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Tell me about the times it didn't work out.

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  • Tell me about the times it didn't work out.

    I've been doing a lot of research online about driving and driving horses and I can feel myself entering the Dunning Kruger danger zone. I caught myself thinking things like "If I can't find what I want already trained I can get a youngster and have it trained." and "That super flashy hot show pony has been driving for years, surely I could handle it." Probably because I have read and seen stories of folks who are all "I know nothing about driving and I trained my mini to do it easypeasy" I need to see some of the other side to bring me back down to earth.

    The logical side of my brain is telling me to get something that took Amish kids to school for the first 5 years of it's career, but I have always had a problem with "Ooooo! Pretty!" interfering with the logical side of my brain. I need some COTH wisdom to smack the sense back into me.

    So, tell me about the difficult ones. The horses that just didn't want to do it, or took forever to settle into it and would never be an easy drive.
    For the horse color genetics junky

  • #2
    "Oooo! Pretty!" got me in trouble once . Pretty Boy would be a 12.2 hand welsh pony. No amount of desensitization could get him used to the shafts (and more experienced people than me worked at it). He feels the shafts and the tension builds until he is a hot mess. He actually flipped a cart once. We tried using broomsticks, PVC poles and what have you, and keeping the sessions very short, quitting before he reaches the point where he is uncomfortable, but nothing worked. The sad part of it is he will pull me happily through the snow with a Micky Moused sled I rigged up that has no shafts. I used him one winter to pull the manure tubs to the manure pile with this contraption and he didn't bat an eye and seemed to enjoy the fun. I came to the conclusion the shafts make him claustrophobic. But we love him anyway .


    • #3
      "I am completely and totally bombproof"
      Said no horse, ever.

      Riding or Driving, all it takes is the right bomb.

      But you can certainly stack the deck in your favor by getting yourself an experienced Driving horse (or pony, or mini) AND by finding an experienced trainer to work with you both.
      Or, as in my case, where Driving trainers are hen's teeth, a Club with experienced members.

      The old saying "green and green equals black and blue" is never truer than with Driving.
      Even an experienced Rider is deprived of all aids save hands and voice.
      A ridden horse that has an accident often is able to go right back to work.
      A driven horse who has crashed in harness may never be safe to drive again.

      So get yourself proficient and comfortable handling a BTDT horse before considering one with little or zero training.
      Even that Amish School Pony could have holes in training that will show up when you use it for anything besides trotting down the (usually quiet) road to school and standing tied there.
      *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


      • #4
        Getting lessons in driving, teaches you the correct responses to use with a driving horse. A horse needs support from his driver thru rein contact, voice, maybe a touch of the whip in going forward toward odd things. Driver losing contact, taking up too hard on the reins, no voice, can make horse worried about scary things ahead of you, new noises from behind. Even very well trained horses can need reassuring, a word spoken will calm him, he has confidence YOU will take care of him.

        As the Driver you learn from teacher which actions are appropriate to a situation and horse.

        It can take a LONG TIME to get a horse reliable for driving on the road or trail. And this is after putting in hours of ground work to establish your commands, build his confidence at being alone out in front of you before actual hitching! There are no shortcuts in training, each thing he learns needs to be firmly instilled, responded to, so he can understand what you ask. He is NEVER allowed to walk thru the Whoa command. These are your emergency breaks if things go bad. He MUST stop and stand each time you say that word. Use some other word for "relax or slow down, calm down".

        We figure a horse is finally reached the green stage, after 100 hitchings. From there we build to make them confident, reliable, foward, tune up the steering for better body flexibility. They have to BELIEVE you will protect them from scary things, not hurt them, wherever you take them. We ask a lot from driving horses, they must have these good basics to fall back on in new or scary situations. Being a Driving horse takes a very good mind, is harder to train well, than other disciplines.


        • #5
          Absolutely get one that has been doing the job for a while and likes it. There are plenty of pretty ponies who love driving. I consider myself to be a very experienced ride - came up through pony club, evented through preliminary, 2nd level dressage and I drove my pony as a kid. But learning to drive for real was made easy by the fact that my pony knew what he was supposed to be doing.

          He had WHOA, he doesn't overreact to driver error, he has WHOA, and he doesn't over react to the rest of the world. Did I mention he has WHOA and he doesn't overreact to anything.

          So I got to learn to drive without having to worry about managing what was going on in front of me. And even now with my several years of additional experience and consistent excellent instruction, I would not take on teaching a horse to drive by myself.

          My riding horses have often been of the project variety, and that's a lot of fun, but it's also not a lot of fun sometimes, so stack your deck in favor of good experiences.


          • #6
            I survived the pretty, flashy but hot, hot, hot show pony. I was new to driving and had some lessons under my belt. I'd ridden all my life. My trainer was helping me shop for a driving horse. We'd mostly looked at minis, but there just wasn't a well trained mini that we could find at that time. I had recently gotten a riding horse and riding pony from a local rescue. They were for my husband and daughter, but I had no intention of riding due to balance issues. The rescue folks told me their landlord had an absolutely beautiful Hackney pony, 22 years old, that had been driving his entire life. They said he seemed desperately unhappy locked in a stall and doing nothing, and seemed like he really needed a job. My trainer wasn't available the day I went to look at and drive the Hackney. I fell in love. I agreed to buy him, and called my trainer to ask her if she would transport him for me.

            Trainer and I get to the barn to pick up my new pony, and the person I'd only known as a very mild mannered, quite older lady started yelling at me. "What the hell were you thinking, getting a Hackney? Haven't I taught you anything? They are the hottest horses on earth. You're going to kill yourself."

            I was determined, so we brought him home and we were able to turn him out immediately with the other two horses I'd gotten because they'd all lived together before I got the two rescue horses. The new pony, who I called Crackers (registered name Get Crackin') was a love on the ground. He stood like a statue to be groomed and harnessed. Trainer and I worked together for a few weeks getting a harness and cart and getting everything fitted. Trainer never trusted him and would not get in the cart. We tried Crackers out in my pasture with me driving and he was pretty good. After several outings in my pasture, trainer agreed we could take him for a short jaunt on the road. She brought her bombproof Arabian gelding over and rode along while I drove Crackers.

            Turns out Crackers had only driven in arenas, and had never been on the road. He was terrified of mailboxes, newspapers in plastic bags, trash bags, driveways, puddles, and shadows on the road. That first drive was very short and I had a pony drenched in sweat at the end of it.

            From then on, I worked Crackers by myself. He was a bolter, also fond of running backwards, and I was sure we were both going to die a couple of times. Once he ran me into an empty lot about two miles from my house, which happened to be full of thorns. He bolted because my neighbor's elderly horse, who he'd seen regularly, was looking at him from quite a distance. I had to ground drive him all the way home because we ended up with two flat tires. We were lucky that's all that happened, because the brush was so high that I had no idea what was under it as we ran along. Another time, he spooked at a noise and tried to back the cart off the edge of a ravine. Had he back six more inches, the cart would have gone over and pulled him on top of me. Luckily he finally responded to the whip and my panicked "walk on, dammit!"

            Oddly, Crackers was fine with cars, my neighbor's semi (and its air horn), road graders, fire trucks with lights and siren going, trash trucks, and mostly kept himself together when a helicopter landed next to us. He was terrified of real estate signs, black trash bags (but white ones were OK), and never got over his fear of mailboxes. I knew I'd finally gotten through to him when I was able to pick up my mail from the cart. We also delivered my daughter's Girl Scout cookies one year.

            He never had much whoa, but we got to a place where I didn't feel like I was going to die every time we went out.

            He was the love of my life. He was sweet and cuddly on the ground, and always willing to go for a drive (and scare the heck out of me). When he started showing his age at around 27, I trained my daughter's pony to drive and started taking him out instead. Every time I started harnessing the other pony, Crackers would be frantic in the pasture, practically yelling "Take me! Take me!" But at that point, he just couldn't do it any more. I tried ground driving him for short distances so he wouldn't be pulling any weight, and he still couldn't seem to handle it. I finally had to euthanize him when he was 29 due to a sinus tumor. I still miss that quirky pony every day of my life.



            • #7
              Well, I got one who hadn't been broken to much of anything (he was broke to lead... ish) so I understand the risk. I had some driving experience. By that I mean years of actual driving and even starting a pony or 3 to drive... but much in much the same way as backyard pleasure riders have years of riding/training experience. Basically I got lucky in the ponies I started and I had enough common sense and riding experience to work it out and not get hurt. But basics and safety were as far as I really got. I also had some accidents (thank you pipe carts of the late 70's) and one Entirely Unsuitable Pony that gave me a healthy respect for how very scary it can be!

              So all that plus a lifetime of training and competing in other disciplines gave me a healthy respect for what I knew I could do and what I should not do as it came to training the green bean to drive, so I was reasonably confident buying a youngster (I was also 100% OK with keeping him as just a riding horse if that is how the cards played out).

              I had plans of starting him as a driving horse in the first year of starting him. We were doing lots of ground driving right from the beginning of starting him (because that is how I start a youngster). In 6 months he was doing some trail riding and basic under saddle work when I took him for a lesson with a person who starts driving horses (works with haffies, does some CDE, etc.). He wasn't "bad" at all, but here's where experience and knowing your horse comes in handy. I could tell he was very worried, which is not always easy to spot in a fjord, I am not sure the person handling him knew how mentally frazzled he was, because fjord frazzle is a subtle thing LOL.

              So I rethought The Plan and went back to training him under saddle, revisiting the ground driving/dragging periodically (under saddle and as I was ground driving), started showing him in some lower level western dressage and just tried to introduce him to something new all the time... I did that for another year. He took a deep breath about a lot of those new experiences, but I could tell that he was just a shade under explosive about shafts bumping on his side (when using my little PVC U thingie, we never made it much past a walk/super wide turns) and even a little worried about lines moving across his side/behind him if he could see them. So when I sent him off to be trained to drive it was a person with a LOT of recommendations from advanced level drivers and I was really honest with what I thought his strengths and holes were and that I had seen things I thought might make him not a good candidate for driving.

              To this day I am certain he would not have been a driving horse if he had been started by (god forbid) me or just a moderately experienced person. But Blanchard did a great job with him (and a great job training me!) Because of all the ground work and training I did they had him dragging the sled and in a cart inside the first week but it took every bit of his 90 days for him for him to get to the point of taking a deep breath even if he looked like a well trained driving pony to the average bystander (I got a feel for driving him when he was worried and it was enough for me to respect the pony but also enough for Blanchard to see I wasn't intimidated by it). And even though he has been driving for 19 months now and we finished our first season in competition, I am still respectful of him if he shows me he has a concern. For instance when I change out the competition wheels for the pneumatics (and vice versa) it obviously changes how the carriage sounds/feels to him and we get a day or two where I used to wonder why my pony is worried (and then I remember). It's a good day or two of walk/trot/halt transition... and then he takes a deep breath. So I can see where he could have easily not made a driving pony and probably wasn't a candidate for the average beginner driver.

              So the TLDR version is if you want to get a greenie, first ask yourself how comfortable/experienced you are with greenies in general (because even after he comes home from a trainer he is still going to be a greenie). Then either make sure it is sellable in another career, or you would be perfectly happy keeping it as a riding pony or you can fund its retirement for a good long while.
              Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.


              • #8
                I've got one! He is a gorgeous Shire. When I drove him on trial, I fell in love with how responsive he was and light in the mouth, not leaning on my hands as some do. What I didn't pick up on was we tried him in his 'safe place' i.e. in the couple acre field where he had been hanging out with his buddy for the last two years. Actually asking him to do work? He kicks or bucks. Not exactly safe driving material.
                Most of his training had been in an Amish farm team, judging by the pictures and video he had been hitched with Belgians that outweighed him at the time. I suspect if I had a bigger, more dominant horse to hitch him with, he would go along with it. I have a sneaking suspicion that he was never driven single and the training was being dragged along by the bigger horse.
                But for the time being I am working on him as a riding horse, where the 'I don't want to' balking is no more fun, but marginally safer to deal with. Maybe someday I'll work past the hot mess of anxiety and dominance in a 2000lb package!
                Honestly, I suspect that someone with better skills could make a very cool cart horse out of him or could have before he learned the kicking habit. Unfortunately since he is only sound for light work thanks to a blown tendon, that healed well, but is a permanent weakness (that happened just after I got him, and put him out of work for over a year, joy!), and the behaviour issues, and the fact that my partner loves him...well you don't buy a horse unless you can fund its retirement right?


                • Original Poster

                  These are all very helpful! With the exception of RMJacobs You're supposed to be telling me how the crazy one was a bad idea, not how he became your heart horse!

                  BTW, if I did get a greenie (and I am NOT getting a greenie!) I would have it started professionally and continue to have it worked with professionally for the entire 2-3 years I will be in Maryland. I get that 90 days is nothin when it comes to training horses. (I plan on having myself in professional training for the full 2 years as well.)
                  For the horse color genetics junky


                  • #10
                    Sorry, Twisting! But I probably am lucky that Crackers never hurt me. I don't think skill had much to do with it.



                    • #11
                      I personally trained ONE horse to drive, but it took a village. I already owned a mare that drove nicely --she'd been trained before I purchased her. When I acquired a 6 mo old pure Percheron colt, I planned to train him to drive. In a sense I did. But it took a whopping lot of people to help me. First, the Amish breeder who sold him to me took him back as a two year old and put him on the harrow with a team. The gelding (now) named Charlie, returned to me knowing how to stand to be harnessed, and pull without fussing --a harrow anyway. I then (wrongly) assumed I could hitch him to my 4 wheeled springboard. He took out 400 feet of fence, kicked the springboard to pieces, and the only part left of his harness was the collar. With my confidence shot, I sent him back to the Amish farmer who then put him on the corn picker and hay equipment. When he wasn't doing that, he did the manure spreader. Charlie went from a team of 8 to a team of 4 to a pair then solo. When he came back to me (I visited him often, unannounced, and always found him clean, well stabled, and with fresh water), Charlie was delighted, thrilled, over the moon to just pull a springboard.

                      In the next 25 years that I had him, he did a little of everything --riding, jumping, dressage, reining, logging, police work in crowd control, county fairs, horse shows, and fox hunting. He was known as "Good Time Charlie" --with him everything was fun.

                      I did put a lot of refinement into the pulling --and he won more than a few driving classes. But did I actually train him to drive? Sort of, with a village to help me: the Amish breeder and my Amish neighbors, the police deputy who used him for traffic work, the professional driver who used him for weddings, Kathy Zahm who taught my kids how to handle draft horses. And for the first eight years of his life, every spring, Charlie went back to his Amish breeder or a neighbor to do some serious draft horse work before I ever hooked him.

                      And PERSONALLY I think that's the reason many people find their draft horses difficult ---I think the breed MUST use its muscles --and do HEAVY work before one tried to introduce anything new. I generally (always) harrowed the dressage ring (about an acre) with Charlie before I hooked him. If he had thoughts of mischief, they vanished as he pulled that harrow for 30-40 minutes. I also had a stone boat for many years and would do the same thing with that --hook him and drive him around the pastures (literally picking up stones for my garden). Charlie was incredibly calm (exhausted?) after 30-40 min of heavy work. Then we might find a saddle and work on something or hook to the gig (I had a fun two cart he'd pull --looked like a semi hauling a boat).

                      When Charlie died, the local newspaper ran his picture on the front page --many people sent cards --one came from a boy in NZ who remembered Charlie from the 4-H fair . . .

                      Here's a link:



                      • #12
                        Foxglove, I agree completely with your post!
                        It is part of the difficulty with the Shire I have, I have to get him back into shape to do heavy work thanks to the injury, but I can't get him into work, because hitching him cold and out of shape to something heavy is a recipe to re injure the tendon. But hitching him to something that he has to dig into pull is the only time I have seen him comfortable about going to work, anything light he just looses his mind. And so I can't safely work him and so I can't...argh. Weird And Frustrating.


                        • #13
                          The first horse I was asked to break to drive that wasn't mine was a little Paint mare. I don't think she was quite 14 hands and the seller had her pulling a toy wagon off the saddle a d doing all sorts of other things that showed a calm potential driving horse demeanor that my client liked.

                          I started working with her and it became abundantly clear she had some sort of hormonal issue. One day she would be 100% fine with everything we were doing and the next I would spend 20 minutes getting her okay with me moving the whip 4" off the ground. Me standing relaxed and calm bouncing the tip softly on the ground as she threw herself around on the end of the lunge line like a fish.

                          I do think I could have done a better job with her now 8 years later, but her fundamental unpredictability made us agree that she was not driving material and her owner wasn't wanting to invest in a "what if" for horomones or an ovectomy to try and remedy it. She sold as a cute little kid's barrel horse and they ended up with a Haflinger gelding who had his own problems, but did ultimately work out of it and is a fine driving horse now.