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Spin off from the trained horse - how difficult is it to learn to drive?

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  • Spin off from the trained horse - how difficult is it to learn to drive?

    I've been taking lessons from a saddleseat trainer, behind her older and well trained ASB school horses.
    With patience and minor oversight I can put on the working harness and put to the little cart we use.
    It's very different IMO than riding, and I find myself being corrected a lot. I tend to want to push the horse into the rein, and close my hand, sometimes I "tip" my hand, and this style of driving uses elbow to hip pull. Saddleseat riding also uses elbow to hip pull and the concept of "guiding", neither of which I have truly mastered. I found myself "driving the cart" the other day, and almost ignoring what the horse was doing, it is hard to explain, I couldn't explain it to the trainer and I have no clue if it is a correct thing or going to present a problem.

    What are the primary differences between riding and driving, and what would you all say are the most common types of mistakes I'm likely to make? Which ones are tolerable for a pleasure driver, and which ones are going to get me in serious trouble?

    I'd like to stay with this trainer, but any comments would be appreciated!
    Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
    Incredible Invisible

  • #2
    My first question that you should ask yourself are: 1) Is this trainer driving in a style that you wish to pursue and 2) does she have the experience to teach you in the style you wish to pursue. It sounds like she has the experience and knowledge to teach you about safety -so we will assume that as a given.

    Picking up the reins and getting the horse to walk, trot, whoa and turn left and right - easy for the already trained horseperson. It is the finessing and learning to do it correctly that is a b****h. Knowing how to already ride, can make it so you have bad habits before you even start! Likewise, the good flexible rider can learn very rapidly to drive. Different styles of driving and reining, what aids to give from the seat, etc -are all vitally important in driving. They are kind of what everyone thinks about when learning to "drive."

    Harnessing and learning to harness different types of horses, using different types of harness and learning how to do it correctly (even if the harness is completely in pieces), that can take a LONG time. Knowing how to harness means that you know the form and function for every single strap. The mechanics of the harness braking system, where the weight falls on the horse during different gaits and ground, etc. Everything has a function. What is the appropriate bit for the horse you are driving and why?

    The next really difficult thing is learning what to do in an emergency. What do you do if a horse runs away? How do you handle a hot horse or a honking car or a dog between the legs? What do you do if the equipment breaks? What if the horse is resistant and kicks or backs up or rears or bolts? Some of this is only going to come through experience. Some of it is basic safety (don't get out of the cart - kind of stuff). There is a bunch of safety rules that are well worth learning!

    Some people get a well-broke horse, a cart, get the harness adjusted to fit and drive. They never break out of that pattern, their driving is basic and they are happy. That is the extent of their learning. For them, they KNOW how to drive. I have friends who use their horses for farming. That is it. Ask them and they will tell you they KNOW how to drive. They are just like the person with the well broke riding horse, that only trail rides on their local trails and never steps out of their comfort zone. That is not really knowing how to drive. Yet, they are basically safe, often have great partnerships with their horse and would be very offended if you suggested they didn't know how to drive.

    I have been driving for almost a decade. I still have LOTS to learn because I want to know everything. I keep expanding my horizons, learning new techniques, taking clinics. I have tons of stuff I still want to learn and yet I am thinking, reading, looking at magazines and books about driving all the time! Driving can be a full time and life long learning curve (which is why I love it). Especially if you are a history buff -then there is even lots more to learn!

    So, it really depends what you want to get out of it.

    The ADS has a webinar series on learning to drive, different types of driving etc.

    In the end, I don't think there is an easy answer to your question -how long does it take to learn to drive...
    Luistano Stallion standing for 2013: Wolverine UVF


    • #3
      Welcome to driving!

      As Cielo stated there are a number of answers to your questions.

      I came from the saddle seat world and started driving in breed shows. The change for me was minor. The biggest issue I had was to realize that just because you are behind the horse, you put no more (or less) rein contact than you would if you were riding the horse. I found it helpful to THINK I was riding to avoid that problem.

      The handling of the reins by most people in this forum is very different than what is done in the saddle seat world. But the biggest issue is that the amount of contact and pressure is the same that you would use when you ride.

      You might find it beneficial to have a reinboard to help your hands. (They are describe extensively in other threads)

      In any style of horsemanship, you must pay attention to the horse at all times. I'm not sure what you mean by driving the cart ... unless you were so concerned with where the cart itself was going, that you ignored the horse's actions. Could you possibly clarify that?

      I know that when I started driving I was very concerned about entering the ring gates and making the turns safely ... without being too close or too far from the rail. That all came with experience.

      I also did a lot of circles and serpentines when I first started driving. I'd also pick a point and keep it between my horse's ears. We probably looked like we were doing equitation figures ... but it really helped both my horse and myself to learn how to handle things. I've never gotten away from using "schooling figures" ... I enjoy doing them and it teaches both myself and my horse a lot.
      The other female in my husband's life has four legs


      • Original Poster

        Thank you both for your input.
        CA, this trainer has a great deal of experience in the breed shows, and I could learn to be very good at that with her. My true goal in driving is not to drive a pretty horse in big circles around a judge, however. I'd like to go drive the carriage roads at Shakertown, or do some basic farm work such as skidding logs, or just clop down the quiet road I live on, turn around and come back. Nothing lofty or competitive.
        Now, it may be that I need to move on from this trainer as I progress, but in the meantime what other lines of questioning should I be pursuing? We haven't actually discussed what to do if the horse should bolt, I'm not sure if it is because the atmosphere is so controlled at her facility. I did ask specifically what to do in the event of an equipment failure. As we progress I'll gradually be asking about some of the specifics you mention, and any more that are added.

        Horsegeeks, the contact thing comes and goes for me - the idea of "pulling" was a big no-no as I got to be a better rider (Western and lower than the low dressage then dabbling in H/J before saddleseat) and I have kind of avoided it even riding saddleseat. I use seat and leg as much as I can, it has lead to some frustration when I default to an opening rein because some of the ASB's weren't taught leg cues for bending in turns and my brain says "must be a green horse needs direct rein".
        Noooo, not quite right.
        As I go to shows and lesson and watch I am seeing how cues are used, and I am sort of getting it in driving. Sort of, I haven't quite gotten the outside rein thing yet, and I keep forgetting to pull back and then say "whoa". My trainer has explained that constant contact is a safety issue so I am being mindful. I've seen the phrase reinboard and read T1 's phrase reining machine - I'll do some searching.

        "Driving the cart". Well, I couldn't make it understandable to my trainer either. I have logged over 10,000 hours of forklift driving at my work, and forklifts do NOT steer like cars or carriages, they turn from the back, but a forklift with a load is a lot like a cart with a horse - the center of turn/pivot point is under my feet on a forklift and my behind in the cart, the turning radius can be very tight, and the horse is just like an overtall pallet. So I end up using the same sorts of visual cues to go straight, decide when to turn, etc.. I don't use a spot between my horse's ears (I don't think I could anyway, I'd be looking at the ceiling. That cart is low), I tend to lean out to ensure my path is clear, establish a track and follow it. I do a lot of triangulation and visual reference. I already know exactly how wide "I" am as compared to what is in front of me. It is certainly intuitive for me but I worry that it isn't a good idea.
        Ah heck. I can't even explain it so I can understand it either. Let's just say that halting the cart and asking the horse to pivot the first time was not difficult to grasp. I have more trouble with keeping forward motion through a tight turn - it's like my mind is going "why bother" because at work I'd just stop and do a 180, and I know the horse can do it too.

        Well thanks again, I'll be cogitating a bit and slowly asking questions, little by little as the opportunity presents, to try to put together a style that is safe and easy on the horse. And sorry it got so long!
        Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
        Incredible Invisible


        • #5
          Steering the cart -YES! I do understand and you SHOULD be doing that. A lot of riders=new drivers, drive the cart from the horse's point of reference only. Example of what not to do: such a driver will go through a gate and hang up the axle on the gate post because they turned as if they are under a horse. You do have to be aware of where the cart is, and when turning the axle must pass through without hitting something! So, I do understand what you are writing -both horse and cart must be accounted for.

          I thought maybe she was into breed showing. My question to you would be does she ever hack her horses out? Again, it comes down to the versatility of the driver/trainer. If she stays in her ring 24/7, she will be like the examples that I gave of people stuck in a little niche that don't have a complete skill set. Other breed showers do get out on the roads, etc. and have developed more skills than just showing.

          If she is strictly a breed shower, I am afraid that you may find you will need to find a different trainer within months because her expertise (even the harness is different) is not consistent with what you eventually want to learn to do road driving, driving a forecart with attachments, driving a mower, skidding. etc.

          I highly recommend checking out rural heritage or the draft horse journal calendars and finding field days/plow days and helping out (join the club too). They are SO much fun.
          Last edited by Cielo Azure; Apr. 27, 2010, 10:13 AM.
          Luistano Stallion standing for 2013: Wolverine UVF


          • #6
            Fortunately, I was driving a Morgan when I was doing breed shows so I didn't run into the line of sight issues you're talking about. When I got interested in driving on non-flat surfaces, I bought a restored 1890 Kentucky Road Cart (now basically called a road cart). The larger wheels put me up higher so I could see where my horse was going ... it made a big difference.

            Jill's advice is very good. The harnesses and carts that are safely used when pleasure driving out of the ring are very different from what is used in breed shows. I come from the Morgan world and a lot of the Morgan people have experience in both styles of driving.

            Personally, I would go to the shows and clinics to find another instructor. Like anything there are good ones and bad ones. I would suggest taking a couple of lessons from other trainers/instructors before changing. It took me a long time to find someone I really "jelled" with.

            Ironically, the person that has been the most helpful to me I met at a western tack shop. He's been a blessing.

            You're going about this very sensibly! You'll find the right match up for you ... just take your time.

            Jill ... GREAT advice from you!!!!
            The other female in my husband's life has four legs


            • #7
              See post 4 in the driving FAQ's at the top of this section for teaching an older horse to drive.

              Indeed if you read right through there you'll find a few questions you need to ask answered for you: e.g. bitting, stopping a bolt etc etc .