Example of how the ground can deteriorate during the marathon.

Keeping your driving horse in shape during the winter can be a challenge.  But then factor in the current pandemic and the coming flu season it can be overwhelming, to say the least. 

Whether you are driving a hazard, pulling a sleigh through snow, driving down a parade route, or just going down the road your horse needs to be in his best condition possible. Keeping your driving horse in shape is no different than that of a typical sport horse that does dressage, jumping, reining, or! 

First, you need to be sure your horse is getting the basic care that all horses need. 

  1. Vaccinations as needed (normally spring and fall) 
  1. Deworming as need by fecal sample review 
  1. Dental exams at least once a year for most horses (a bit hitting a bad tooth is not appreciated by your horse) 
  1. Basic regular hoof care whether you go barefoot or require shoes 
  1. Chiropractic, massage, equine bodywork is great when needed 
  1. The best feed that you can afford for the level of work your horse is doing 

Some of the more common ailments that are seen in driving horses are hock and stifle injuries. Our driving horses and also develop arthritis just due to the wear and tear on their bodies.  Some of the breeds such as Morgans and Saddlebreds can be more prone to ringbone. Because we are asking our horses to pull us around in carriages their injuries are more likely to be in their hind-end and legs due to the weight being pulled. 

One of the more common injuries that I have seen has been in the horse’s back, due to the drivers asking their horse to pull a carriage that is too heavy for them or a carriage full of people that is way too heavy. 

This is when the conditioning at home comes into play to keep this from happening. 

When keeping your horse in shape you need to always be concerned about the footing where you are driving your horse.  Your horse can injure himself on loose footing in an obstacle. It can also be dirt that has been turned into sand after fifty drivers have gone through before you. You can be driving on a grass dressage arena first thing in the morning before the sun has dried up the dew!  One also must be aware that constant driving on blacktop is very concussive to the horse’s body. Conditioning your horse is your best preventative medicine for this! 

Make sure that you use a farrier that has experience with trimming and shoeing driving horses.  Many driving horses will overreach when they are put too. It takes a good farrier to adjust the feet and shoes ever so slightly to solve this problem. Your horses constantly striking his front heel with his back shoe, is somewhat like us walking with a pebble in our shoe! 

Annoying and it hurts! 

Studs are a common way to give your horse more traction in bad footing, but beware!  If you are going to use studs make sure you practice ahead of time so that your horse gets used to the feel of them.  The studs might help the traction but if the horse is not used to them, they can come up sore! 

There are several types of studs: mud, grass, road, bullet, and spike to name a few. Explain to your farrier what your horse is going to be doing and get his opinion of the type. 

Boots are commonly used to help protect the legs of the horse but be sure to read the rules for the type of event you are going to (ADS, FEI, USET) to be sure what parts of the event you can use leg wraps or boots.   

You don’t want to be eliminated if your horse is not in shape! 

Remember to keep your horse mentally conditioned!  This means to change up what you are doing with them in their training.  If your driving horse is also rideable then ride him at least once a week.  If you have a pony or miniature horse that one cannot ride due to their size then lounging can be a good alternative activity. 

Lounging them up and down the length of an arena is a great exercise for both you and your horse no matter the size. I use the Paseo Training System when lounging my horse and I find it keeps my horse focused on what he is doing. 

Driving horses can stay active for many more years than riding horses.  But you need to keep them conditioned and in good health.  You can consult your veterinarian, farrier, body works person and I am also available to consult with you on these issues. There is no cookie-cutter recipe for every horse.  As with people, they are all different. Different sizes, mindsets, breeds, shapes, and sizes.  You have to come up with a plan that fits your horse and the type of driving that you are doing. 

Keeping your driving horse in shape is a full-time job so treat it as one, and just have fun doing it. 

Get out there and drive! 

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