How Do I Teach My Horse To Drive?

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 guyThis 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.


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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10 Responses to How Do I Teach My Horse To Drive?

  1. RiderWriter says:

    I’m very glad you wrote this, and you make a lot of excellent points. I wonder what ever happened to the “Very Bad” horse who has no idea what he was supposed to be doing so went straight up… 😦 And yes, I know those stoopid trainers said Chewie would never drive – haven’t forgotten that. Well, you can now show THEM where they can stuff their opinions, eh?

    The other reason I’m glad you wrote is because I was DYING to tell you what I did last week. I doing freelance PR for an Amish company in Lamcaster, PA (Millcreek Spreaders – if you’re on FB, please Like us/follow!). I went out to meet them for the first time. When business was included I asked if I could meet the owner’s horse. Sure, he, says, giving me a “Why would you care” kind of look, lol.

    So we go to the barn and I’m introduced to Jose the 18-yr-old STB. He’s only like 15hh, very sweet. The owner’s wife then shows up with their adorable six-year-old son. I mentioned that I’ve ridden in a number of carriages in my life but never driven a horse, and planned to try it sometime when I could. I swear, I WASN’T fishing – had no clue what they suggested next was even allowed! So then the wife says, “Oh, we can go out in the buggy and I’ll let you drive!” O.o (They do know I have horse experience, btw)

    Of course I about fainted. Really?!? We got the buggy out and then we got out Jose, who looked none to thrilled to have his afternoon interrupted, but was very sweet. They get out the harness and start putting it on. I noticed his back was dirty so I said “I’ll brush him.” Oh – well, yeah, guess he could a dusting off is the reply so husband did it. There is no grooming kit, just “A” body brush. I even looked on the shelf and saw no curry, no hoof pick, no comb… Though his mane was pulled. Boom, on goes the harness, buggy is hooked up, we load up (mother, son and I) and I’m literally handed the reins and told to go down the driveway. Alrighty then!!

    Very fun indeed. Their road is not busy but when we had to turn on main road I had the wife take over, particularly when 18-wheelers and dump trucks were whizzing by. The Amish thought nothing of it, I was terrified. We are in a fiberglass contraption with a live horse, a baby and as for electronics, a battery-powered turning signal operated by a switch on the dashboard! Augh! I have no idea how the Amish aren’t killed in vast numbers.

    So right away I notice that Jose’s head and neck are tilted left, and he tends to pull that way. Wife says,”Yes, he does that for a while but then he straightens out.” Hmm. I said, “Maybe it’s a chiropractic issue?” No, she didn’t laugh, she said maybe she’d investigate that. She said they’d changed farriers pretty recently and since then the horse had been NQR. Then I started to notice Jose was definitely off in front.. I’m thinking RF, which would account for left head tilt.

    We went about a couple miles. It was a hot day and while Jose wasn’t blowing hard, he was VERY lathered when we got back. I hoped to hell there would be a hose and yes, there was… we unharnessed him and that’s when I noticed it was biothane, not leather. Wife remarked that its much easier to care for but then hung it right back up, covered in sweat. 😦 We wet down the horse and I told her what’s been published recently about the need to get water off the horse, how it traps heat. She had never heard that. There was no scraper so you can bet I used my hand to get all the water I could off good horse Jose. Got pretty yucky in my good clothes but did NOT care. He was then put back in stall. Hooves not touched but we had been on pavement the whole time…

    So how about that for my first driving ever??? The horse is in good weight and has no sores, though his neck is a little dipped where collar goes. He was agreeable and sweet. But that buggy is HEAVY – I helped put it away and dang, it’s a big vehicle. I saw a lot of Saddlebreds pulling them, too – quite a switch from racing sulkies or Fine Harness bikes. Nobody has ever said the life on an Amish buggy horse is fun, but seriously, it’s like they’re backing the Chevy out of the garage. Very eye-opening!

    • kshai1715 says:

      LOL! Well, as interesting as it was, I am so glad that you had your first experience with driving!

      Definitely, Amish driving is quite a bit driving than show driving. Those horses work hard! And yes, the Amish do drive down roads that I would never want to traverse. I was recently through an Amish area, and watching them drive their buggies down the shoulders of 50MPH roads was just scary! The roads I go on are 40MPH at the most, and although we do get passed by our fair share of speeders from time to time, it’s nothing like seeing a horse & buggy go down a highway! Yikes….

  2. allison says:

    I am glad that you wrote this. When I purchased my Haflinger, I was told that she could ride and drive. I had no interest in driving at the time. But after a bad fall and some persuasion from some driving friends to give it a try, I decided to give it a go. . .line driving of course. Turns out, she knows all the cues, but is unsure and nervous with a cart attached. I am part of a driving circuit that has been fantastic for us. With them, they have helped me with her, let me drive their horses, and taught me so much. And I love that their main focus is safety. Our journey has been slow and I never hook a cart without someone who had had years at the lines (since I am so new at this), but we are having fun along the way.

    • kshai1715 says:

      I am so glad for both you and your Haffie ! Working with someone who can help you is really the only way to start into driving! And of course, when you don’t know the horse’s driving history, you should never assume you can just hitch and go. So you are totally on the right track, and sounds like both you and your mare will enjoy many years of driving! Welcome to the addiction, by the way 🙂

  3. CMMH says:

    Your advice to find a local club could be dangerous. I see some badly fitting harness/carts and ignorant drivers when I go to local club events (I am not a member but sometimes go on drives). I learned to train/drive by watching videos and reading, reading, reading. Actual books, written by experts, NOT internet postings. It amazes me how many people seem to forget that there are these things called books.

    • kshai1715 says:

      You’re definitely right about that – books are a very good resource! You’re also right that not every club member (or instructor) can do or provide proper assistance. I’m sure you noted the part in my post where I mentioned about trainers telling me Chewbacca would never drive. Not EVERYONE knows what they are doing, or can work with everyone or every horse. That’s where there is a definitely a trick to finding qualified help – or if you want to do it yourself, like I pretty much did, finding qualified people to help you through, and answer questions is going to be a huge part of succeeding. You can read books, and post online, and gain a lot of useful knowledge- but sometimes, having a person in the flesh there to help you, even just a couple times can make a huge difference, as long as that person is qualified.

      Clubs may not be full of knowledgable members, but they still can be a great resource to connect with other drivers and learn . Sometimes you can learn just as much from seeing someone do something wrong as you can from being shown how to do it right.

  4. Arthur Cole says:

    Very interesting post. I would also add that just because you can drive a horse (or win competitions) doesn’t mean you can train them. So often the big names in competitions have lots of horses at their disposal and mix and match until they get a “good team” together in a short space of time. I have known some top drivers in the UK to be of the opinion that there’s no point spending months trying to work on a horse/spend months training it when you can go out and buy one virtually “ready-made” to slot straight in the team and improve your chances of winning. Of course people then think the driver has trained each horse in his team from scratch!! Lots of driving instructors are good at giving people lessons, but not the horses, or they are good at training horses once they are in the shafts/pair/team etc, but not at training them to get there in the first place. This man on Youtube (who is a horse trainer from England) has made a video about training your own horse to harness and I think it is sound advice – plenty of people can break horses themselves and it goes well, but what do you do when it all goes pear shaped? I doubt we ever hear from people who have messed up during training – its not something most people want to brag about (I’ve heard them say instead that the horse wasn’t suitable etc). In my opinion if you don’t know what you are doing then your own pride (in wanting to train the horse yourself) should be put on hold and the main concern should be what is best for your horse. Look at horses that go how you want yours to go, ask who trained it or how it was trained and learn. Look at what can be done with them and aim for more than just “getting it in a carriage without a mishap”.

  5. Pingback: To Train or have a Trainer? | Life in 2015

  6. teacherown says:

    I was fortunate enough with my driving pony to teach him successfully, from the ground up, without training any bad habits. I look back now and consider myself lucky. My pony deserves all the credit though. He’s incredibly forgiving, smart, and patient. He’s absolutely the best, and I don’t think I would have been successful with any other horse. I’ve since gotten driving lessons and continue to learn and become more involved in the driving community. It’s a long road with a lot to learn, but the driving community is incredibly welcoming and willing to pass along knowledge.

    • kshai1715 says:

      That’s how I feel about working with my horses. Dixie and Luke both were already trained to pull a cart, so all I really did with them was refine what they knew. With Chewbacca and Jesse, I started from the ground up, same with teaching Jesse & Dixie tandem. I just consider myself very lucky to have great horses to rely on to behave and be good!

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