Our guide is Kirsten Brunner, of Beaverwoods Farm in Hillsburgh, Ontario, who breaks and trains driving horses and has campaigned her pony mare, Beaverwoods Freckles (among many others) to many prestigious victories in international driving competition.
The Raw Material
Almost any horse can be suitable for driving, providing he
is reasonably sensible and reasonably sound.Before you begin, though, you should make sure your horse's teeth have been recently attended to, and that his
feet, if shod, have a little road caulk or spot of borium added to provide extra traction.
Your candidate for a driving career should also be well broken to lead, easy to groom, and accustomed to being handled all over.
Although horses can be introduced to driving at any time, Brunner
says that there are several advantages to training a horse to drive before he
is broken to ride.
Although many riding horses are a little "spoiled" about spooky objects and obedience to voice commands, Brunner
says that most of them adapt quickly once they learn what is expected of them in harness.
begins by putting the surcingle (belly-band) and crupper (which loops around the base of the tail and keeps the harness from sliding forward) on the horse and letting him wear it for an hour a day, in his
Water and feed buckets should be removed during this time, so that the horse cannot catch himself on anything.
Experienced horses will be familiar with the feel of a girth, but all horses seem to find that the crupper (pronounced crouper) takes some getting used to.While most horses do accept it in short order, Brunner
warns that the occasional animal will take exception and explode!She
stresses, therefore, that you should always have with you a knowledgeable helper at the horse's head, when you first introduce this equipment.
When you and your helper exit the stall, never turn your back on the horse.Instead, back out of the door.Generally, after three or four daily sessions, the horse will accept the surcingle and crupper.But if he
doesn't, do not continue until he
reaches that point of acceptance.Safety, Brunner
stresses, is the strongest consideration in a driving prospect, so his
training should never be rushed.
When the horse is comfortable with the driving bridle, Brunner
suggests reinforcing the training by putting on both bridle and partial harness for up to an hour a day in the stall.
Many horses get a little "goosey," according to Brunner
, when they first feel the line around their hind legs, so it is important that your helpers are knowledgeable and that they fully expect to be jumped on.
likes to use the command, "come," when asking for a turn in either direction.
Carry a buggy whip in one hand, and introduce him to the feel of it, gently at first.The idea is to get him to respect it, but not fear it.Once your horse has the basic idea of turning, touch him on the rump with the whip, and speak sharply to him if he
doesn't respond promptly to your voice cues.
"You can't do too much of this kind of work," says Brunner
Do not try to introduce the cart without help, and stay in an enclosed ring or arena when you do this for the first time, advises Brunner