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Driving horses are born, not made?

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  • Driving horses are born, not made?

    So, awhile ago I mentioned I am selling my driving harness. I bought it in hopes of breaking my girl to harness, and eventually, getting her to drive with a vehicle and everything. But, after some long considerations and thinking about my mare's personality, I decided driving was NOT in our future, no matter how far into the future.

    Perhaps it's because I'm so inexperienced with driving, but it seems like you need to start off with a special horse if you want it to drive. Special in that the horse doesn't lose its cool or become panicked or irrational in scary or foreign situations. Fractious, or highly-reactive horses just seem like a wreck waiting to happen if you put them between the shafts.

    I decided my mare wasn't going to be a driving horse because of her personality. She is, as I mentioned, highly reactive and can be fractious. She is FULLY capable of losing her head and coming completely unglued, and it has happened undersaddle before. It was scary undersaddle. I can't even IMAGINE what would it be like if she had a meltdown while strapped to a large cart. Like someone said before, a loose driving horse is like a loose horse with a couple-hundred pound weapon strapped to it.

    But that's not my point. My question to the more experienced driving folks here is, do you agree or not? Do you think a horse needs a certain personality to be a driving horse, or do you think with the correct training, ANY horse can be a driving horse?
    Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

  • #2
    They need a certain mindset, which may be more common in certain breeds or family lines within breeds.

    It is like developing any equine for doing certain lines of work. You start with animals who are successful doing this job. You breed them, then try to make them better at the job, bring in other successful working animals, to widen your base of blood.

    Along with this is the huge EXPECTATION of the equine handler. They EXPECT to finish with the driving animal or whatever job they are breeding for. The handlers plan, do the homework, training and succeed, in getting the animals of this breeding to do their job well.

    Some breeds are renowned for being multi-purpose in skills. Morgans and Saddlebreds immediately come to mind. The young animals of these breeders, are usually driven and ridden. Many European equines were both ridden and driven, with Lippizans, German breeds probably the best known in the USA. In the past, pretty much ALL the young horses were expected to both ride and drive, including Arabs, TBs, Hackneys, because they were more useful to their owners.

    The more focused breeding, developing specialists within breeds, is a more recent development in the last 30 years. All-Around champions in breeds are not as common or skilled, as they used to be. Body styles are too different now, even within breeds.

    Not really any different than breeding cattle horses. Some lines have cow, speed, were more heavily promoted with these qualities. No use trying to cut cattle on a horse who dislikes cattle! Roping off tiny horses who are not big enough to stop a cow is silly. You breed animals who are successful at the job.

    We have Cleveland Bay crosses. Cleveland Bays have been bred for over 200 years to a standard body style, inspected to ensure quality before registering. There is greater similarity, from using closely bred horses in the last years, has a small gene pool. They are very similarly made, often related. They have been expected to be an all-purpose breed, suitable in build for many jobs, ridden and driven, sound in work.

    They have a good mindset, but need a light hand to manage them. Not suitable for beginners in most cases, very smart, learn quickly, good or bad. However they are very accepting to skilled handling, willing, cooperative without being over-reactive. Great minds, but they need the good, consistant handling to bring that out. Otherwise they can be quite "opinionated". Having many driving animals within the breed over the years, chances are high, that a Cleveland Bay horse WILL drive.

    Some won't, but that can happen in any breed known for a special skill. Some animals in that breed just don't have the mindset to do the activity. You call that "Atypical" because he does not fit the average of the breed.

    I do think that Driving horses have to be very cooperative, accepting of situations, willing to work with people, takes a great mind to begin with. Many nice animals are chosen, but not all are successful in finishing as Driving horses.


    • #3
      Before this year, I would have said almost any horse can drive, but not evey one will be a driving horse.
      This year, I have heard of 3 who, in the past year, even with a very competitent trainer, didn't come out driving. One was a welsh, a haflinger and an icelandic, so at least some that were "driving" breeds.
      but fractous isn't a good driving characteristic, no matter what breed.


      • #4
        Yes, good comments from all. You can't always predict which horses are going to be good driving animals, but you certainly can predict that only a few will be good driving animals. I've now tried driving training with 8 of my school horses, all steady smart capable willing healthy creatures with good work ethics and a high tolerance for human error, sudden noises, startling events. Only three are showing a real ability between the traces. Three were absolute no-gos from the beginning. The other two could probably make good driving horses in more capable hands than mine.

        Definitely a gift. And what a surprise it was to me and Sparrow both when this previously roughly-handled, snakebitten, off-balance, unhandy-mouthed, upside-down-built foundation App mare turned out to be a happy partner in harness!


        • #5
          I thin most horses can be taught to drive, and wether they end up being suitable for a beginner or only for a seasoned expert is the same as with riding horses. And I have known horses that you would let a beginner drive that you would not let a beginner ride and vice versus.

          But I think all beginner drivers, no matter what their riding experience, need to start with a 12-24 year old super broke, very experienced in the ways of the world driving horse. I don't care if you have been riding 50 years and have competed nationally or internationally in a riding sport, you should start with the same driving horse that would be appropriate for a rank beginner. If you are very experienced with riding and just plain experienced with horses you might only drive this horse a few times in lessons, if you are more of an average typical rider and horse owner then you should buy this horse and drive it for at least a few years before you try a green driving horse.


          • #6
            In my opinion any healthy horse can be put to harness.

            If the horse is confident and forward going then it can even be a decent and capable driving horse.

            If its of a certain breed and type, confident and forward going then if its in the hands of an experienced and competent driver with high level ability, then it can be a great driving horse with masses of ability and huge potential to do fantastic things.

            Conversely the aforementioned is just a horse to someone that can't drive. And a novice driver will never realise the full potential of the most advanced school master driving horse.

            As a trainer I've had more horses than I can possibly remember come to me and with a mass of "problems". In truth though I can only think of a memorable handful that actually had any problem that I could even find and repeat. The rest had one problem and one problem only - wrong owner/driver.

            I personally spend more time assessing horses and just driving them and training owners and getting them so they can drive their perfectly decent horses rather than the other way round.

            In driving same as in riding there's a saying that goes novice and novice is a bad combination. Or green + green = black + blue

            An experienced horse rider that has never driven a horse is a novice driver. A novice driver that is starting out is best advised to go and buy a horse that has a lot of miles and has "been there, seen it and done it and got a t-shirt for it".

            If you're a novice driver, then there's no way you can have the depth and breadth of knowledge, the skill and speed to react and manage and the ability to give a novice driving horse the confidence it needs to believe that forward is where it needs to go.

            Every single bit of tension and trepedation transmits right down that enourmous length of driving rein and straight through your voice to the horse. I can't begin to imagine what would make a novice driver think they could bring on a young novice horse.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Thomas_1 View Post
              I can't begin to imagine what would make a novice driver think they could bring on a young novice horse.
              In my case I guess it was senility... But Maggie and I clicked and I think we've done quite well. Yes, I've had some excellent guidance from a great trainer, but after my husband started driving my lessons became very few and far between
              Pat Belskie - ASHEMONT Farm

              PnP Distributors - KUTZMANN Carriages


              • #8
                Sublimequine--it seems you have made a sane decision. It is a good horseman who recognizes their abilities and the abilities of their horses. Teaching a horse to drive takes a lot of time, skill, trainer help and a horse that fits all of the aforementioned characteristics.

                I have a horse that does NOT want to be riden. He is broken to ride but has gotten every single rider, including the trainer, off. It is a matter of time before someone gets hurt. I am not willing to have that happen--his saving grace is he is one he-- of a driving horse. It was suggested to me that I sell him to a rodeo--he is that good at bucking.

                My point here is--if it isn't safe or fun, why do it?


                • #9
                  Sublimequine--it seems you have made a sane decision. It is a good horseman who recognizes their abilities and the abilities of their horses. Teaching a horse to drive takes a lot of time, skill, trainer help and a horse that fits all of the aforementioned characteristics.

                  I have a horse that does NOT want to be riden. He is broken to ride but has gotten every single rider, including the trainer who backed him off. It is a matter of time before someone gets hurt. I am not willing to have that happen--his saving grace is he is one he-- of a driving horse. It was suggested to me that I sell him to a rodeo--he is that good at bucking.

                  My point here is--if it isn't safe or fun, why do it?

                  As to are there horses that do not drive---a very good friend with experience in Standardbreds taught her Morgan mare to drive. She tried for 3 years to get this mare to relax and never succeeded. She sent this horse to a big trainer up north to evaluate for a driving horse. The pony was sent home not to be driven anymore. So yes not all horses drive.


                  • #10
                    Driving "green horses"

                    Way back when, I broke my pony to harness and had a ball for years driving him around the courtryside, then acquired another one that did the same. Had a couple of minor accidents, but fortunately nothing serious where someone got hurt. Fast forward to present day. Re-introduced my self to driving, got a green broke (riding) horse that I decided I would like to drive. Took some lessons with a top driver/coach. As I progressed ground driving my horse, decided that green driver/green horse don't mix, so sold that horse and searched for one that was broken to drive. Found my lovely Paint mare. She was not "schooled", but the lady who owned her drove her for pleasure. . We have now been at our present barn almost 3 years and have had regular driving lessons and we have progressed so much. In hind sight, I probably should have sent the previous horse to be trained to drive by a professional, but don't know if she would have made a good driving horse. I am very happy with my present horse and have alot of fun driving her down the road and showing or just taking her for a trailride. That's what it's all about, isn't it having fun and enjoying the horse.

                    Happy safe driving to everyone


                    • #11
                      Yes and I know it happens all the time. I make money and a living from the consequences. But I still struggle to imagine what is in the tiny mind of those who think that they're on to a winner.

                      Seems evidence that common sense definitely isn't common


                      • Original Poster

                        Originally posted by Thomas_1 View Post
                        Yes and I know it happens all the time. I make money and a living from the consequences. But I still struggle to imagine what is in the tiny mind of those who think that they're on to a winner.

                        Seems evidence that common sense definitely isn't common
                        If you're the one making money off their mistakes, what're you complaining for?
                        Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!


                        • #13
                          Who said I was complaining. I merely said I can't begin to imagine their thought process.


                          • #14
                            My experience is very limited, but I am curious to see whether you more experienced people think

                            My Welsh mountain pony is an extremely forward, "let's go!" guy who is without a doubt, the "lookiest" pony I have ever known. His eyes bug out of his head and he shies at all sorts of things. I've never been sure whether he is scared, or just has a perverse sense of humour! I have owned him since he was four months old, and he has been handled, lunged etc. just like any of my others.

                            I was concerned about driving him, because he is so quick and reactive - but right from the beginning, as soon as the harness went on, he was as steady as could be. The first time he was hitched, he acted just like a pro. He is still very forward and quick pony, but not spooky at all. I don't know what the driving term is, but I would say that he scores high on "rideability".

                            To this day, you could lead him around a field and have him jump sideways every ten steps, but once he is hitched, he is all business. I wouldn't call him a pony for a novice yet, but he is very rewarding to work with.

                            So how do you tell if a horse will be steady in harness, without trying it?


                            • #15
                              Yup yup

                              jej That is a good question.. I have one at my farm that my trainer asks about every couple of months and I always respond "no way! that horse is scared of his own shadow." I suppose that if I were brave (foolhearty) enough to try him he MIGHT drive. On the other hand I have another that looks like she is afraid of nothing but she's (so far) no driver. She just wants no part of it as soon she is asked to work. I also remember it was only Sept 2007 that professionals were questioning whether little Onyx could be driven safely and he is now one of my best.

                              So how DO you know until you give it a thorough try?

                              At the same time I ask this question I also say that people should choose horses that are at least likely to have driving aptitude rather than swimming upstream with a breed that was never created to drive.


                              • #16
                                jej - without seeing the pony ridden and driven its difficult to be absolutely accurate.

                                But what I'm thinking is this....

                                Sounds to me like a typical clever Welsh pony. Quick and sharp and intelligent. And like a lot of that disposition, they do much much better given a job and something to concentrate on. They're quick to learn but that means learn good or bad. Indeed it sounds precisely like the majority of my welsh ponies and particularly like one of mine I posted about here:


                                If you have time to read that posting, you'll see that the pony I've described there has attributes similar to yours.

                                Also puts me in mind of my VERY best ever once in a lifetime anglo arab. I competed him fei HDT (singles and pairs) and he was also an intermediate eventer. To be fair not many people drove him as he was always quick but he was much more 'sensible' in harness than under saddle. Again though it was always in his disposition to be clever and to know what was required. I well recall riding him out one day (with my 2 daughters) when he was being a total pillock and banana'ing round anything and everything and looking with the big boggly eyes and then stopping dead at a patch of dead grass on the side of the lane! Now I'd owned this horse all his life and well knew what he was like and so was just ignoring his behaviour and chatting to my daughters, till he stopped and then I really told him off and made him go forward - which he did at speed and giving the dry grass the "scarey look"! And then we came round the corner and coming towards us was a landrover with hazard lights on, a huge Pea Viner and 3 tractors. Duke went from being the "idiot hot anglo arab" to "now is not the time to play about" in a micro-second and forward he marched giving the others a quiet steady lead down a narrow gap at the side.

                                Now I've already said that I think any healthy horse can be put to harness. How do you tell what a horse is going to be like? That's by assessing everything and anything about its general manner and disposition and type when you handle it and start working with it. Evaluating how confident and forward it is. How biddable it is. How quick to learn it is. How it responds and reacts to the familiar and to new situations.

                                When I'm asked to put a horse to harness I'm often asked "how long will it take" and my response is often "I don't know, I've not met your horse yet". I normally go on to say that I can usually give an indication after a few days here getting to know it.

                                The welsh pony breeds are exactly as you describe and if you were to come to me, I'd be expecting what you've experienced and I'd be surprised if it wasn't like that. Its why they don't suit everyone and its why they often end up labelled as opinionated and naughty. If they're owned by someone who struggles to cope with their being so forward and quick then they'll soon learn how to evade or disobey and often even develop problems because of that. The way I see it, you always work with the horse. And that's why its the combination of horse + driver/rider that is so important.