Just a little bit on my soap box for right now……
This year, I feel like I have expanded on my driving in many ways. The horses have grown, I’ve grown as a driver. I do things wrong, I’m no where close to perfect (just go look at my Dressage scores… no, wait.. don’t), but I know what I need to improve, and I’m working on them. I’ve driven other people’s horses, I’ve driven tandem (well, Ok, that was last year), and pairs, too. I feel more and more I’m “in the right place”, to use a cliche.
When I was riding- I used to dream *DREAM* D R E A M of being a Grand Prix jumper rider. The closest I ever got was schooling a 4’2″ vertical once. You can bet your bazooka that now, nearly a decade later, I sure do wish I had a picture of that one great jump = because it was the highest I ever got. Somehow, my Grand Prix Dreams never really got to be terribly realistic. Apart from the financial aspect, I just didn’t have the talent or the inherent lack of self-preservation you apparently need to feel comfortable jumping a whole course of 5′ fences.
In the last 2 years, I’ve been a 100% driver. All things driving. I’ve got the driving bug hard. I taught Chewbacca, I taught Jesse, I taught the tandem, and I was introduced to pair driving. I can truly see myself putting together a 4 up of minis, or even more so – a 4 in hand of hackney ponies. I know exactly what I like, what type of horse I enjoy, what my competition goals are….. and more so, I know how to get there, and I have the confidence that I can do it. Myself. Maybe not well, but I’m not sure I dream of becoming Chester Weber”ette” either. (Who’s Chester Weber? This guy. This guy. And this guy.) He’s one of the very best in the world, and he sure is jaw-dropping to watch in action with his incredible horses. Who wouldn’t want to drive like that?
Perhaps my goals are a little more tame- I don’t have any Grand Prix Driving Dreams (if there was such a thing) – but I do have goals that for once in the 2 decade long equestrian “career” I have had, I finally feel like they are possible, achievable, and not as far off in the fantasy future as that 5′ fence seemed like it was when I was riding.
I have a goal of teaching a green (totally green) prospect pony to drive and resell. I have a dream of getting a marathon carriage – which oddly enough is directly linked to the previous goal, lol! I have a goal of putting together a pair (probably of hackneys) to said marathon carriage, which still all starts with goal #1. And I have a plan to get there.
It’s an amazing feeling – to know what you want, how to pursue it, and hold on to the prospect that it can actually happen.
These are all good things. Very good things.
However, they DO NOT COME from just winging it, and they don’t come without risks. It’s been an interesting road getting here, and 2 years ago, I wasn’t even sure if I could get Chewbacca driving. The thought of putting together a 4 in hand of my very own was not even a twinkle in my eye back then. It’s something that sprouted and grew since then. And I LOVE driving. It’s wonderful, and I think everyone should be involved in it.
I think it’s great seeing posts on the Internet from people wanting to take up driving. However, it scares the living bejeesus out of me seeing that most of those posts are from people who admit they know NOTHING about driving. NOTHING.
This year has also been an expansion of my driving in terms of meeting new drivers, some of whom trained their own horses, and often, trained them without any experience or knowledge. It was a real eye opener for me to see the true train wrecks that come from trying to take on that type of challenge without any level of experience. Literal *wrecks*, like damaged carts, ruined horses… and wrecks waiting to happen from harness that is totally inappropriate, doesn’t fit, or generally unsafe, to vehicles literally so heavy or unsuitable for the horse that the horse can’t even stand up in the shafts when hitched – yes, I personally witnessed that this year.
I ask you – if you knew someone who had never ridden a horse, and that person suddenly shows up with a 3 year old unbroke horse and they say they are going to train it themselves to ride…. do you smile and say “GREAT!”, or does your heart just stop, and after you stop seizuring on the ground, you finally get yourself together enough to lecture them about the gazillion reasons why they should not do that?!
Why do people think driving is any different? Or more specifically, why do people think driving is EASIER?
Driving is HARD! It is TOTALLY UNNATURAL for the horse. In fact, it’s about the single most unnatural thing we can ask a horse to…. let’s take a prey animal that has a natural instinct to run from whatever is chasing it, and hook it to a vehicle and let it get “chased” around by it… then expect it to stop, turn, go, and do what we want when we ask. Yea, that’s really natural, right?
And it is NOT something someone with no knowledge should be taking on.
When I was teaching Chewbacca, I asked *everyone*. I talked to trainers, and tried my darndest to find one that would work with me. Can you believe I actually had 2 trainers tell me Chewbacca would *never* drive. Never. I posted online, I talked to driving club members, I had friends who drive come over. I had a header the first few times I put the cart in the shaft loops. I did NOT do it myself, and I did NOT do it without any knowledge, or interest in gaining that knowledge.
I’m not saying all trainers know everything…. see the above reference about Chewbacca for proof of that. I’ve even known more than one trainer that ruined driving prospects by rushing and wrecking.
However, if you want to teach your horse to drive – the very first place to start is to GET KNOWLEDGEABLE. Talk to people that drive, find a friend with driving experience, seek a trainer, join a driving club. Do NOT just do it yourself, and hope for the best…
Because odds are “the best” will NOT happen.
More than likely, THIS will happen.
And even the most broke and well trained driving horses will have issues. Someday a train wreck like THIS can happen to you.
And, when training an unprepared horse, you get THIS.
If you have no knowledge base at all, how can you possibly expect your horse to learn, be confident, grow, and do all the fun stuff that driving should be about, even if you don’t show. Hitting the trails, going down the road, or messing with obstacles, are FUN. But if you don’t know how to teach your horse, how can you possibly expect your horse to learn to do it?
Do you know how to properly fit a harness? Do you know how to measure a vehicle? That’s a big one I see a lot – people looking for vehicles that are totally unfit for the horse they are hoping to drive. Do you know why you shouldn’t start out a green horse to a 4 wheel vehicle? Do you know how to drive a horse on the bit while still being soft? Do you know why you should use a whip? That’s another HUGE ONE I see ALL THE TIME . “He doesn’t need a whip”. Well, Luke, Mr. 30KPH pony doesn’t need a whip either. Do I carry one? ALL THE TIME. It’s not about whether the horse needs it, it’s about how to use it properly, and why YOU the driver need it.
I’m not saying a new person to driving can’t teach a green horse. It can be done. I’ve seen it done successfully just as much as I’ve seen the disasters. Maybe us “selfies” are never going to become Chester Weber, but that’s OK. I’m OK with it, as long as I can have confident horses that are reasonably safe, and I can go out and have a good time driving.
Just find help – reach out to people that are near to you.
Posting on the Web is great, but if you plan to just do it yourself based on a few people who don’t know you , your horse, or either your skills and level, say, you are off to a BAD BAD BAD start.
Join your local driving club. Lord knows my local driving club could use more members! Driving clubs ARE few and far between (so are trainers), but one thing I’ve recently found out is that DRIVERS themselves are not. There are LOTS of people in YOUR area that drive. Start a club if you don’t have one. Seek out a physical, actual, real human being that can either be coerced or paid into coming to at least look at your horse, you, and where you stand with your future in driving.
That is all.