get him moving forward.
Once your horse is willing to walk and trot from the ground you can begin putting him in full harness and asking him to pull the shafts of a cart. If you have zero experience with driving a cart, this may be the point you will need a little help from someone more experienced. While driving isn’t as popular today as it was 100 years ago, there are still plenty of driving enthusiasts out there willing to help you out.
Before you start driving your horse there are a few precautions you need to take:
- Make sure your cart or carriage is in good working order. The brakes should hold their pressure and the wheels should turn freely.
- Have you farrier put on borium shoes if you plan on riding on the road. This will help keep your horse from slipping on the pavement.
- Check all harness parts for wear. It’s no fun to have a harness break while you are going down the road.
- Attach an orange triangle to the back of your cart to help people see you better. If you can find one that lights up, even better.
- Do not drive at night if your cart is not equipped with proper lighting.
Photo by Michele Cook.
Driving your horse is a great way to have some fun, train your horse up and meet your neighbors. Trust me, they will all come out to chat you up. There is just something about seeing a horse and cart go by that makes everyone want to talk to you. You also get the bonus of seeing the world in a brand new light, and of course, if the world as we know it comes to an end, you will have transportation and a way to plow up your land.
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