Keeping your sanity with the help of your horses is probably the best use of your time right now. I know there are a lot of people that are not working right now and it feels as though the world will never be right again.
Our country “America” has been through a lot of trials and tribulations:
- 1906 Yellow Fever
- 1916 Polio
- 1917 Spanish Flu
- 1949 Polio
- 1957 Asian Flu
- 2007 HIV
- 2009 Swine Flu
We have also survived:
- WW I
- Korean War
- Vietnam War
- Gulf War
- Afghanistan War
History tells us that with each of these we have learned from the past the things we need to do to survive the ones in the future. We are now even better prepared to survive this latest trial.
We who own horses probably understand the quartine aspect of a disease outbreak better than most. I know in my lifetime, there have been many outbreaks of equine infections that I have gone through.
We need to treat this latest pandemic the same way we would if it were an outbreak of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in horses. All of the quarantine procedures that we have used with our horses need to be applied to all of us humans.
So most of us are staying home on our properties and when we do go out we are all staying six feet away from each other. We did this same thing during an equine quarantine. We kept our horses apart so they could not touch noses or snort on each other. If they snorted on us, we did not enter another horse stall without wiping ourselves down or changing shirts (hand sanitizer). We did not let our horses eat or drink out of the same buckets.
During dryland distemper, we never walked from one pen to another without first stepping in a pan of bleach. So, disinfecting out hands and what we touch is no different.
So what can we do with ourselves to keep us active with our four-legged friends?
First of all, it is shedding time for our horses, so we can get a lot of upper body conditioning while we help our horses shed. When your done brushing, you can move onto the mane and tails, which after all the rain and mud can use a good shampoo, conditioning and comb out. Think how soft your hands will be after working the conditioner in!
Now, for some lower body work out, you can pick the caked-in mud out of your horses’ hooves. With my five horses, that means twenty hooves which add up to a lot of back and leg stretching!
When your equine friend is all clean you can take him for a ride or walk around your property. For me, that is five times around my property, which is probably a total of one and three-quarter miles since I am on five acres!
By the time you have done all that, think how relaxed you will be! With all of the tension in the world around us, being relaxed is a good way to keep from becoming one of the statistical numbers.
If you are boarding your horse, then you will need to try and walk your horses away from any other humans that are also trying to do the same thing.
Take A Walk!
If you can walk your horse down a road outside of the boarding facility, you will probably meet fewer people. If you pass another human walking their horse, then put your horse between you and them, that will make up most of the six-foot safe zone.
If you get stressed about the whole situation, then just take a seat in your horses’ stall. The saying by Winston Churchill, “There is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse” is something to consider right now.
So, sit there and say nothing, sit there and have a good cry (no one is judging) sit there and just talk to your horse or just hug him!
I know from experience that during hard times in one’s life, having a horse as a friend has helped me many times. My miniature horse Snoopy, has helped many kids and elderly feel better about life in general.
If you get ambitious, take your whole family out to the barn and make it a family affair, you will all feel better!
As we all know there have been tremendous fires in all of California. Do you know how to safely get your horse loaded during the chaos of a fire?
Wildfires have always been of great concern for me, for two reasons:
First, my son is a Wildland Firefighter with the United States Forest Service. Being a mother of a firefighter, I am always concerned with all the fires that we have had over the years and for my sons’ safety.
The second concern is for all of the horses and those people who volunteer to risk their own lives to have not only their horses but those of complete strangers.
The Doce Fire which started at Doce Pit a recreation area out Iron Springs Road had just barely started when I received a call from my son who at the time was based in Northern California. He told us to be ready to evacuate ourselves and our horses (5) if we see the fire come over the southern end of Granite Mountain.
This call was well before the official evacuation notices were put out. Later in the afternoon, I received a call from a friend who lives in Mint Creek area that she had to evacuate themselves and her horses.
I recently watched a couple of videos on YouTube of people trying to get their horses in trailers. What stood out was the number of people running around trying to do something with the horses. There was a horse being led with the lead rope attached to the top of what looked like a lunging caveson. Then, there were a couple of people who were trying to use a butt rope but had no success because they did not know how to use one properly.
Here are ways to make Trailer Loading during a fire safer and easier, but first, make sure your horse has your cell phone number painted on his butt:
- Practice loading your horse in a trailer at least once a month. If you have a trailer that can stand by itself without hooking it to your truck, that is great. I know most people will need to hook up to their trailer to practice. Believe me, it is worth the effort. You can even get together with friends and make an afternoon of it.
- When you are loading your horse during a fire always, do it the same way as you have practiced. If you normally walk into your trailer with your horse, then do that. If you normally send your horse in first, then do that. If you normally don’t use shipping boots, then don’t use them now! If you normally load your horse by yourself, then ask all-around to stand back and let you do it.
- For all of you who do not have a trailer, then you are at the mercy of whoever shows up with their trailer to help. Remember, that you are the horse owner and you should be the one handling your horse.This is when the horse will be challenged and will need all of the calm and patience that you, the owner, can mustard up!
- Make sure that any trailer that shows up is big enough for your horse. I know that in an emergency it can become hard to be patient, but in the long run, it will save time. My Friesian Sporthorse can be really picky about his trailers. My two-horse slant is seven feet tall and wide enough, but he will not get into it with the middle bar that the doors close onto there. He will just stand there and stare at the trailer with this look on his face like “are you going to move that bar”?
The moment that the bar is gone he walks right in. To him, the half-space makes it too narrow. “Who am I to say he is not right”.
“In an emergency, removing the bar saves tons of time!”
5. With a strange trailer open all of the windows and doors. Make the space look inviting to your horse. Walk-in with your horse into this strange trailer. Your horse is taking his cues from you. If you won’t walk in why should he?
6.When all else fail and you need the butt rope to help get your horse in, then learn how to use it properly. Having two people holding the ends of the rope might work for a pony or horse under fourteen hands, but for those big boys and girls, this will not work.
For the full-size horse over a thousand pounds, it is better to tie the rope to one side of the trailer back and then have your helper bring the rope around the butt of the horse to apply pressure. Warning, do not get the rope up under the tail, or below the hock, it needs to be in that curve right below the thigh. The object is that you are trying to encourage the horse to move forward. There is no way you can lift the horse into the trailer.
Here is some overall advice to help you stay calm during the loading process:
- Remember to breathe! Take in those deep breaths, and let them out slowly.
- If you stay calm, speak in a quiet voice, and reassure your horse that this is just another day in the park, then all will go well.
- If someone comes to help you, ask them if they know about horses before you allow them to help. Things can get really bad if the helpers don’t know horses. Remember to thank them for coming and helping.
- Do not take advice from non-horse people! We all know they are just trying to help. You are still the owner of the horse and are ultimately responsible for what happens to your horse and the people helping you.
- Be patient! This is as stressful on your horse as it is for you. All of the smoke, sirens, emergency vehicles and their lights, shouting people, trailers, and strange people can make the whole process seem daunting. Everything that happens to your horse will be remembered, and you need to keep this as positive as possible.
“STAY CALM AND DON’T PANIC”!
Now that your horse is loaded and is safe with your cell phone number on his butt, it is time for you to get to safety. Remember to take your folder that has your horse’s information in it with you. You should have a copy of his registration, vet records, feeding information, any medicines he is on and your contact information. This needs to be taken to the stable, fairgrounds, friends ranch or wherever the horse is going to. Practicing loading and having a plan ahead of time will save time and stress for both you and your horse.
So, what has happened to the marathon over the past twenty years? There are a lot of drivers scratching their heads and wondering if the American Driving Society (ADS) has lost their minds!
As with any sport rules and ways of doing things and playing the game has changed for many reasons:
- Football – to help save the players brains for the future.
- Gymnastics – so that the young gymnasts have a safe environment.
- Baseball – so that fowl balls do not hit the spectators.
I am sure there are many other examples that you can think of.
In the driving world we have seen helmets and safety vests arrive and the walk section of the marathon disappear. We have seen a drop in the number of drivers go down but has risen again by the inclusion of miniature horses. The American Driving Society, and many other horse groups, have given up a lot of their control, and United States Equestrian has gobbled us all up.
Due to fewer drivers and fewer volunteers, we have seen the three-day Combined Driving Event be sent to the background and the one- and two-day events take over the calendar. In doing so, we have watched most three and five phase marathons be replaced by the two-section marathon.
This new two-phase marathon has a lot of advantages:
- You need less property.
- You need fewer volunteers.
- Less signage along the course.
- Fewer timers.
- We all get to go home sooner.
For those of us who are west of the Mississippi river, where there are fewer events, it is hard to justify driving 500-1500 miles for just a one- or two-day event. For me personally, the closest ADS events are a hard-two-day drive, at minimum, for me and my horse. Some can be three days of driving. That is just one direction! I must drive that same amount of days to get back home.
When you are living in a densely populated area, say on the east coast, you can be to an event in less than a day’s drive. The west is so much more spread out that we don’t have that advantage. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live, and I wouldn’t move for all the tea in China.
Now, as for the marathon and where it has evolved over the years. There is no longer a “walk” section, the “Transfer” has replaced it. The time to do the transfer is set by the technical delegate. The transfer has no set pace so you can walk, trot or canter at will, if you make your time. This is just for the three-section marathon. Transfer section is now 800-1500 meters.
The two-section marathon (A & B), now is done at a slower speed so the competitor can choose when to walk, trot or canter. There is no transfer section. You can also just stop and stand still if you want. On a 6km section A, you could trot the first 5km and then just walk the last 1km. That way your horse will supposedly come in more relaxed. The compulsory vet box is still ten minutes.
Basically, they are saying that on the two-section marathon, it is up to the driver to decide if they want to walk their horse before they get to the vet box. The speeds for section-A have been lowered, so competitors don’t feel as rushed to get there.
Section-B has stayed pretty much the same. The entire section can be done at whatever pace you want (walk, trot, canter) except for training, they can only walk or trot.
ADS verses FEI
If you happen to be at an event that is ADS and Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), then you need to know which rules are being used for the event. There might be lower levels using ADS rules, and advanced level using FEI rules, or everyone will be using FEI rules. The last option seems to be what is normally happening when there are advanced competitors.
If you are attending a Driving Trail that is ADS, then only section-B is used, but beware, this section can now be up to 10km. In the two or three section marathons, the maximum length of section-B is:
- 4 km for training going 13 kph
- 5 km for preliminary going 14 kph
- 7 km for intermediate going 14 kph
So, having a 10 km section-B you better be sure that your horse is conditioned to do that length without any rest. Remember this is the section where the obstacles are, and we all know that we want to do them as fast as possible.
My suggestion is that if you are going to any ADS or FEI events, you need to read the ADS rule book on combined driving (which is the yellow section) or the FEI rulebook. Whichever one of the two that is going to b used at your chosen event.
The last thing we ever want to happen is to be eliminated, because we were unsure of the rulebook being used for the specific event.
Now if you are only going for the fun of the event then just go HC (hors concours) and relax and enjoy yourself. HC means that you are not competing for a placing or prize.
Remember, most of us just want to go and have fun!
Driving the centerline is not as easy as one might think. When you are driving down the sides and end of the arena, you have the fencing or rails there to help guide you straight down the side.
When you drive the centerline, there is no rails or fence to help you do a straight line down the centerline.
When you drive your horse down the sideline, his head will be slightly tilted to the inside showing that he is tracking right or left. Driving the centerline, your horses head must be perfectly straight with no tilt either direction.
First, let’s understand what is expected of the horse when driving the centerline. The turns onto and off, the centerline should be a 20-meter partial circle. Your horse should start to turn from the sideline at the last letter before the corner. This is the beginning of the 20-meter partial circle. The end of the 20-meter partial circle is when you curve your horse off the end of the arena and down the centerline.
Where is your horses spine?
Your horse’s spine should be where the centerline is at. If you are driving a pair, then the pole will be on the centerline.
Your horses head will not touch letter “A” or “C” when starting or leaving the centerline. Your horse is only supposed to be perfectly straight on the centerline before or after the turn.
All dressage tests have some sort of down centerline. You always enter the arena coming down the center. There are centerlines that only go half the way down the arena. Then, there are the ones that might start at a trot and half way down you change to a walk. You will also find the test, Intermediate #3, that has you doing a line at the quarter mark down the arena.
Now that you understand what is involved in driving the centerline, lets learn how to drive it!
How to drive the centerline
That first driving the centerline, is your entry into the arena. As you make that circle before entering the arena make sure that you are lined up before entering. Once lined up, you need to look out ahead at the letter “C”. Be looking through the middle of your horses’ ears at that letter. Once you are going straight, take a deep breath, relax, and do not move your arms or hands. Your horse will keep going straight!
The next centerline you will do most likely will come as a turn of the end of the arena. As you start the turn off the side, you will need to give your horse a slight half-halt on the outside rein to slow him just a tad. When you get to the quarter line at the end give, another half-halt to let him know you will be turning again down the centerline.
As you turn down the center line, your horse will be on the line, which means that your carriage will be straddling the line. Again, you will be looking through the center of your horses’ ears at that point at the other end of the arena. Now, if you find that your horse is not quite on the centerline you have
- You can stay on the track that you are on, or
- You can ask your horse for a side pass if he knows how to do it.
I have found that option one is the better way to go. Most times the judge will score you a point for not being right on the line, especially if you are going straight on your tract.
Option two, only work if you can get the side step the first time! Otherwise, it looks like a dog’s hind leg!
Remember, when you get to the end of your line, you need to start your turn before you hit the end of the arena. It should be a 20-meter turn.
Many of the driving the centerline movements entail driving half the arena, stopping, backing up and then finishing the centerline movement. This is the hardest line to do for many reasons, but the hardest is the backup and then driving forward. If your backup is not straight and your carriage does any amount of jack-knifing, it is impossible to continue that centerline.
As you can see, your horse needs to be able to back in a straight line to make this whole movement look beautiful! Backing up properly is a whole other lesson to explain.
When you move off after the halt and back, do your best to go straight down the rest of the centerline. Aim your horse for letter ”C” looking through your horses’ ears, smile and believe that you have done the best that you and your horse could do on that given day!
Coming down the centerline at the start of your dressage test is the first impression that the judge will have of you and your horse. It is also going to be the last impression that you will be giving the judge. So, you see this driving the centerline is a big deal.
Here, west of the Mississippi River, we are all getting ready for the Combined Driving season to start. I thought we all need a bit of a refresher on the three phases of combined driving, and the changes that have arrived since last year.
The Original CDE
DAY ONE- DRIVEN DRESSAGE
The object of Competition A is to judge the freedom, regularity of paces, harmony, impulsion, suppleness, lightness, ease of movement and correct bending of the horse on the move. The competitor will be judged on style, accuracy of the chosen test, and general control of their horses
DAY TWO – MARATHON
The object of Competition B is to test the fitness, stamina and training of the horse and the driving skill, judgment of pace and general horsemanship of the competitor.
DAY THREE – CONES
The object of Competition C is to test the fitness, obedience and suppleness of the horse after Competition B, and the skill and competence of the driver.
As many of you have seen over this past year or two, most events are only two days. They consist of Dressage and Cones on day one, and the modified marathon on day two. This is now called the “Two-Day Driving Event”. Basically, you are doing a three-day event all jammed into two days. In my opinion this is a lot to ask of our horses!
Then, we have the “Driving Trial”. In this you do dressage and cones in the usual format followed by the marathon. Now, this can be done all on one day or over two days. In this scenario the marathon is section “B” only. The course can be up to 10 km and have six to eight obstacles.
We now move on to the “Arena Trial” which can be in an enclosed arena or outside. Dressage will be the normal 40 X 80 test, but if space is not available then the driving trial test will be used, and the dressage court will be adjusted. Cones will be the same unless space is limited, thereby the sets of cones will be adjusted.
There will be four marathon obstacles, but only two will be constructed at a time. When all competitors have driven the first two, then they will be reset and driven again for a total of four.
Next, we have the “Combined Test” which consists of two of the three phases (dressage, cones, marathon). Normally, what you will see is dressage and cones as the most popular pairing. This can be an event all its own or can be combined with any other previously talked about event.
Just to keep us guessing, ADS has now included what is called “Combined a-la-carte Event” where you get to choose from several dressage tests, cones courses, and even marathon. Competitors can choose one class from each section, such as (Dressage Training, Cones Preliminary, Marathon Intermediate) or any combination they so choose.
Oh, and by the way there is still the illusive original “Three Day Event” that we barely see anymore!
So, count them, we have six types of events to try and figure out!
A couple of the other changes that have come around this past year is the debate on making safety vests mandatory for everyone during the marathon. The new rule book confirms the Protective Vest must be worn and securely fastened during marathon. If your thinking about getting one of the air protection vests, think again, the ADS says, “when a body/back protector is required, air protector can be used combined with a real back or body protector but never without”.
One the brighter side, women are no longer required to wear a jacket during dressage!
Those who want to go advanced and you are in CAI 2 level, your horse must now be six years old or over. The ADS has set the age for any ADS recognized event at four years of age. When you fill out those entry forms, make sure your horse is the right age for the type of event it is (ADS, USE, FEI).
For advanced drivers the ADS has made this a bit harder “Entries in classes offering Advanced Dressage tests and Cones specifications, competitors must follow all vehicle requirements under FEI CAI 2* rules”. Basically, this means that your vehicle must be the correct weight and wheel width, so be sure to check this out and measure and weigh the vehicle you will be using.
For those who attend any sanctioned ADS event that is also a USE/FEI event, make sure you check the rule book for these types of events. At many of these events you will need to be a member of FEI and you will be required to have taken the Equestrian Federation’s Safe Sport Training. This is training on how to recognize sexual misconduct, emotional misconduct, physical misconduct, bullying and hazing.
Up To Minute Developments!
As I am writing this article, I received a notice from the USE on their latest updates from the Driving Sport committee. Those new competitions for Advanced, Intermediate and Preliminary championships that were based on events you went to through the year, no matter where you live has been changed:
- Athletes must be U.S. Citizens
- Athletes must be active competing members in good standing with USEF during the event.
- Athletes must be of eligible age as defined in Subchapter DC-4 of the USEF Combined Driving rules.
- Horses/Ponies must have an annual or life recording with USEF during the event.
- Horses/Ponies must be of eligible age as defined in Subchapter DC-6 of the USEF Combined Driving rules.
- Athletes/horse combinations must have completed at least one event within 24 months (without elimination, retirement or disqualification) at the same division level as the Championship.
- Athlete/horse combinations may only participate in one National Championship division level within the same year.
- All Athletes and Horses/Ponies are subject to USEF rules and policies as published on usef.org.
If your confused about what Combined Driving is, join the club! Personally, I think that the ADS has made something that was easy to do into something so hard to figure out that they might just scare newcomers away, and we all know that without new drivers this sport will just die and fade away. Then the ADS wonders’ why a lot of the state driving clubs are not doing ADS sanctioned events!
I am a proponent of going out and having fun with your horse and when the rules don’t make it fun to do any more, then we adjust and do it differently.
Our state club is doing that along with many other states here in the West and I commend them for that. Don’t get discouraged and keep getting out there and driving your horse, no matter if it is showing, combined driving or just going down the road.
Remember keep having fun-fun-fun!!!!
What is a diagonal? A diagonal is “joining two opposite corners of a square, rectangle, or other straight-sided shape.
When you are driving a diagonal there can be different lengths.
- There’s the long diagonal from the corner on one side “F” to the opposite corner on the other side of the arena “H”.
- Then there is the short diagonal that starts at the corner “F” and ends at the opposite side at the middle “X”.
- Or it could start at the middle “X” on one side and end at the corner at the opposite side “H”.
- There is what we call the “ice cream cone” that starts at the center of the end of the arena, between the corner and ” C” and goes to the center of the long side “E” where you just came from as in Preliminary Test #6.
Then for all the diagonals, the speed you must go can be a working walk, a walk on a long rein, a working trot, collected trot, lengthened trot or a lengthened trot on a long rein.
The Long diagonal
Let’s start with the most common diagonal which is the one that goes the full length of the arena, one corner to the opposite side corner. When you come around the corner at the short end of the arena, is when you need to start setting your horse up for driving a diagonal.
You are going to make a left turn from “A” and start your diagonal at “F”. You are on your right rein, so just as you turn the corner do a half halt on the right rein to slightly slow your horse down, this will let him know that something is going to be asked of him. Once you horses’ nose is at “F”, you will ask him to turn left. When he is lined up straight to “H” is when you ask him to proceed at whichever gait the test specifies.
At letter “X” you will change rein so that you will be on your left rein!
When the nose of your horse gets to “H” then you will do a half halt on the left rein to slow him down and let him know a change is coming. You will want to finish the right turn at “H” at the gait specified in the test.
In training test “4”, the long diagonal is split into two gaits. You start with a free walk on a long rein and the at “X” you change to a working trot. Again, just before “X” give your horse a half halt so he knows something is going to change.
The Short Diagonal
The short diagonal is driven the same as the long diagonal except you have half the distance. There is less time at which to show the judge your walk on the short diagonal, which is generally what is asked. Although training test “4” has two short trots in it. When driving a diagonal on the short diagonals, make sure the change of gait happens when the horses’ nose passes the point where the test says you are to change gait.
There also can be a long diagonal where you trot half the distance and then upon reaching “X” you change to a walk. Preliminary test “6” goes from a lengthened walk to working walk, to working trot all on the long diagonal.
The most interesting diagonal comes as you drive what we call the “ice cream cone”. Preliminary test “2” has a cone starting at “B” with a 20-meter half circle ending at “X” where you start the short diagonal to “M” on the side line. When doing this movement, you need to keep your horse going forward at the working trot through the half circle right into the diagonal.
The ice cream cone can also be done with the movement starting with the short diagonal “M” to center “X” with the 20-meter half circle at the end.
The judge will be looking for that constant pace through the entire movement.
A few things that you need to look out for when doing the diagonals:
- If you practice at home and start your diagonal at the same place all the time, your horse will learn to anticipate the movement. Mix it up! Long diagonal can be started from four different letters “H, M, K, F”. Short diagonals have at least twelve places you can start them at!
- Remember to use your half halt! I generally put the word “listen” with the half halt. It is just the slightest of pull with your pinky finger.
- Make sure that your rein change is right at the “X” on the long diagonal! The judge will be looking for it there. Your horses head should show that slight tilt of the nose to the inside.
- When coming around that corner to start the diagonal, be sure your shoulders are relaxed, and you are looking at that “letter” across the arena. By looking that way, your inside shoulder will drop, and the rein will pull lightly, thereby helping your horse around the corner.
Like any other movement in a dressage test it takes lots of hour of practice to get the diagonal perfected. Remember to alternate your practice of the diagonal with other movements, such as circles, or just straight lines so both you and your horse don’t get stressed while learning the movement.
The judge will always find something about the movement that they don’t like! None of us are perfect, not even the judges!
Most of all remember to have fun driving your horse!
If you are one of those new drivers who has ridden horses your whole life, then this article is for you. You have been astride, one if not many horses over the years, and now as you reach those senior years you are finding it harder to get up on your horse.
What commonly happens is that a friend says, “why not get a horse and drive them” and you think to yourself, that is a good idea.
Most new drivers do come from the ridden world of horses. You probably figure that this will be an easy transition. I’ll just put my riding horse in front of a cart and drive away, “WRONG”.
Just because you can ride your horse does not mean that he will like being hitched up behind a noisy carriage, and there are a lot of very noisy ones out there.
The best way to transition into the carriage driving world is to buy an already trained and seasoned horse that has been there and done that when it comes to driving. Once you have your horse, cart and harness, then you need to find a knowledgeable trainer to show you how to put it all together. It sounds so simple until you get into the cart and start to drive.
You will be learning a whole new way to communicate with your horse.
Astride you have your legs, seat, hand, reins. Behind the horse, you have your reins, voice and the elusive whip which becomes a strange stick in your hands that you will find very hard to control at the same time you are using the reins.
As those astride horse lovers become accustom to this new way of communicating with their horse, they will realize that the trust between them and their horse needs to go to a whole new level.
Your horse is basically free wheeling out in front of you, and without extreme trust between you and him, this whole experience can go wrong real fast.
Talk to your horse when you drive!
Most driving horses know a number of basic words such as “walk, trot, canter, whoa, easy, stand and, then the really good ones also know gee and haw (right and left). Using your voice quietly to tell your horse what to do by talking to them is a must. Those astride converts will have a hard time remembering to talk to their horse.
The whip that you carry is not a tool to beat your horse with, it is to tap him when needed to speed him up when your voice que doesn’t do it. The whip is also an extension of your leg. When one becomes very handy with the whip you can press it at their side where you would squeeze your leg to get your horse to bend or step over. Many drivers I see carry a to short of whip to do them any good. Your whip should be long enough to reach your horses shoulder.
Things to consider in learning to drive!
Your reins are another item that will take time for the astride to behind driver to get the proper feel for. Most riding reins are 4 ½’ to 5’ in length, as compared to driving reins, at 15’ to 18’ for a full-size horse.
The que from your hand to the horses’ mouth to his brain takes longer to get there. Your horse must become very in tuned with the driver to be able to feel that little squeeze of your pinky finger through the long reins.
I have seen a lot of the astride to behind drivers come to me to learn how to drive. I always suggest that the new driver take lesson from a trainer with a horse that has been there and done that. It is easier for the new driver to get the feel of the reins from a proficient horse. New drivers doing these lessons can then decide if driving is for them. As with the horses, not all of them like to drive. It is the same with new drivers, some find that the transition to driving is not comfortable for them.
Here are some of the most often made mistakes that I see with new astride to behind drivers:
- When asking the horse to speed up they want to squeeze their knees together.
- There is the death grip on the reins.
- And on the opposite end, is the student that just gives the reins away
- The student wants the horse to go right or left, they move their arms and hands to the right or left.
- There is the slapping of the reins on the horses’ butt to speed them up. This only happens in the western movies!
- Once the horse is going where and how the student wants them to go, they keep playing with the reins.
- The student that leans forward to try and get the horse to move forward!
- The student that is stiff in the body and they can’t seem to relax.
The astride to behind driver can be a difficult transition but with some patience, time and practice you can become a proficient driver. Remember it is all about having fun with your horse whether you are astride or behind your horse! f.set(b
I know you are asking yourself what does Eileen mean by the four “F’s” in combined driving
Years ago, a good friend and business acquaintance told me his theory behind the Four “F’s” as they pertain to any of us in the business world.
Friendly—– Fair —–Firm—– Forget It
This is how one deals with their clients. Once your have done the first three with your clients and things are not going well, then you use the last one “Forget It”. One always hopes that by the time you get to the third “F” Firm that you have worked out all the issues that are keeping you from achieving your goals.
I have found that these four “F’s” can and do apply to the training of your horse. So, let’s start at the beginning!
Friendly: being kind and pleasant, amiable, cordial, warm, doing something in a friendly manner.
When I start a young horse, who has not had a harness on them, I try to keep the training at a very friendly, favorable level. Everything I do or say is in a very calm and quiet voice. The horse responds to the lower voice and quiet movements better than if I were raising my voice or moving around the horse in a fast pace.
The young horse has no idea of what is happening, so you need to keep him in a calm state of mind. Most horses do want to be friendly!
I work the same way with any new horse that I acquire. When I meet a new student’s horse being calm and quiet is also the way to go. After all, the horse doesn’t know me, and I don’t know him. If I were to approach the new horse running around and talking loudly, I’m pretty sure the horse would feel threatened and would not work at his best.
Fair: being fair-minded, reasonable, acceptable, without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage.
So, you’ve been working with you horse and his attention seems to not be on you and what you are doing, then you need to step up how you are working with your horse.
This is the time when you get that strong, but not angry, mothers voice that makes the horse stop and go “I think I made mother upset?” It’s like that sudden knock on the door that makes you jump when you were concentrating on something else.
You are basically getting your horses attention back on the lesson at hand.
My two-year-old pony is just learning to be harnessed and as I was working with him the other day, he suddenly decided that backing up to get loose was better than just standing quietly. All it took was one sharp “Stand” from me and he planted all four feet. I let him just stand for a couple of minutes before continuing with the lesson, this is “Fair”.
It was “fair” for me as my correction was just the right amount and letting him just stand for those couple of minutes was “fair” for him.
Firm: in a resolute and determined manner, unyielding, solid.
Yes, there are times in training a horse that one does have to be firm for both the safety of the horse and the person.
I worked with a horse once that had a very bad habit of rearing. Now, I never knew when he was going to do this, he would be good for several months then suddenly up he would go.
One time I was leading him out to the round pen when suddenly the lead got tight and there he was up on his hind legs. This is a situation where “Firm” comes into play. I turned and pulled as hard as I could down on the lead rope to throw him off balance, and the tone of my voice for the “No” was most definitely “Firm”.
In a situation like this, your voice and facial expression needs to be “Firm”, believe me your horse can tell the difference.
If you have ever watched a mare and foal interact with each other, then you have seen how the mare’s expression with her eyes, ears and even body can tell the foal what not to do!
Forget It: you’ll never understand, hopeless, overwhelming, impassable are just a few meanings.
There are times in training a horse that you get to a point where you know that the horse is just not ever going to get it. If it is a horse that is mature, you might not ever figure out what has caused the horse to be at the Forget It point.
I had a three-year-old gelding given to me once and he had good pedigree and all, but his learning ability was always as a beginning horse.
For six months, I worked with him everyday and everyday we had to start at square one. I would walk into his stall and he would back away, when I would go to put his halter on. Once I finally got him haltered, he could not remember how to walk on the lead with me, or even how to walk out the gate. His learning ability was zero, a Forget It for good moment!
I have also had horses that I have worked with and I would get to a certain point and it would be like the horse was stuck. This is a “Forget It” moment when you just stop what your doing and go onto something totally different. I find that after several weeks of not doing that one thing that the horse seemed to be stuck on and I go back to it,
I suddenly see the light go on in the horse as if to say, “so that’s what you wanted”.
When a horse and trainer get to the “Forget It” point the trainer needs to back off and let the horse have his space.
Horses that you buy when they are over five years old, there is no telling what bad baggage you will run into.
As we all know, there are many kinds of trainers out there and unfortunately not all of them are kind or good. Learn to listen to your horse, read his body language, look at his eyes and ears, all this can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside your horse’s mind.
Don’t stop driving in the cold, your horse will thank you for it! Your horse adjusts just fine to the change of temperature. How you exercise your horse will need to be changed, but you are able to keep him conditioned in cold weather.
Depending on where one lives, there are options to consider as you come into the days of winter. There are those that have second homes in warmer areas that they go to. Some of those in the colder areas have access to inside arenas. Then, all the rest of us must brave the cold temperatures in order to train and exercise our horses.
According to veterinarians, horses are much more adaptable to driving in the cold weather than us humans. If you were a horse, you could within temperatures up to a negative 40 degrees. Of course, your horse has a much thicker coat, so he can adjust to the various temperatures.
One advantage for continuing your driving and training during the winter is that your horse will be less likely to colic.
Feed and water must be accessible in the proper amounts and temperatures.
When you work your driving horse you will not be running a marathon every time that you take them out. The winter training schedule will be a much calmer and quieter type of work.
You need to take your time during your warm-up and cool down. The time doing this will be longer than in the warmer times of the year. I know that with my Friesian Sporthorse, it takes me about twenty minutes in warm weather to get his muscles warmed up. So it stands to reason that driving in cold weather I need to add another five to ten minutes to it. Taking this extra time for your warmup will help prevent injuries to your horse.
When you are done with your training session you will need ten to fifteen minutes of walking your horse to cool him down. Then, after unhitching, you will probably need another ten to fifteen minutes of brushing and walking your horse to help him get dried off. You need to feel through the hair down to the skin to make sure his skin is dry. The hair itself will take a bit longer to dry, but it is the skin you are concerned about.
Now that you have some sort of idea about what it takes to keep your horse comfortable during the winter let’s talk about what type of training you can work with your horse in the cold.
A few of the things I do to keep my horses fit during the winter are:
- If time is short and you can’t hitch, then ground driving your horse around your property or in your arena. The horse will get exercise and so will you.
- If you want to do just ground driving but want to make it more interesting, then add ground poles to your bag of tricks. You can do the same exercises that you would do if you were riding your horse while ground driving. The book by Sigrid Schope called “Training and Riding with Cones and Poles” has a lot of good ideas.
- When you are going to drive your horse one thing that I do is I walk the obstacles that I have set up on my property. You would be surprised at how hard it is to just walk your horse. If your horse is anything like mine, he sees the obstacle and immediately wants to run.
- You can do the same walking of a cones course. When walking, you and your horse must concentrate a lot harder to be able to get through the cones without hitting them. Your horse needs to walk at a good “working walk” and stay focused to do the cones at a walk.
- If you don’t want to bother with the harness or the cart, then you can just hand walk your horse down the street, on a trail, up and down a short incline or just around the arena. He will have just as much fun and you will have some one-on-one time with your best friend.
Best time of day to drive in the cold
When is the best time of day to drive your horse in the winter? You could drive them at any time, but we also must think about us humans and what we can take as far as the cold.
For myself, I get cold easily, so I generally work my horses between the hours of eleven am and three pm. By eleven am, the sun is up high in the sky and we are reaching towards the high temperature of the day. Then, by three pm, the sun is getting low and one starts to feel the chill in the air.
You need to find the time of the day that you can best deal with the cold to be able to work functionally with your horse. If you get to cold, then your horse won’t know if you are giving him a que or just shaking from being too cold. Besides, this should be fun for you and your horse, not a torture session! Oh, and by the way, it is okay to skip a day or two if the weather is just intolerable!