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Resolved to learn to drive in 2016? Let’s get started!

"Driving is especially desirable for those with physical disabilities that may preclude them from riding, but not from having a good horse experience."

By Patricia Demers / Horsetrader columnist - January 21st, 2016 - About Driving

About DrivingThe New Year is upon us, with many goals and resolutions made and broken.  So, you’ve always wanted to try driving a horse or pony and buggy? Do it! If your resolution is to get interested in driving, then what are you waiting for?

Start off correctly by getting the knowledge you need. What is driving? Driving is the act of controlling an equine that is hooked to an implement or a rolling vehicle such as a cart, carriage or wagon.   Many people are interested in driving a horse and buggy, but don’t know how to get started.
In today’s modern world, there is still room and opportunities for carriage driving. Everyone from the young to “vintage” adults can drive. Driving is especially desirable for those with physical disabilities that may preclude them from riding, but not from having a good horse experience.  You don’t need a “big” horse.  Many adults drive miniature horses and small ponies.

Here are the basics to get you from thinking about driving to actually doing it:
Find a trainer and take instruction — from someone that specializes in driving. Take a few lessons to see what it’s all about before you go out and buy your own equipment.  In your first lesson, you may expect to start with a lesson on how to harness, hitch to a cart, as well as the simple basics of “turn left” (haw),  “turn right” (gee), as well as “whoa” and “giddy-up”. Also learn how to properly use the whip, and you must learn to walk and have control before you trot! Whether you are an experienced horse person or not, it’s a really good idea to learn to drive with instruction in the beginning to be safe. This is especially important when it comes to harnessing and hitching. Be safe, proceed slowly, gain knowledge, be patient, and please consider wearing a helmet when driving.

Educate yourself. To start, you can go to the library or internet and research some informational books on carriage driving. There are a lot of really wonderful instructional books available. You can do a search on the internet and magazines like California Horsetrader for trainers in your area. When you pick up a Horsetrader, look in the trainer’s section as well as upcoming events to find driving events.  Another good resource is the American Driving Society (americandrivingsociety.org) or the Carriage Association of America (caaonline.com), for references.  By doing a little research of the sport, you can save yourself a lot of money by doing it right the first time, instead of trial and error. This is why working with a knowledgeable driving instructor is important. If you find that you really like driving, then the next step is to get a horse and vehicle.
Finding the perfect horse for the job. Most horses enjoy being driven, and some even excel at it better than riding.  The breed of the horse isn’t important, nor is the size important– other than finding the perfect horse for the job intended.  My first requirement is the horse shouldn’t go into full training until it’s mature enough mentally and physically to do so.  Next, I look for a good mind and calm attitude.  I like a willing and obedient equine, one who will take to training.  It should be sound with fair conformation.  Older, well-trained saddle horses often take to driving training quite well, too.

Training. Depending upon the equine, training can take weeks or months.  Set your goals, take time, and be patient. A horse is a fight or flight animal, and must be trained and “de-sensitized” to the stimuli of having a vehicle attached and “chasing” it.  This horse must also be trained to be accustomed to the harness, including breeching and blinders.  It’s VERY important that, before you ever attach or “hook” a horse to a vehicle (cart, carriage, and wagon), that this equine be trained to pull a carriage.  NEVER hitch a horse to a vehicle that you do not know, for sure, if it has been trained to drive!

Vehicles. You need to have the appropriately-sized equine to pull the vehicle of choice.  You must consider not only the weight, strength, and level of training of the equine, but where you will be eventually driving. Driving is all about form to function.  Two very common questions, are: “How much weight can my horse pull?”, and “What type of vehicle should I get?” Typically, an equine can pull its own weight on hard, level ground.  However, the moment you get softer ground such as loose dirt or sand, uneven surfaces and small inclines or hills, the equine’s ability to not only PULL, but STOP the vehicle changes dramatically.  You must also consider the appropriate harness to the vehicle as well.
The most basic and economical of carts is the two-wheeled pipe cart, often called an “Easy Entry’.”   A step up from the pipe cart is a jog cart, which is mostly wood with a metal frame.  Both of these vehicles sit lower to the ground, and your visibility to see beyond the equine is limited.  Many people new to driving, want a “doctor’s buggy.”  These are not suitable to the green driving equine or newer driver.  The  turning radius of the wheel is very limited, as the front wheels don’t rotate under the vehicle’s body.  When the wheels go through an opening, or under the body of a carriage, it’s referred to as a “cut under.”  These are much safer. The next very basic vehicle to consider is a road cart. The body of the cart rides above the axle and provides better visibility over the horse and down the road.  They come in a variety of sizes, from mini to draft.  There are a variety of four-wheeled types of wagons and carriages readily available.  You can find carriage and wagon manufacturers by searching the internet, on line auction sites, magazines and publications. There are still a number of carriage auctions throughout the year around the country.


One comment has been made on “Resolved to learn to drive in 2016? Let’s get started!”

  1. Rif Says:

    Well written, Trish, good to know. The new comers to our driving
    Community can read and listen to you for the right stuff!!!

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