Harness Training Day 14

It really only has been since March 25 that I’ve been teaching Chewbacca to drive.  In only 14 days of working on it, I’ve got him pulling people around on a little plastic sled.  He seems to be doing well, but of course, miss complete lack of confidence that I am (given my history with any type of riding or training) I am still concerned that I’m going to do this wrong and make a mess of everything.  I have *never* trained a horse to do something new.  Never.

I guess technically I did teach Chewbacca to ride English when he’d only been a western horse, and taught him to jump to whatever quality I was able to accomplish.  I did teach my old buckskin Tate to direct rein and be an English horse, too.  What is it with me converting happy western into miserable English ones?  I have a bad omen with horses hanging around me, it’s my black cloud and follows me everywhere.

But Western-to-English conversion is simple, and even though the reining is different, it’s still riding, so it’s not really like I’m teaching a horse something new.  Riding is riding, and the horse really doesn’t care if you direct rein or neck rein, so long as he understands what you want.

Riding-to-driving conversion, though…. whole different story.  So I’m on pins and needles about taking Chewbacca to the next step – hitching to a vehicle (called putting to).

Last night I had a late night at the barn.  We were there till almost 9 working horses.  We picked up the trailer which is fixed and looks better than ever.  The guy pointed out some more problem areas with the trailer and recommends that we sell it and get something better.  I’ll do that.  But at least for now, I have a sturdy trailer that can haul the carts.

After that, we went out for a little jaunt with Luke and Dixie.  Just about a mile, nothing too major.  We went down the hill, up the hill, and back down the hill.  We took a visit to my friend up the street with her driving standardbred, but she wasn’t home.

Dixie is a little pain in the butt out on the roads.  She’s a damn near dead head in the arena, and I’ve got a girl driving her every week now who I’m teaching to drive, as she’s never done it before and has barely ridden too.  She’s taken to Dixie very well and is having a good time learning to drive.  In the arena, Dixie is a teacher.  Out on the trails, Dixie is pretty quiet and easy going.  On the street, though – whole different story, and you’d be surprised how strong a 36″ tall horse can get.  Hey, she weighs twice as much as me, so when she gets pulling, she can drag me.  On the streets, she’s kind of spooky and looky and basically just a little bit of a princessy-diva like brat.  She’s not exactly a stout and “ole reliable” road horse.  So I had a little bit of a time fighting with her on the street, and she’s not the least bit shy about jumping out into the middle of the road- real fun when traffic is trying to get around us.  haha.  It will be a while before Dixie’s little girl that’s driving her takes her out on the road.

But, anyway, where was I?  Oh yea, Chewbacca and his 14th day in harness training.  By the time 8pm rolled around we finally got around to getting Chewbacca out.  And since I had my husband, we used the sled again.

Well, if I ever I doubted that I could train my horse to drive, last night re-affirmed my concerns and has me twisted in the gut about whether or not I can or should continue.

I started with just basic ground driving, walk, trot, change direction, serpentine through the arena.  When I thought Chewie was ready, we connected up the sled and I sat in it.  Right away, with my husband leading him, he walked off and pulled the sled no problem.  Then my husband switched from leading by Chewie’s head to actually driving from Chewie’s hip. 

It went very well.  In fact, it went so well that I was very satisfied, and in a moment of just wanting to play and “see what he can do” I switched with my husband and he sat in the sled.  I thought it could be good for Chewie to pull extra weight and “see what he could do”.

Well.  ……

It didn’t go well. Not at all.  Chewie got kind of frazzled.  He pulled my husband about 10 feet and then stopped, started backing up, and for the next five minutes or so, it did not go well.

Now, this could be for two reasons.  Remember, my husband weighs twice what I do.  So thus far, Chewbacca has only pulled me and my friend who is lighter than I am.

Reason 1 could be that I’m not training him half as well as I should be.  Chewbacca weighs 3 times what my husband does.  He should have been able to pull him.  He chose not to and started backing and fidgeting. 

Reason 2 could be due to the draft.  Draft refers to the leverage of the harness and where it connects to the cart (not the horse pulling it, lol).  In a vehicle like a meadowbrook, the draft is farily level.  The harness connects to the cart at a point at about the horse’s stifle, and the horse uses the breast collar to push the vehicle.

With a vehicle like a marathon, the draft is lower.  The harness connnects to the cart low, at a point at or just below the horse’s hocks.  So they can still pull with the breast collar, although the angle is a little sharper.  Or they can use a full collar, which goes around the whole neck and allows a horse to push a heavier load with a lower draft.

With us screwballing around with a sled on the ground, the draft was at Chewie’s ankles, and the breast collar is not proper for allowing the horse to get behind it well enough and push at that angle.

Now that all is a technical excuse and probably doesn’t really apply to why Chewie refused to pull.

So now I was in a rut.  I had a horse that wouldn’t go. I was tired, the horse was frazzled and had clearly lost interest. It was dark, and everybody was getting cranky, but I *couldn’t* stop on that note.

So I switched back to the sled and Chewie again refused to pull me.  He spun around and ended up facing me and was twisted in the traces and that could have gone very very badly, and he was just about on top of the arena fence, too.  All in all, a horrible situation with lots of potential to go very very bad.

So, I walked him forward out of the messy situation and got back in the sled.  Husband led Chewie, and although Chewie wasn’t terribly happy about it, he pulled me for about 50 more feet and we finished on a decent note.

This is the first time I’ve run into any problems at all.  My concern is over the weight.  If Chewbacca refused so readily to pull a heavier load, what’s he gonna do with a cart that weighs 320 pounds??  Like I said, maybe I’m not training him half as well as I thought.

Then again, maybe since the cart has wheels and a higher draft, and it will move when he moves, it will go better.  But then, when I put 1 or 2 people in the cart and he has hundreds of pounds of passengers in the cart, will he still pull?

Now I’m really nervous about taking it to the next step, and very nervous about if I’m really able to teach him and if the training I’ve done far has been up to par.   The few people I talked to so far think I’m doing just right, but then again, I was also told for 20 years what a good rider I was, so I walked around with my own head up my a** never seeing the truth about how bad my riding was until my horses spoke to me on the subject.  I don’t want the same thing to happen with Chewbacca and driving.  For once in my life I want to have a positive successful experience.

On one hand I want to just stop everything and send Chewbacca to a trainer for 30 days to be hitched and driven professionally.  On the other hand, for once in my life I’d like to do something myself and feel proud that I accomplished something, but I have this nagging little feeling that I’ll screw it up and fail just like I’ve done with… basically everything.

All because of one little hiccup.  I don’t know if I should continue myself or get a trainer.  I do have a trainer coming out for a lesson, but that’s going to be a while before she’s available, and what do I do until then?  Nothing?  Grrr… I don’t know.

On one hand I feel that even though the vehicle is heavier, it will roll, whereas the sled was like dead weight and Chewbacca just couldn’t (or didn’t want to, I don’t know) move it.  On the other hand I’m terrified I’ll screw this all up and he’ll end up in a wreck and either hurt himself and/or more than likely break the new cart I’m getting.

Which, incidentally, I’m going to pick up this weekend.

I think maybe I’ll try to put him to myself, and just do it very very very slowly.  Becuase once he’s tied into that cart and between those shafts, there’s no going sideways or backwards.  There’s only forward or trainwreck.  Think jack-knifed semi.  If last night was any inidication of how he’ll be when he has more weight, this could end up being a disaster.

In diet news – I have stopped losing weight.  In fact, I’ve gained 2 pounds.  This always happens to me.  I guess it means I need to change something about my diet.  But what?  eat less?  sheesh.  I’m already just living on  a yogurt for breakfast and lunch and not even hungry, and fish for dinner nearly every night.  I was down 25 pounds, but now I’m only down 23.  So I’m going the wrong direction with my weight and worried I’m going the wrong direction with Chewbacca’s driving training too.

Oh, such is the story of my life.

more updates as they come.


About kshai1715

I am a lifelong equestrian, photography enthusiast, sci-fi lover, and sci-fi convention & costuming geek that also loves movies and video games. I am a hard working 30 something woman that survived cancer and am looking forward to a long, healthy, self-empowered life. Welcome to my blog and I hope you enjoy reading about my horses (and the rest of my life) as much as I like writing about them.
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3 Responses to Harness Training Day 14

  1. Jonny Binkard says:

    I personally think, from what you’ve written, that the angle of the dead weight was probably what made Chewie decide not to pull. I think once you get your cart and get him used to being hitched, going slowly, and in an enclosed area, so he can’t run away if he gets scared. Have you ever ponied him along when you’ve driven your other horses? That would get him used to having a wheeled vehicle along side him. I did that with a mare. Drove one and led her along side so she could get used to having something beside her, and seeing you in the cart. And you’ll want to lead him from both sides of the cart.
    I wouldn’t tie him to the cart, if he gets scared, you’ll want to just let go. He seems like a calm sensible horse and has taken well to what you’ve done so far.
    First I led her from behind the cart, then worked her up so she was beside the cart almost alongside the other horse. Maybe the first couple of times you drive and have your husband lead him alongside the cart to see what he thinks…and go from there. Just a suggestion.

    • kshai1715 says:

      Chewbacca has been ponied, ridden, and ground driven, in front of, along each side, behind, and head-on in opposite directions with both the pony & the mini carts, in the arena and on trail.
      Thanks for the input. I do feel like it was too hard even for an almost 1200# horse to get 340 pounds of weight on the ground to move without wheels, especially with the angle of leverage from the breast collar. It’s my hope that with the meadowbrook behind him, which has wheels and will move when he does, he won’t get “bogged down”. After I got back into the sled and Chewie still refused to pull, I think he was bored, frustrated, and assumed it would still be dead weight. Once we got him moving again, he was fine. But I am just typically hyper sensitive to every mistake I make because of my history with horses. I’m trying very very hard to not screw this driving up, because I want to be able to do trail driving and show competitions and get into CDE’s with him.

  2. Jonny Binkard says:

    Wow, sounds like you’ve covered everything. You may have posted that you did this and I missed it or forgot I read about it. I really think he’s doing very well, considering the short time you’ve been driving him. I know it’s hard not to get discouraged when every training session doesn’t go well, but if the majority of them do, I’d say you are doing things correctly. Good luck, I think you are doing great myself. I hope you’ll post photos of Chewie hitched to your new cart. I love meadowbrooks. Hope to own one someday.

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