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Driving Horse temperament

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  • Driving Horse temperament

    I’ve just started driving and I absolutely love it, but I’ve come across an interesting tension in things as I learn. Many of the books etc talk about the driving horse’s temperament and how it needs to be far superior in quietness and trustworthiness to a riding horse.

    That being said, I have saddlebreds and most of them are taught to drive before riding, and though most look crazier than they actually are, they are still quite “up” as compared to what I would deem a quiet and sane horse. Similarly the hackney ponies and the Dutch Harness Horses - all of driving lineage but in the riding world are known as sensitive hot mounts.

    The mare I drive is sensitive, mareish, spooks easily in the cross ties, but once hitched is wonderful and easy to drive. I didn’t teach her - I’m not sure I would have given the conventional wisdom.

    I’m just puzzled by the conflict between “your horse must be super quiet” and “all of the fire-breathing dragons get broke to drive” - as well as the fact that many ex-show saddlebreds end up pulling Amish carriages for many years on the open road. Can anyone more knowledgeable than me weigh in on this seeming contradiction?

    By the way - now that I have started driving I’m totally hooked!

  • #2
    We all have "what we can live with" in our horses, and it can vary a great deal between people. Driver experience, KNOWING YOUR HORSE can let you be accepting of a behavior that would terrify anther person.

    We have had a couple "lively" ones over the years, various breeds, that we learned from. One was a old breeding (pre-1980s) Gelderlander mare ( they don't breed them anymore, she was a dinosaur), who got VERY excited being hitched. We knew some of her history, led a "must perform" life, with scars to prove it. She would rear, kind of up like the Lippazans medium high, stand up there, then come dowm. This was after all harness was attached to the vehicle, so we COULD have driven off safely, but were waiting to get everything loaded and in place first. Her old partner was quiet, calm, usually able to lean away from her to avoid any bumping. We had someone heading them with lead ropes on each horse until Driver said "Turn them loose". We put up with it. She was an old horse, this was a nervous reaction to being driven. It never got worse, never changed to other things. She just "bounced in place" as we called it, not scary TO US because she was always the same. She was a wonderful horse going, taught us a great deal about how an Advanced gorse should move, feel in various gaits. FAST with 5 trots to make your eyes water, true extentions reaching way out there! Not pretty faced, but a HECK of a fine horse. She and her partner got our young horses going as a Four, we really liked her. We did finally get her over the rearing, standing to start off! It was kind of accidental. Husband called and said if we got the horses harnessed and hitched, he could be home at xx time to drive them. So we got around, had them ready, headed, waiting for him. Well he didn't arrive, was pre-cell phone time. While standing there she did her antics, then scaled down to pawing, prancing in place, until I said we need to unhitch. 30 minutes is a long enough wait for husband. So we took them off the vehicle, mare gave us the funniest look! "We are not going driving after all that?!" Took them back in the barn, got unharnessed and stalled them. Husband got home an hour after planned arrival, had been trapped in traffic. Same thing happened about 2 weeks later, he planned to be home, we had horses ready, hitched, he never arrived. So we waited again, mare quickly ran thru her "tricks" to then stand pretty quietly while waiting. I was pretty surprised she settled. Again waited about 30 minutes before giving up on husband. She again acted quite confused when we unhitched, unharnessed, put the horses out in pasture because it was nearing dusk. But she seldom went thru her serious antics again, standing hitched to a vehicle. The waiting around, no work, unhitching to go back to the barn clicked something in her brain. We still got some head tossing, but almost never reared again. That Pair was a gift, old but sound, imported, trained to ridden Grand Prix thru the Dutch school, just awesome horses. Both had lovely, honest eyes.

    We had heard Hackney Horses could act similarly from Coachmen that drove Hackneys. Lots of fire, but the horses never went actually crazy, more that they got light in front with half rears, impatiently waiting to go. Again, not scary to those used to those kind of horses, that way of horse thinking. Probably why the Safety Rules for using Header to hitch and unhitch at shows, competitions got put in place!

    People who are skilled horse people enjoy alert, big moving horses who are not lugging on their hands. Like the flashy action, movement of those Breeds, both ridden and driven. Perhaps like the responsiveness too, like sports cars over driving a Grampa car.

    Our experiences with show Saddlebreds is that they are usually extremely regimented, in handling, exercise, stabling. All the Trainers seem to do things the same. Things happen as scheduled, no more, no less! Horse knows the exercise routine, will do it even if a person is not directing him! Horse gets upset when routine is not followed! Husband is a Farrier, does Saddlebreds, meets them at boarding barns. He often has to educate new owners, stable help on what horse expects, horse is not "silly or crazy", people are messing up his routine! Can't leave him out loose in a paddock with flies biting him! Not part of his routine. He will usuall be perfect to handle if you do things as he was trained to expect them. A Diva in truth, not a "regular" horse to handle.

    The Dutch Harness horses are probably similar, more sensitive, so also reactive. Not the horse for everyone, even as partbreds in the driving or ridden areas. For the Amish, they are fast road horses, crossbreds still have speed but not the same prices as purebreds. And most of their horses WORK DAILY to actually GET TIRED which is not true for us other horse owners! Those horses are glad to stand or walk if asked.

    Modern horses are not used the way they were in the past, but still have the original qualities to work, energy for a full days labors, some no-quit, with no place to use it. So the energy may get directed into less desirable behaviors when we want just enjoy them for a short time. And it is easy to be breed prejudiced, good or bad, because breeders DO TRY to stick to Breed standards. Like buying working dogs and expecting them to act quiet in a house with little exercise or brain stimulation. Those breeds NEED JOBS to be happy dogs. Most such dogs start acting destructive, are problem pets without ever getting OUT or TON of activity with owners. It is very hard to tire them out.

    There are many horse breeds, crossbreds to suit any owner. When driving folks say "sane" they usually mean non-reactive to scary things. That is a good brained horse who has also BEEN TRAINED to not react badly to various stimuli. People need to pick an animal suitable for THEIR driving and riding desires. No use buying the Beautiful Black Stallion if you only plan a short trail drive once a week, he will hurt you! Get a nice placid, older pony/horse instead. It could still be black! Ha ha.

    Comment


    • #3
      Fiery or having brio is a different thing than being reactive, spooky, balky, or bolty.

      Fiery horses want to move and learn quickly where its OK, as long as the handler is not scared and choking them back. Then they get frustrated and start acting out.

      I read a lot of 19th century British novels, and I read about the Amish on COTH

      In any community with driving horses, there is going to be a whole panorama of types of horses and skills of drivers.

      In 19th century Britain that could run from the donkey or aged pony that pulled a governess cary to solid farm wagon teams to four horse coaches almost always driven by skilled professional coachmen and not the owner to small buggies with hot horses and risk taking wealthy young men hotrodding around. And of course all the urban draft horses used as delivery vans, and then horse drawn trams.

      Like cars today, you could have your Honda Civic or your F350 work truck, a big limousine with a chauffeur, or a Lamborghini.

      Having a coach and four in town was a super expensive status symbol that required having the coachman, footmen, and grooms to keep it up. But if you wanted to party in high society you needed access to a coach because otherwise you couldn't walk across town in a low cut ball gown and dancing slippers.

      A really nice matched team of urban coach horses that had brio (my word not the British word) but were safe for the professional coach driver were expensive and prized.

      Not that many folks would have driven hot or flashy horses.

      The farmers and country folk who needed horses would have quiet horses. And even among the wealthy, young men who could ride and hunt didn't necessarily also have equivalent high skill levels in driving.

      I expect that in driving as in many things horse, North America in the 19th century was less formalized. Especially rural or small towns. More men probably drove the family's horses themselves. There wasn't the level of money and gentry requiring the coach and four. But I'm sure there was a similar range of harness horses from fiery to kidsafe.

      Comment


      • #4
        There's a big difference between what `breed' shows consider pleasure driving (usually in a light, 2-wheel buggy with pneumatic tires) and carriage pleasure driving. Many people who are involved in the breed show world place more emphasis on motion, presence, and fire. Carriage drivers appreciate a stylish animal, but the emphasis in this discipline is more on manners, ability to perform the required gaits, and appropriateness of the whole turnout (in other words, you wouldn't want to show a beautifully high-stepping Saddlebred with a meadowbrook cart.). A quiet animal would be an advantage, since not only are carriage horses expected to stand without a header for long periods, but they are also exposed to a lot more potentially scary stuff, since many competitions are held outside of a ring, rain or shine.I could go on, but I think your confusion stems from mixing up the two disciplines.

        Comment

        • Original Poster

          #5
          Originally posted by MorganGal13 View Post
          There's a big difference between what `breed' shows consider pleasure driving (usually in a light, 2-wheel buggy with pneumatic tires) and carriage pleasure driving. Many people who are involved in the breed show world place more emphasis on motion, presence, and fire. Carriage drivers appreciate a stylish animal, but the emphasis in this discipline is more on manners, ability to perform the required gaits, and appropriateness of the whole turnout (in other words, you wouldn't want to show a beautifully high-stepping Saddlebred with a meadowbrook cart.). A quiet animal would be an advantage, since not only are carriage horses expected to stand without a header for long periods, but they are also exposed to a lot more potentially scary stuff, since many competitions are held outside of a ring, rain or shine.I could go on, but I think your confusion stems from mixing up the two disciplines.
          That is probably correct, based on me being pretty new to driving and just trying to find information Our country pleasure driven horses are supposed to be mannerly, but not necessarily to the extent of carriage pleasure driving. Although I will say that we have a lot of scary things at our events and most are prepped to deal with it.

          Perhaps the key is distinguishing between a temperamental defect and a breed trait. I've often said that if my quarter horse snorted and pranced like my saddlebred, you'd be about to die, but it means very little coming from the saddlebred.


          Our experiences with show Saddlebreds is that they are usually extremely regimented, in handling, exercise, stabling. All the Trainers seem to do things the same. Things happen as scheduled, no more, no less! Horse knows the exercise routine, will do it even if a person is not directing him! Horse gets upset when routine is not followed! Husband is a Farrier, does Saddlebreds, meets them at boarding barns. He often has to educate new owners, stable help on what horse expects, horse is not "silly or crazy", people are messing up his routine! Can't leave him out loose in a paddock with flies biting him! Not part of his routine. He will usuall be perfect to handle if you do things as he was trained to expect them. A Diva in truth, not a "regular" horse to handle.
          They are divas, that's for sure. Mine has a very clear expectation of what is right and what is wrong and you stay in his lane

          Fiery horses want to move and learn quickly where its OK, as long as the handler is not scared and choking them back. Then they get frustrated and start acting out.
          Tell me about it LOL

          Well, the interesting thing is that the Amish do get ex-show horses, or horses that just don't make the cut. They've started breeding both the DHH & the saddlebred as well. I suppose some of it is the training that they do (they'll typically pair them with a more experienced road-horse) and then they just put on so many miles that they become ok. Amish-broke horses are very very well-broke, but can be silly over things we wouldn't expect them to be. I used to get a lot of ex-harness horses to become riding horses. Some will spook at a leaf in the ring, yet go through anything on the road/trail.

          Perhaps many of the books as well are aimed at the beginner horseman (which I am not) and not just the beginner driver (which I am). I've ridden for well over 30 years, but have recently taken up driving, so I'm in an odd place where I'm trying to transfer skills. And of course, I want to read all there is to read about it!


          Comment


          • #6
            There is a difference between hot and stupid / over reactive. A hot, forward horse isn't a problem for many experienced drivers. But horses that over react, spook, and do stupid stuff that puts them and you in harms way is a problem.

            Compare it to trail horses. People like every type from dead heads to hot and spicy, but nobody wants the horse that spins and bolts, has huge spooks, or otherwise feels like accident waiting to happen because they react without thinking.

            Comment


            • #7
              goodhors, thank you for taking the time to educate. It is refreshing to read the post of someone who knows what they are writing about.

              I have driven exactly twice, a pony (not mine) when I was a child. It was wonderful, and now, as an adult, having read a good deal about the subject, I understand that experience is everything and reading, without doing? not so much.

              Thanks again for sharing your experience.

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                Agreed - goodhors thank you so much I do really appreciate the perspective!

                Comment


                • #9
                  OneGrayPony I am coming from pretty much the same place as you.
                  30+ yrs riding, somewhere around 5yrs Driving.
                  While others have pretty much given you the definition you wanted, I'd like to add temperament suitable for Driving is highly dependent on what sort of Driving you intend to do for the majority of your time at the lines.

                  I was first drawn to the discipline by watching a Driven Dressage clinic.
                  A teeny lightbulb went on & I thought "Gee! You can do that in a vehicle too?!?"
                  Once bitten I took a dozen or so lessons with a saintly pony, then Life interfered & it was 5yrs before I met a neighbor with an excess of horses, including another Pony Saint she allowed me to drive at Fair.
                  That set the wheels in motion & 2yrs later I gifted myself with a mini.

                  Beginner's Luck gave me the rootstock of another Saint - he turns 5 this week & we already have one ADS show, a CT, County Fair (X2) & 2 National Drives under our belts, along with numerous trail drives with my Carriage Club.
                  I had him broke to drive at 2-1/2 by a young Amishman who had 5 stairstep sons - aged 14 down to toddler.
                  I firmly believe handling by these kids (under Dad's eye) gave me back the unflappable youngster I am enjoying,
                  We've had a couple "moments", but by & large he is the safe Driver I had in mind.

                  A friend drives Hackney Ponies - 3rd generation in his family - and while he aims toward Road & Pleasure for that breed, his best pony is so well-mannered (@ 9) he will back into the shafts & stand, with no header, until he's hitched.
                  Once he steps off the FIRE appears, but until then he appears as deadheaded as anything you'd put your kid on without a second thought.
                  I've also watched this pony self-exercise - alone in an indoor, outfitted with bitting rig - he will WTC. reverse & repeat.
                  The Hackney Pony brain is a wonderful thing. Never.Stops.Working!

                  Yet another friend drives almost exclusively on the roads. she has a Friesian cross & a younger full Friesian.
                  Crossbred is her Energizer Bunny, she can do 10+miles at road trot and he's hardly breathing.
                  He can also be ridden bareback by her 13yo granddaughter.
                  She claims the other's favorite gait is Whoa.
                  Both do well at local shows, having the presence & gaits to show well.

                  Summing up:
                  If you're having fun & doing what you want then your Driver has the right temperament for you.
                  *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                  Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                  Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                  Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015

                  Comment

                  • Original Poster

                    #10
                    Originally posted by 2DogsFarm View Post
                    OneGrayPony I am coming from pretty much the same place as you.
                    30+ yrs riding, somewhere around 5yrs Driving.
                    While others have pretty much given you the definition you wanted, I'd like to add temperament suitable for Driving is highly dependent on what sort of Driving you intend to do for the majority of your time at the lines.

                    I was first drawn to the discipline by watching a Driven Dressage clinic.
                    A teeny lightbulb went on & I thought "Gee! You can do that in a vehicle too?!?"
                    Once bitten I took a dozen or so lessons with a saintly pony, then Life interfered & it was 5yrs before I met a neighbor with an excess of horses, including another Pony Saint she allowed me to drive at Fair.
                    That set the wheels in motion & 2yrs later I gifted myself with a mini.

                    Beginner's Luck gave me the rootstock of another Saint - he turns 5 this week & we already have one ADS show, a CT, County Fair (X2) & 2 National Drives under our belts, along with numerous trail drives with my Carriage Club.
                    I had him broke to drive at 2-1/2 by a young Amishman who had 5 stairstep sons - aged 14 down to toddler.
                    I firmly believe handling by these kids (under Dad's eye) gave me back the unflappable youngster I am enjoying,
                    We've had a couple "moments", but by & large he is the safe Driver I had in mind.

                    A friend drives Hackney Ponies - 3rd generation in his family - and while he aims toward Road & Pleasure for that breed, his best pony is so well-mannered (@ 9) he will back into the shafts & stand, with no header, until he's hitched.
                    Once he steps off the FIRE appears, but until then he appears as deadheaded as anything you'd put your kid on without a second thought.
                    I've also watched this pony self-exercise - alone in an indoor, outfitted with bitting rig - he will WTC. reverse & repeat.
                    The Hackney Pony brain is a wonderful thing. Never.Stops.Working!

                    Yet another friend drives almost exclusively on the roads. she has a Friesian cross & a younger full Friesian.
                    Crossbred is her Energizer Bunny, she can do 10+miles at road trot and he's hardly breathing.
                    He can also be ridden bareback by her 13yo granddaughter.
                    She claims the other's favorite gait is Whoa.
                    Both do well at local shows, having the presence & gaits to show well.

                    Summing up:
                    If you're having fun & doing what you want then your Driver has the right temperament for you.
                    Thank you for sharing! I started watching driving at the Saddlebred shows, and I guess it had just never occurred to me before that driving had the same amount of diversity in discipline as the ridden disciplines Sounds obvious, but until now I hadn't really met anyone (besides Amish families and people who sold horses at the sales where Amish people bought horses) who drove.

                    I'm hoping my horse ends up as well as you describe the Hackney there I'm driving a made horse now, but my saddlebred is in training at the same barn I lesson at (we're not sure if he was ever hooked before I got him, but he's certainly acting like he was) and he's very quiet for a saddlebred so I'm hoping he'll be a good one for me after I get more experience driving under my belt (and he does as well). It's a whole new way of enjoying horses for me, and one that doesn't cause as much physical pain as riding, so I'm happy to be learning now while I can still do both.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Its always great hearing about "new" people getting into driving! There doesnt seem to be many new faces when we go out to shows anymore and my husband and I tend to be the youngest drivers (and we are not young anymore!).

                      I wish more Jr would get into this sport, but it is a difficult one to get into, thats for sure!

                      I myself started with riding as well and started to drive when my current husband talked me into it 16 years ago. He had been driving for many years and actually did not like to ride (his family are pony breeders so he was born into this life lol!).

                      The first time I drove I remember not liking it at all! The horse was so far away compared to riding. A very odd feeling. Took me 2 years really to get "into" driving and now I love it! I don't tend to drive too much right now as my husband is driving our new pair, but I'm starting a 2 year old of our breeding and plan to keep him as my single driving pony.

                      Some horses really seem to take to driving, perhaps because of the blinkers and it makes them focus more. One of my ponies is much steadier and braver driving than he is riding and I think its really because of his more limited view. My husband and I thought he would never be a driving pony as he would spook at the same mounting block for years, shy at jumps, spook at his own shaddow etc, but put him in harness and he's as brave as can be!

                      Enjoy your driving and welcome to the most fun horsey club out there! Driving people are the best, most supportive group of horse people I have ever met!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        DiamondJubilee My 2¢ is that the startup cost of Driving discourages a lot of people.
                        You can get a decent used saddle for cheap, but getting harness & vehicle that are safe is going to cost several hundreds at least... Closer to $1K.
                        That alone turns off some that are interested.

                        For me, at first it was also the size of horse harness, etc.
                        I'm doing this solo, so having "stuff" I could manage myself was an issue.
                        When I was taking lessons, I had a TWH whose temperament seemed suited.
                        He Did.Not.Trot., but that might not have mattered.
                        What did give me pause was his size: every bit of 17h.
                        Big horse, big harness, big cart did not bode well.
                        So, for me the VSE is the answer.

                        I can almost put him to without walking around to each side!
                        For safety's sake I do a final walk-through, but still...
                        And loading both my everyday EZ-Entry wire cart & wood show cart by myself (step-up trailer) is very doable.

                        On the Plus Side, a gal from my Club has a 5yo granddaughter who drives her pair of minis capably (with Grandma beside).
                        Another member's 13yo grand is looking to become quite the capable driver herself.
                        Hope is not lost for the future!
                        *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                        Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                        Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                        Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          The team of Belgians I had were like that. One was borderline fractious on the ground. As soon as the harness went on? Boom. They were perfect. A commercial carriage company leased them from me when one of their teams was out of commission. One of their commercial gigs prior to coming to me was a military drawing the hearse for a military funeral. The young soldier had been MIA in Iraq for some time, so the funeral was a big deal locally. Fighter jets, 21 gun salutes, and a huge crowd. They even got whapped in the ears by a giant flag hanging over the parade route and never flinched.

                          At home? The younger one was a total bull in a china shop. I never seriously worried about a horse pulling a Morton barn down until those two came along.

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