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Coming back after a wreck

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    Coming back after a wreck

    I'm hoping to get some encouraging words or news.

    The short - has anyone been able to convince their horse to go back to driving after a wreck?

    The long story - over the last couple of years I've been teaching my horse to drive. We are both new to it and unfortunately there really isn't anyone in the vicinity to help (I am diligently looking though and may have found a resource this weekend). I did a lot of ground driving and even after I hitched the cart, I did a lot of driving from behind it working on transitions, voice commands, etc. I do have one of the easy carts (which from reading on the forum are not generally highly thought of). My mare had been doing fabulously. Taking everything in stride. Seemed to enjoy it. Wasn't ever worried about the cart behind her, the harness, any of it.

    Well, last weekend we had a wreck. I was driving in the arena working on transitions and she got spooked, took off, and made a turn to sharp. I got dumped out of the cart and she dragged the cart around on it's side which just spooked her more. Luckily, the harness essentially broke apart (the trace broke and the stitching on the saddle gave way - it's a cheaply made harness - I wasn't sure I would like driving so I didn't want to invest too much to start but that is a different story.)

    We are both okay. She doesn't have a scratch on her and I have a few bruises. I currently don't have a usable harness so I can't do much until I resolve that but she won't even go near the cart now. The closest I can get is to have the cart on one side of me (It's small and light so I can drag it around pretty easily) while leading her on the other. I'm planning to go back to some basics (ground driving) and getting some drag poles instead of shafts. Hopefully I will also be able to find someone local to give me some lessons or help.

    But several people have told me once they have this kind of incident, it is very difficult to have them go back to driving.

    I'm sorry to hear that but glad you are both ok. Driving wrecks can be very scaring and scary!!

    Its hard to say if your mare will drive again, I think it really depends on the animal (attitude) and how bad/scaring the wreck was. We have had a few accidents with a couple of different ponies (hitting tree roots and upsetting a 2 wheeled carriage - twice!, and had a mare just take off for a reason we don't know of), and the stallion that flipped the carriage had 0 issues with driving and continued to drive throughout his career. Both of the accidents were not major and the ponies both stopped right away.

    The mare we had an issue with did not like to drive, we did not trust her and retired and sold her on as a riding pony. She was never scared of the carriage afterwards, but would kind of "hunch" up when we drove her again and decided it just wasn't worth the risk. She loved to be ridden and is now a school pony and is doing great!

    I wish I had some more advice for you, but its really hard to tell on this end of the computer. If you can get help, that would be great. Start from the beginning again and see how she reacts. If shes at all tense, I personally wouldn't take the risk. But that's just me.


      DiamondJubilee has had vastly more driving experience than I who only ever trained and drove one horse. But I did train him, and drove him for 22 years in different of hitches and carriages. Unlike you I live in a community filled with experts on driving horses --so always had someone to give me advice and straighten out a problem

      Like you I had a wreck --I think in the 22 years I had the driving horse (full Percheron named Charlie), I had three or four wrecks --but the first one was similar to your and I had similar reservations about re-hitching.

      I had been driving Charlie as a baby in long lines, then put him in the driving horse breast collar harness when he was about a yearling (he was 16 hh at that point) and hitched him to a hay bale, put the kids on it and ground drove him all over. We didn't use blinders (ok, dumb move). As Charlie got older and bigger we started hitching him to the two wheeled cart --again, no blinders --just lunge lines on a snaffle bridle with a driving horse harness. We did fine. Then he got big.

      I bought him a harness with a collar (draft horse size), and a bigger cart. This one had four wheels and was metal rimmed --didn't know they sound different, but I learned quickly.

      Hitched Charlie, drove him out of the barn with the new rattling cart behind him and he took off ---he bucked, smashed the dashboard, raced away, hit a fence, pulled 400 feet of fence out of the ground, tipped me out of the cart (very slowly) then kicked the cart away, finishing by racing around the pasture with his tail in the air, bits and pieces of harness flying off him. When he finished, the only part left was the collar.

      Long story short --- The local draft horse guru brought a harness over while mine was fixed, with the proper bridle and bit --blinders, of course. He then had his granddaughter who was 10 ground drive Charlie a few minutes to make sure he know the commands. Finally, he had me hitch Charlie to a stone boat ---you can make one easily, two 4x4s, some 2x6s and a chain to hitch to across --see the www --and we three sat on it while Charlie drove around the fields --it's a lot of work to pull a stone boat with three people on it (sitting on a hay bale). He had me do that for another couple of weeks while everything was repaired --my harness and my carriage. Then before we hitched Charlie to the carriage again, we drove him in the stone boat until he was tired, hot, sweaty.

      And then with great trepidation, I hitched him, and got in. But I hitched him to the carriage (at the draft horse guy's instruction) in a soft spot in the field. The wheels sank a bit. Off we went --Charlie never did a thing wrong. I drove him in that carriage around and around the pasture, then through a gate and on to a drive. The carriage rattled. It didn't bother him.

      For the rest of the time I had Charlie (he died four years ago), I never hitched him without a thorough bit of work first --generally his harrow --but sometimes the stone boat (we wore it out and it eventually fell apart after 10-15 years.

      My long winded point is --you can, I think retrain your horse --but you need to put the horse to work. Don't just drive around the ring ---long drives --heavier load --that worked for me. The only other wrecks I had were when I didn't work him thoroughly --one time I didn't drop the tines before I left him on the harrow --he pulled the whole rig into the barn --another time I took a corner too sharply with the stone boat and rolled myself out . .. he was a great horse. Still miss him.


        This is gonna be long.

        I confess to having 3 memorable wrecks with my mini. All involved an Easy Entry cart, but at least 2 involved Pilot Error & 1 I was not in the cart.
        Mea Culpa, I have posted about all 3 on here

        #1-Getting ready to drive on my property.
        My practice is to bring cart out, harness mini, lead him out & tie (neckrope) to my fence, then bring cart to him.
        I then remove neckrope, get in cart & he has to take a couple steps back to get going.
        Prevents him bolting forward.
        I am alone here, so nobody available to head for me 99% of the time.
        This time I drove in my paddock first, then got lazy < Red Alert! and decided to lead him - still hitched to the cart - out my gate so I could drive on the property.
        Mini led out fine, but my other horses are loose in the paddock & Walker decided Out looked like fun.
        In trying to manage harmessed mini, cart & 12' gate, I could not get the gate closed in time.
        Add muddy ground, causing me to slip & all Hell broke loose.
        Horse got out & went trotting down the road.
        Mini pulled away & went after him, cart attached.
        I called horse, who miraculously came trotting back, shut the gate after him & went to find my mini, calling for him.
        The God of Fools was with me.
        Miracle #2: mini turned when he heard me & was coming back. Not on the road, but through the field next door. Field bordered by sticker bushes.
        Which thankfully snagged the cart. Lines also got tangled in a wheel which acted like a brake.
        I slogged through ankle-deep mud to free cart & mini. Thankfully he was not hurt. Cart had a flat tire. I got the bejesus scratched out of both arms doing this - well-deserved
        Led him back, then got in and drove a very short bit to make sure he was okay.
        I know, not the best idea, but we both survived.

        #2-At County Fair.
        We'd already driven in a class the day before without incident.
        Waiting to go in my 1st class - Gambler's Choice.
        I forgot to get the course map, friend brought one to the warm-up so I could see it.
        I was 2nd to go in
        He was fine driving in the crowded warmup, as we passed the ingate, I peeked in to see where the course started.....
        And he bolted into the arena.
        Footing was not good, very deep in the middle, which is where we were headed.
        I tried turning him to the rail, but too-sharp, causing the cart to tip.
        Out I went & poor mini dragged the cart, flipped himself & was caught.
        He was fine, me, not so much (cracked a rib).
        But I drove him on the fairgrounds the next day & he was fine.

        #3-At a Cones derby. Just for fun we had a mini Drill Team. All going swimmingly, until I made the same mistake of turning too sharp.
        Out I go, off goes mini, but this time I still had a hand on the lines, reflexively yelled "Whoa!"...
        And he did
        Drove him to finish the drill - got a spectacular black eye from the protective sunglasses over my regular glasses - in Cones the next day & trails the following 2 days.

        My point is you don't know until you do.
        My guy is apparently very forgiving as well as brave & sensible.
        Your mare will let you know if she can recover from her wreck.

        Hope you have a good trainer or experienced friend to help you through.
        I have no trainers nearby, but have benefitted greatly from the advice & help of Driving Club members with decades of experience.

        This year, at Fair, successfully doing Gambler's Choice:
        The Bridge of Death

        Last edited by 2DogsFarm; Jan. 27, 2020, 12:03 PM.
        *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


          Original Poster

          Thank you everyone for your words of encouragement! Once I get necessary repairs made, I will definitely start again (though maybe a little slower and hopefully with some expert help). I have found that I really really enjoy driving. Almost as much as riding so would like to pursue more.

          This particular horse is usually pretty good but well she is a mare so somethings she just can't seem to let go or forgive. I guess only time will tell. The good news is I have 3 other horses to choose from to teach to drive if she decides that the sport isn't for her.


            I would definitely start from the beginning training steps and see how she does. One thing I think you might have learned from this is that cheap harness is never a bargain. Can you imagine what would have happened if the harness had fallen apart under different circumstances? So I'd say to start again, and be sure to have a quality harness. Used is fine as long as all stitching is secure, buckles are in good shape, etc.

            For the record, I've only had one wreck, but it was a doozy. I was driving my saint of a pony up the grass on the side of my very steep driveway, and my car started backing down. I knew my husband had been driving it, so I assumed it was him driving and didn't worry as my pony didn't mind cars passing us. The car didn't make the turn in the driveway, then plowed into the cart, sending me flying. Turned out it had rolled on its own. My neighbor saw it happen and came over to ask me if I was dead. I wasn't, but I didn't feel too good, to say the least. My husband came out and asked me why my car was crashed into a tree farther down the driveway. I just yelled "Go catch Salt--he's loose with the cart and I don't know where he went."

            Salt bolted up the rest of the hill into the backyard, and was calmly grazing, still attached to the wreck of the cart. I insisted on unhitching him myself and checking him over, then I pretty much hit the ground. Luckily Salt was unhurt.

            This pony was so laid back in harness that I was pretty sure I could drive him again as long as I started from the beginning and took it at his speed. But we'd already had the worst drive we ever had that day. He was developing cataracts and spooking at stuff he saw all the time, and my disability had gotten bad enough to make me wonder if I should even be driving him. So I retired us both from driving that day. He was happy for three years of retirement until he died of old age a little over a year ago.

            I still miss driving, and if I didn't have a significant disability, I would have continued, maybe with a new pony.



              Our experience with Accidents is that you do NOT want harness failure! We have been in "incidents" where horses stayed under control because harness did not fail, release it's hold on the horse. We have seen broken harness allow horse to think it was sort of freed, then fight and escape from restraint, when things went REALLY bad.

              You might check out some used harness, used vehicles, which offer good quality at lower prices than new. Synthetic strap is good harness with low upkeep, strong. Facebook has a number of sale sites for these items to shop in. GET measuments from your equine body, so you and seller can know if something will fit your horse.

              Not sure how bad the cart got beat up being dragged. Shafts bent, wheels bent, or how the wheel is anchored on the cart? Not a symmetrical body anymore? Getting them straightened by pulling on them, may cause metal fatigue, make them easier to BREAK OFF when stressed another time! The inexpensive easy-entry carts are known for inexpensive, poor construction, which makes them easy to damage/break. A bit of width on a 2-wheel cart can add stability, less tippiness, so commonly only seen on the ltitle carts with air filled tires. .Quality vehicles are not usually hard to resell if you don't care for it later.

              Something you may want to invest in is a Kicking Strap to use with beginning horse. It goes over the rump/croup, hangs down to attach to the shafts on each side. Horse has a harder time humping up to kick or get a leg up over the shaft because cart weight, driver weight, is HEAVY to hoist up. Most horses are quite discouraged at the weight, never get a kick started.


                Original Poster

                I hadn't thought of a kicking strap and will look into it. That was partially what caused the wreck - she kicked up during a transition and kicked the cart which she didn't like. Go figure.

                This cart and harness were bought used and on a complete whim - garage sale from where someone was moving and I thought it would be fun to try. Now that I have bit more experience, I will be looking to invest in much better equipment. I never had any plans to take the cart or harness off my property since I was pretty sure (and now have been proven right) that they wouldn't withstand it.

                Luckily the cart is in ok shape - the wooden singletree is broken and both wheels are pretty bent (but I already had replacements for them since they were in crappy shape).

                Driving is becoming more popular in my area and our local horse expo is in a few weeks. I'm hoping to find some experts there as well as advice on equipment.


                  I've had two near wrecks along with some hair-raising experiences, and I fully echo what was said before: a) it depends on the horse whether you can come back from it or not, and b) always, ALWAYS, save your pennies and buy GOOD used gear, you do not want an equipment failure. There is something about equipment failing at the exact wrong moment that just throws gas on the fire, equine is already on its last nerve and trying to cope, and then the familiar feeling of the harness and carriage it knows and trusts suddenly snaps and disappears. Things that generally don't flap, flap, and things that are usually quiet start to make noise. It's extremely unnerving for equines to have their equipment fail -- not to mention for us!

                  First near-wreck, I was being stupidly bold and hand-galloping my morgan along braided, twisty wooded trails, changing leads as we switched back and forth among trails. I made a snap decision to take an unfamiliar trail that looked wide and clear enough. As we did our calvary charge up a small hill there was a fallen tree at the very apex that I didn't see until we were upon it. Not very big, about 18" in diameter, but enough that my boy jumped it, the front wheels made it over, and the back ones did not. I thought the carriage was going to be ripped in half. FORTUNATELY, my gear did not fail. Pony got a nasty jerk from the sudden stop and nearly sat down. I got flung almost completely over the dash of the carriage. Amazingly I kept control of the reins and they didn't get hung up on the swingletree, as we both floundered around trying to right ourselves.

                  Dobbin was VERY upset at the whole ordeal and wanted to bolt but the carriage was STUCK. He lightened his front feet a few times, I soothed him with my voice, and quickly jumped from the carriage to the ground to sooth him further (he has always been very positively affected by my hands on his flanks). As he calmed down, I scratched my head on how to get out of this one. I was getting ready to unhitch him, so he was free from this mess and could be kept safely, when a spooked deer bolted, spooked him, he bolted forward just a horse-length, and the carriage - free from my weight - popped over the log. Problem solved, I checked him over, checked my harness over, checked the carriage over, got back in and drove home.

                  Second near-wreck, I was driving far from home with a friend I had trailered out with. Moving at a spanking trot down a windy sandy trail, front-wheel hit a hidden tree root in the sand. Out of nowhere, I was catapulted from the carriage, literally ass over tea kettle as I had an upside-down view of my friend jumping off the back step as the carriage neared the tipping point. I hit a tree with my back and slid down the trunk onto my head. Amazingly again, the equipment didn't fail and I didn't lose the reins. From the the jerk on the reins, Dobbin dove into a large bush and was completely entangled, his head craned almost completely around from my hold on the reins. We got up, soothed him and calmed him down, checked him over, the harness and carriage, all was well except I broke the arm of my seat and I was bruised. All well, we drove back home.

                  In both instances, had I had an equipment failure, had something broken, I probably would not have been able to regain control and calm my horse and give him back his confidence after such a frightening ordeal. In all of our experiences, we've come to the razor's edge of losing control, but never quite did. I think that is why his mind never was blown from these ordeals. We survived them together as a team.

                  Not that I'm happy I had these experiences, but my horse became more solid and trustworthy and sensible for them, and we were supremely lucky we didn't get seriously hurt.
                  Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


                    Really nothing much to add here - you've gotten really good advice above -- re-start the horse from the beginning, have someone (preferably a professional if possible) there to help, and invest in safer equipment.
                    The only other thing I would add is that don't underestimate the possible effect of PTSD on yourself. I once had a wreck at a competition. The weather was misty/drizzly, so things were wet. I came up on an obstacle on course that my horse didn't much care for. She stopped short - I kept going. Once she realized I was out of the carriage, my horse took off at a leisurely canter back to the barn, where she was caught by my friend, who immediately got in the carriage and drove her around like nothing had happened. The harness didn't break, the cart didn't overturn, she didn't run into anything... so to her, it was almost as if nothing had happened.
                    Not so for me... it was several months before her putting a foot out of place didn't induce a minor panic in my mind. I kept replaying that accident over and over. Time, patience, and more practice helped me get my confidence back. I'm not saying that will definitely happen with you, just be aware that it might. You may not even feel that way until you are actually driving again. Good luck with your horse!


                      Original Poster

                      Thank you all for such helpful advice - and all the stories. It makes me feel so much better that I am not the only one whose had an accident. And so many of you seem to have come back from them successfully! Wonderful to hear to perseverance sometimes pays off.