In the many years that I have been driving and teaching students to drive one of the most costly mistake that new drivers make is to purchase the cart before they even have a horse to pull it. There are many reasons to have the horse first and I will cover several of them in this article.
If you have the cart first then you are pretty much stuck with trying to find a horse that will fit the cart or carriage or you will probably have to sell the cart and purchase another for the horse you choose. This might sound simple but it is not. This also dictates the size and type of horse you now are looking for which makes your choices even fewer especially if you want to buy an already trained horse.
If you have a horse that is not even started his driving training then you don’t even know if he will take to driving at all so then again you have a cart that possibly will not be used.
Some things to consider when looking for a cart or carriage for your horse are:
- What sort of driving are you planning to be doing? Combined Driving, show ring driving, Heritage classes or pleasure driving just for you, your family and friends.
- Are you going to be driving a single, pair or team? Only single horses can be driven safely in a two wheel vehicle. Pairs and teams must be hitched to four wheeled vehicles.
- What size is your horse: mini, pony, small horse, horse, warmblood or draft?
- What do you want the vehicle to be made out of: wood vehicles need to be kept inside because wood is always shrinking so a constant temperature and humidity will help slow this process down. Steel or any other metal is much more durable but they can be heavier.
- You must consider the weight of the vehicle not only for the sake of the horses but also for you. A 400 pound carriage is easy to push around on the flat my yourself but in dirt and going up any small grade not so.
The following weight assumptions are for a horse who is in top physical and training condition pulling mostly flat terrain with occasional heavy pull and short rests:
- Horse pulling on flat roads 1:3 ratio (1000 lb horse pulling 3000 lbs).
- Horse pulling on bad or hilly roads 1:2 ratio (1000 lb horse pulling 2000 lb).
- Horse pulling on very bad roads, sand, mountains, fields 1:1 ration (1000 lb horse pulling 1000 lb).
- Horse doing a Combined Driving marathon course 1/2 to 3 times body weight (1000 lb horse pulling 500-3000 lbs).
When choosing a carriage the equation would be:
Cart weight + Passenger weight + Conditions of road surfaces + type of work to be done = Total weight your horse will be pulling.
Miniature horses were bred for pulling carts in the coal mines therefore pound for pound pulling is skewed. Under normal conditions a well conditioned and trained mini can pull 1 1/5 times its own weight (200 lb mini pulling up to 300 lb). There have been mini who have been able to pull 10 times their weight but I would not ask a mini to do that.
Ultimately it is up to the driver to make a well educated estimate of the weight his horse can pull taking into consideration the above information.
Once you have figured out the type of carriage you need to buy then you have two options:
- Buy a new carriage that is the correct size and weight that you horse will need for his chosen job. Two wheeled cart starts at about $500 up to about $4000. The more options and extras you add the price goes up. Two wheeled antique or reproductions can be even more.
Four wheeled carriages start even higher, you can expect to pay anywhere from $5000 and up.
- The other choice is to buy a used cart or carriage. Although you might pay a bit less for one, for the most part I have found that carriages do hold their value very well. If you decide on a used one make sure you ask all the right questions:
How old is it?
How long has the present owner owned it?
How many owners has it had?
Has it ever been in any accidents?
How much does it weight?
Are the shafts adjustable?
What type of wheels are on the cart?
If it has brakes have they been properly taken care of just like on a car.
When was the last time it was hitched to a horse?
Who is the maker?
If I were to suggest anything you should absolute do if you are new to driving is to take a knowledgeable driving person with you to look at your chosen cart or carriage.