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What type of horse makes a good driving horse and how to find trainer?

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  • What type of horse makes a good driving horse and how to find trainer?

    Hi everyone, first time poster on the driving section.

    I have always thought it would be cool to have my horse learn to drive, but would not like to do it myself. My aunt and I trained my first pony to do so, pretty successfully for novices (and he was a spooky little guy), but for this one I would like to have a professional do it right I think.

    He's a 15.3 hand solid dark bay Thoroughbred gelding (would look very handsome in harness ) and is 14 years old. Sound and a pretty tolerant guy overall. I ride him and do dressage/jumpers and he takes a joke and tolerates a lot but has his moments of getting a bit hot. He generally is very willing and responsive, always goes forward, does not rear (but has the occassional buck), and lunges very well. Responds well to voice cues/clucks/kisses and the whip. He's generally pretty laid back about stuff being dragged around him and hanging off of him, so I think that's a good start.

    I can't afford to send him to a driving trainer right now, but for the future, how long does it generally take the trainer to have them going walk/trot in the harness pulling a cart safely? 30 days for a horse that already knows voice commands and is well broke under saddle? Also, how much does it generally cost per 30 days (similar to a riding trainer- like $1000 or so)?

    And lastly, how could I go about prepping him in the meantime? Would running long lines through a surcingle and attaching them to his snaffle bridle and ground driving him all around with a whip be a good start? Getting a good immediate stop and getting him used to that? After that, how can I get him used to something dragging? I don't have a harness or cart large enough so I can't start playing with that.

    Oh and could you recommend any good trainers in the MD/PA area? Thanks!

  • #2
    Any sensible safe sane sound horse can happily drive. My friends' OTTB was put to cart because he was owned by a Standardbred Peep before she got him. She Events, but she can drive him too.

    Yes, you can continue to ground drive him, and you can also safely put pvc pipe "shafts" on him (you can use western stirrups if you don't have harness), just letting them drag on the ground, while you ground drive him.

    You can also teach him to not spook at ANYTHING dragging - first from his side, then from behind. YOu can do this undersaddle or from the ground. I think any broke horse SHOULD be able to let you rope a branch/small log and drag it YOu have to do that during Trail Trials and it comes in handy on the ranch.

    Whatever you do, don't hitch him Leave that to the pro's (sounds like you plan to do that)

    Oh - and do lots of rope work, from the ground. Toss a rope and let it gently curve/wrap around every part of his body - especially legs/hindlegs.
    Equine & Pet Portrait Artist
    **Morgans Do It All**


    • #3
      I like a nice quiet, sensible horse/pony for driving (perhaps even a little on the dumb side but thats just me). I have taught a few ponies to drive after I have backed them. I do a lot of ground driving in harness, and even attach an empty container with a few rocks in it to the harness for them to get used to noise and something bumping on them (I change the placement of the container - I might have it attached to the backband one day, attached to the breeching another day and then on the breastcollar another day. Its also attached with bindertwine and a snap). I also rub a whip along their legs and back while I long line them. I like them to get used to being touched but not being able to see it. I do a lot of voice commands as they need to know walk, trot and whoa before I do anything else - and they must know these commands really well! After that is done I attach a tire (which is attached to a whipple tree) and I get them to drag that around (the traces are attached to the whipple tree with binder twine in case of an accident). The first time I get them to drag a tire, I make sure I have someone heading them so they don't get too scared. I just have them petting them and reasuring them that everything is cool and to keep them straight. I do all of this work in a round pen, and then once they are comfortable, I take them out where its flatter and can move in a straight line. I will also tie trot poles to the tugs on the side of the harness to get them used to having a "shaft" attached to their sides. They get used to the bumping and the feel of the poles....There are a few other things that I do before I attach a carriage, but those are the main things I work on. I make sure that the pony is totally comfortable with everything before I move on to the next step. So there's lots for you to do before he gets broke to a carriage! Have fun and enjoy!!


      • #4
        Great suggestions for you so far. I would add one more thing - and w/ a bit of creativity, you dont need a harness to do this - lunge line would work. You want the horse to get used to moving forward into the restraining pressure of the breast collar AND to understand that whoa means whoa EVEN WHEN the britching bumps him on his butt. I would start with the front, run a lunge line from behind, forward around chest and back the other side. (maybe thru stirrups or something) Have a friend lead horse first at a walk while you are behind pulling on both ends of lunge line. Then try some trotting. It doesn't need to be much, just enough so they dont think "stop" when they need to lean into the tack and pull. Same arrangement, wrapped around said horse's butt. One person leads horse at walk, you are in front and say Whoa; horse stops you give quick pull on the lines so it comes into his butt and he then learns that little event is different from whip cues. DO THIS BEFORE ADDING IN THE TIRE!! lol......

        No specific suggestions on trainers, but google around for local driving clubs, you'll have no problem finding some in your general area. Check w/ members for suggestions, references etc.

        A really good trainer will have the horse accepting and responding to the bit much like a dressage horse. Many horses that are pleasure driven do not do this, but if you get that type of training, it is much easier to put the horse (and vehicle) where you want, when you want.
        If you do your homework as provided in these responses, AND the horse is out in trail and country road situations, 30 days would get you a very good start. Then think about having said trainer giving you some lessons as well. I had an arrangement where I sent my horse to a trainer about an hour away; she worked her during the week- I think three days, and I went down on weekends for lessons; did that for 2 months, EXCELLENT.

        No clue on costs; its been a while since I've been in the driving world.
        Last edited by 2tempe; Nov. 24, 2011, 06:22 PM.
        We don't get less brave; we get a bigger sense of self-preservation........


        • #5
          Suggestion here, is not to tie anything on him with strong attachments. If doing the PVC poles, tie them with LIGHT, very breakable string. If horse DOES react, string breaks so item tied on falls off. You calm him, tie them back on, move him off again. He learns to stand quietly, wait for you to work and quit reacting to dragging feel and noise. You just keep repeating and he should get less reactive.

          We do not use the PVC because it can break and leave very sharp endges for the horse to get hurt on. If you have access to any woods, a couple saplings have worked fine for us. You want them 10-12 feet long, couple inches thick. Fresh ones are extremely flexible, light weight and certainly cheap enough!

          You may want to take some lessons with a Driving trainer, to get an idea of what you are looking for when horse is being cooperative. When to push, when to back off in asking things of the horse. How to use your aids, voice, whip, reins to direct him. Not as easy as it sounds.

          I am sorry, but anyone who expects to have a horse hitched in 30 days is probably going a bit too fast. Driving Training is not a timed event, with horse doing certain things on day 22. You can only go on to the next step if horse is VERY good at ALL the previous steps! His knowledge is built on what he knows well. Can't miss any of the many steps. Your ground work time is designed to establish your working partnership with horse, have him respond promptly, correctly, to voice, lines and whip signals. He MUST have learned to be confident in your leadership abilities to keep HIM safe and unhurt as you ask him to obey, so he can be all those things hitched to a vehicle, facing new things way out front of you.

          Have you got any Driving books that are fairly basic training? Doris Ganton wrote one titled something like "Training the Horse to Drive". Has good illustrations, steps you need to follow in his learning progress. Often available used on Ebay.

          You might like to read the Sticky's above for more information. And also cruise thru the old posts to find lots of helpful information.

          A piece of extra harness you WILL want to have for horse who throws in a buck now and again, would be a Kicking Strap. This is put over his hip areas, fastened to the 2-wheel cart shafts to prevent him kicking over the shafts or dashboard. I STRONGLY recommend you having a Kicking Strap for safety, to prevent situations from EVER happening. Strap does nothing until horse tries to lift his hindquarters up, kick out. Strap only engages when the rump goes up, puts the weight of cart on him, holding him downward.


          • #6
            I absolutely agree with GH about the 30-day wonders

            Some trainers will tell you they can do that but usually there are steps missing or rushed and those gaps in the training can come back to bite you when you least need it
            They lose the base of confidence that will give you a safe horse for the future

            We have seen/heard of several horses recently that went to trainers and the owners were happily raving about how "done" their horses were after only One Month of training . . . Then the next report we hear is someting going down the tubes and they are back to slow - steady training

            All of our recent 3 horses went out to the trainers well established as a riding horse. Our first boy out to the trainers was pretty solid driving after 10 weeks. The other 2 were at the trainers for about 4 months

            I have to say I thought things were going very slow for those 2 and the trainers style had changed between horse 1 and #s 2 & 3.

            Cooper - our last boy out was not well established driving after 4 months and came home anyway and had a melt down - so we switched to a different local trainer who worked in a different style - much more suited to his emotional needs He was very young minded for his age and size and needed a lot of support

            No matter how much ground work you do at home prior to training
            there is still a series of basic steps to go to harnessing and driving
            and these are just going to take some time
            Dont skimp on these steps

            As to price . . .
            Here on the east coast (NJ) you can figure an average of $40-$70 per hour training fee using an itinerant (come to you) trainer
            Sending out, you have to consider the facilities the barn has. One with an indoor is just going to cost more
            So training can run anywhere from $600 per month without indoor
            to well over $1000 with indoor

            You want to ask how many days a week your horse will be worked (on average)
            You want to make sure that you are not sending your horse out in the middle of the active show season - if your trainer has a lot of clients going to multiday shows
            and you want to know (on average) how much time working they will get per session

            best of luck finding the right situation


            • #7
              Originally posted by Fancy That View Post
              Any sensible safe sane sound horse can happily drive.
              I really have to dispute this. We have had two very sensible, safe, sound horses that Would. Not. Drive! They were wonderful riding horses that just could not get over the sounds of the carriage behind them. And we went slow, slow, slow on the training and desensitizing. Did everything that was outlined here in these posts. So just know that not every horse is going to make a driving horse.

              That said, you have gotten some great tips and advice here.
              Kanoe Godby
              See, I was raised by wolves and am really behind the 8-ball on diplomatic issue resolution.


              • #8
                Crown, I hope you can get your horse driving!

                I trained my Qh to drive myself because I had trainer-finding (and affording) issues. Costs are going to depend on where you live. For me, the average was $1000/mo, and every trainer I spoke to said they would need at least 90 days (working him 6 days a week). Although I had been doing some ground work with my guy, all the trainers stated they would be starting fresh, as though I did no work at all.

                I had a couple trainers come out for evaluations. Some I liked, some I didn't like, and neither did the horse. I did end up sending him to a trainer for 5 days, but it was a nightmare, and I pulled him out. I did not think I would be able to train him to drive, because I had never done it before. It did take me 5 months to train him (3 days a week), but he's driving brilliantly and has had 44 drives on him since being trained in July. 33 road miles, too. He's a great guy, patient, and calm, and very tolerant.

                You've gotten a lot of great advice. I can only emphasize that you really really need to work on whoa with any driving horse. For me, I "free hitch". My horses are standing on their own accord in the driveway, not far from an open gate to the street, with no handler. They need to stand until I hitch the cart. So whoa is pivotal. Whoa has to mean whoa at all costs, under all situations. I own 3 driving horses, and work 1 other. I've had traces fall off, splint boots come loose, even had a horse manage to pull the bridle off one ear. The horse needs to know the meaning of whoa to keep control under all situations.

                Someone else mentioned about getting the horse familiar with working into a breast collar with pressure applied, and this is also super duper important. When I finally did my QH hitched, he wouldn't pull! Or he'd pull a bit and stop, and start backing, because he felt he was being "choked down" by the breast collar, and was giving to the pressure. So learning forward under all circumstances is extremely important.

                this is a video of me working with him on long lines, with a tire, then, finally with the cart. This was his 1st time put to the cart.

                One of the horses I work with is not only green, but a little spooky, too. And with my QH, although he's not spooky in the least, he is/was green. Everything I have done with them has been to instill confidence that they *can* do it.

                With the little green spooky one, I love seeing how he's blossomed! Just keeping tasks small and short, I try to give him a "winning" attitude. He drives brilliantly, and I just make sure I don't overwhelm him, so he can learn confidence in little chunks at a time. He drives now in and out of the arena, around sharp, quick turns, and over, through and around anything. For him, hearing the noise of the (metal) cart behind him was his most reluctant point, so it took a while for him to understand that the squeaking and odd sounds weren't going to kill him.

                With my QH, our biggest thing I wanted to instill confidence in him was that he could go forward no matter what. Little by little, I got him driving over, and through anything - specifically things that would bog down the cart - bumps, tractor ruts, mud, manure piles, and finally, hills. So he learned little by little in small clips (one rut here, another mud spot on a different drive...) that he could pull forward all the time no matter what. Now he's got a bit of a "take charge" response that I love! If he sees a hill, he knows to trot. If the hill is steeper, he knows to canter. If he goes through a rut, or a spot where the cart sinks down, he will shove that much harder into the breast collar now to pull. He understands, and he does his job.

                So, I also think that building confidence in little steps at a time (and I mean in a few seconds each drive, not minutes, and not drilling it into the horse) really makes all the difference.

                And driving is so much fun! So get into it, and enjoy!!

                Good luck!
                Last edited by Chewbacca; Nov. 26, 2011, 06:40 AM.
                eBook on Amazon - The Beginner's Guide to Buying a Horse
                My Blog - Life in 2014; Horses, Life, Photography


                • #9
                  Lots of great advice here. I just wanted to add that I had an OTTB mare that I trained to drive. She was also eventing at the time, but took to driving very well.


                  If you want to minimize time at the trainers get your horse used to as much as your comfortable with at home. He should be used to the entire harness, including the crupper and blinkers (this was a slight issue with my mare - she was much better when she could see what was around). Once he is used to the harness, practice ground driving all over the place - he needs to be comfortable going where you ask with you behind him.

                  Then do the same thing pulling a tire or light drag, starting in an enclosed arena with a second person. You drive while the second person pulls the tire behind the horse - this gets them used to the noise without it being attached. Once they are comfortable with the noise, then attach it to the traces, I use baling twine and quick release knots, and have the horse pull it with the second person at their head for extra control.

                  ** I like doing this step starting with a open bridle, thier riding bridle would work, so they can see what is going on and learn something following them is no big deal. After they are steady with an open bridle, then add the blinkers.

                  Once they are pulling the tire around, they are pretty close to being ready to hook - this is where you want somebody that has the experience and proper equipment.



                  • #10
                    Wow the advice on this thread is awesome...I don't have any advice but I am learning a lot that will help me with my pony
                    My horse of a lifetime!!


                    • #11
                      Thanks for this thread too, I'm learning a lot even though I don't plan on training my own driving horse. My preference is to buy a well broke and safe, older driving horse/pony with many miles under its belt for my first driving partner. I'm quite surprised at how many of the posters have successfully trained their former riding horses to drive....kudos to you all!


                      • #12
                        I do agree with CDE driver as not all quiet, sensible horses can be driven. We have had 2 ponies that were dead quiet and were great to ride but they did not like to be driven. I could tell as soon as the harness went on them they acted very differently. They were sold on as riding ponies and have done very well with their new owners (we did not want any accidents so we sold them before something could happen).
                        Just take your time with the line driving and get a feel for your horse. You can tell how they act in harness and if you see them upset or you don't feel safe line driving them, perhaps they were not meant to be a driving animal. You know your horse, and I'm sure you will be able to tell if driving is for them or not!
                        Have fun and good luck!


                        • #13
                          For my horse that was already broke to ride and long line, it took the trainer 3 days to get her driving. He drove her about 30 days, then she was turned out (I was out to sea) When I got back, he put 2 weeks on her, I took her home, and had no problems. The horse was 10, had been ridden probably since she was 3, and had miles of long lining behind her (show horse). She has never been described as safe, sane or sensible, but she is a fantastic driving horse and hot as a firecracker.

                          It was not a nightmare, and it did not turn out badly at all. Best $400 I've spent.

                          Keep in mind that when you get a horse broke in 30 days, it is just that, broke. Not finished, just broke and there is still a ways to go.
                          Visit my Spoonflower shop


                          • #14
                            Anther thing to keep in mind, is YOUR level of training and what you can handle in terms of green.

                            If you haven't driven before, I recommend either to start volunteering with someone who is very experienced (it will probably be someone who shows regularly and needs help getting ready, at shows, etc) or to take lessons. Both have pros and cons. Frankly, volunteering is a wonderful way to really emerse yourself in the driving world, even if you never intend to show. The reason I think someone who is/was involved in ADS or other shows is good is that these people have to do it right to even think of winning. You want someone who really knows driving, hitching, etc. Not someone who had their harness adjusted to their horse by an expert (or bought pony with harness) and then just drives one horse with the same harness on the same settings. But someone who can really teach you how to harness, how to adjust and fit harness and cart and can teach you all the little tricks of driving. Driving is funny, it is a lot like riding until something goes wrong and then everything is different.

                            If you take lessons, again -check out their history carefully. I know someone who was a rank beginner at a driving clinic that I attended. Within a month after the clinic, she had added driving lessons to her long list of lessons she gave (dressage, jumping, NH, barrels, and NOW driving). EEKKK!!!! Not the kind of instructor you want or need and lots of driving instructors know how to put the harness on the pony and drive it around their ring. But that isn't going to cut it for preparing you to drive a horse that has 30-90 days of driving.

                            Also, consider volunteering at an ADS show (pleasure might suit you) but also CDE -depending on how you want to drive. Not to learn about showing but to learn about harnesses, carts, carriages, and to observe what great driving really consists of.

                            With experience, you will be a lot better prepared to help train and guide your own horse's foray into the driving world, as well as to spot when a trainer isn't right (and there are lots of not right driving instructors out there).
                            Luistano Stallion standing for 2013: Wolverine UVF


                            • #15
                              If you need a horse and training I would buy one that is already trained. You would save money in the long run and could see what you are getting.


                              • #16
                                I didn't find the transition from riding to driving that hard. I'd been riding forever and I'd done a fair amount of long lining. I had 2, maybe 3, lessons (drives around the block) and I was on my way with a horse that had many years under saddle, and less than 60 days in harness (30 days, 6 month off, 30 days) . We had a couple small misadventures, nothing major or life-threatening. The only instruction I had was at night with Dad, over the phone, i.e. Help! how do I fix this? Everyone at my barn was dumber than I was.

                                Driving was the easy part. Hooking was the hard part! When you decide to send this horse to a trainer, get a set of harness and put it on a couple times before you leave. Or just do I what I did - wing it, laugh & learn. It might take 40 minutes to figure out the first time, but it will only take 30 the next, and so forth.
                                Visit my Spoonflower shop


                                • #17
                                  Cool, another driving TB!

                                  If the horse has only ever been worked in an arena (which I'm just guessing about since you did dressage & jumpers with him), I would ABSOLUTELY make sure to get him ground driving out and about in the fields and on the roads before you even think about sending him off for driving training. With the show horses that tends to be the longest, hardest part of the training, at least for me. They MUST be rock-solid on the roads/trails FIRST. You'll all stay safer that way.

                                  I'm a "hotbloods" person myself and I find you have to break the data down into smaller chunks for them. Since I no longer ride, I do everything I can from the ground. I start by handwalking them on the trails and ground-driving around safe, fenced property at home (I just started my baby greenie and have done 3 very successful sessions of this so far); then and only then progress to ground driving "out and about". You're actually way better off finding out that your horse spooks at cars when you're on the ground than you would be in a cart - b/c in the absolute worst case scenario, you COULD let go, if it came to a case of saving your own life.

                                  If you're planning to walk/ground-drive/drive on the roads, wear bright colors and one of those orange vests to make yourself more visible to motorists. A helmet and gloves are good too, because a bolting horse will rip your hands to shreds. Also, never leave home without a driving whip and a cell phone!

                                  ETA: Since the horse did the jumpers - one extra precaution I took in the ground-driving phase was to build TONS of arena hazards. I wanted to make sure horse understood the concept of "through/between things, NOT over them!" If you're moderately new to driving, this also helps YOU build your skills.

                                  Good luck and have fun!
                                  "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief