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

two options

  1. You can stay on the track that you are on, or
  2. 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.

“backup straight”

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.

Arena Trial

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:

  1. Athletes must be U.S. Citizens
  2. Athletes must be active competing members in good standing with USEF during the event.
  3. Athletes must be of eligible age as defined in Subchapter DC-4 of the USEF Combined Driving rules.
  4. Horses/Ponies must have an annual or life recording with USEF during the event.
  5. Horses/Ponies must be of eligible age as defined in Subchapter DC-6 of the USEF Combined Driving rules.
  6. 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.
  7. Athlete/horse combinations may only participate in one National Championship division level within the same year.
  8. All Athletes and Horses/Ponies are subject to USEF rules and policies as published on usef.org.

Confused?

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.

Diagonal Hazards

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.

Eileen astride Katie a Morgan mare

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.

They are:

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

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

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

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!

A moment when you need to be Firm with your instruction so you do not get run over as your horse goes through the gate.
A moment when you need to be Firm with your instruction so you do not get run over as your horse goes through the gate.

Forget It

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

“Horses are not an animal that hibernates in the winter so keep them active”.

Teaching your horse manners is a must!  A person’s (or in this case a horse’s) outward bearing or way of behaving toward others.  Synonyms: demeanor, air, aspect, attitude, bearing, cast, behavior, conduct.

When you are working with your horse manners area must.  They are even more important than a person’s manners because youare working with a thousand-pound animal.

Manners should be the first thing a foal starts to learn when they are born. Manners are learned by repetition, like most things that we teach our horses.  The most important lesson that your horse must learn from the time he is born, is your space my space. Especially if you expect your horse to be sixteen hands and thirteen hundred pounds when fully grown.

Teaching foals manners is mandatory!

I have always made the first thing I do with my foals is teaching them how to walk with me on a lead. Once they get that down pat then I will put whoa and back into my routine.  I will lead them for about seventy-five feet and then I will say whoa with a slight backwards pull on the lead. 

Generally, within about a dozen times of asking for the whoa they have it.  I will then walk them seventy-five feet, ask for a whoa, and then say back, at the same time I will lightly pull backwards on the lead along with a finger to the chest at about the point that a future breast strap would be.  If they give me one step back I will say whoa again and then they get lots of praise. If you make this a part of your foal training it will soon become a way of life for the foal.

Remember this is all about manners: your space my space, whoa on command, back on command when needed, and standing still when told to. Never rush these steps and go at your foals’ pace not on your time clock.  Praise your foal at every step even if it is only fifteen seconds that he stands still. 

  Your foal does not have a time table!

If you have already taught your horse during ground work to stand still when you tell them “stand” then the harnessing and hitching stand will be easier. When I am working with a green driving horse I watch his body language so that I can catch him the moment he starts to move. I will touch him on the part of the body, usually the butt, that he starts to move and as I touch him I reinforce the word “stand”.  Your horse will not learn this overnight, so be ready to correct him for a good length of time.  

It is all about repetition!

When you are ready to hitch your horse that is green or that you are having trouble with standing, here are some helpful way to do it safely.

If you are fortunate enough to have a helper, you can stand your horse with his head facing your helper.  The helper is just a road block, so you don’t want them touching or handling the horse. The driver should have the reins over their shoulder, so each time your horse moves in any direction you need to tap on the reins and say “stand”.  Green horses can be squirmy the first few times you hitch them.  Again, this is not learned overnight!

If it is just you by yourself hitching there are two ways to stand your horse to hitch.  If your horse knows how to ground tie with a lead rope, then do that.  The second way is to have your horse at a hitching rail with the lead just wrapped around the rail a couple of times, “not tied”. While hitching by yourself you need to always have the reins over your shoulder as this and your voice are your only means of control. 

Eileen harnessing Daniel Dawson with him quietly standing at the hitching rail.
Eileen harnessing Daniel Dawson with him quietly standing at the hitching rail.

During this period of teaching your horse to stand for harnessing and hitching you need to have plenty of patience and time. If you are rushed on a certain day than do something simple like just part of the harness and then just ground drive your horse.  Believe me your horse will sense your lack of time and patience!


Learning proper manners is all about repetition!

Then when you are driving and need your horse to stand still in a lineup those manners come in handy again.   

There are some bad manners that are totally not acceptable with a horse! Biting, rearing, kicking, not walking beside you but ahead of you, diving for grass and rushing through gates.  When you think about a driving horse doing these things while hitched, it can be downright dangerous.

Diving for grass while driving a horse can cause all kinds of trouble.  Your horse is very likely to fall if he does this while you are driving him down the road. It is very easy for the shaft of your carriage to get caught under the shoulder strap. If you are driving with other carriages in a line in or out of a show ring you very likely can be run into by the horse behind you.

Bottom line is that proper manners will make you and your horses experience when driving a whole lot nicer!  So, teach them the manners they need to be good citizens, so that you both can go out and have a safe and fun drive!

How far have we come since combined driving started?  Where did we start and where are we now?  Have you ever wondered why we drive the way we do?  My article this month will touch on some of the changes that have come about, not only to improve carriage driving, but to make combined driving easier on the driver as well as the horse.  This is “Then and Now”. 

Why brown gloves?  Then: In the book “On the Box Seat” by Tom Ryder, which was considered the driving guide of the time, states that dog-skin gloves were the best material of the time for driving. Nowhere in his words about gloves does it state any particular color.Now: Brown gloves are the norm for driving.  If you look in the ADS rule book, you will find that the only place brown gloves are mentioned is in the Rules for Pleasure Driving, Article 207.1.We all know that when driving Dressage and Cones, your gloves must be brown. 

Whips and Aprons

Why carry a whip?  Then:  In the beginning, your whip was made of holly, yew of thorn. The whip is held in the right-hand balanced at an angle across the body toward the horses left ear.Now: ADS states the whip should be held in hand at all times. Whip must be of traditional style and the lash must be able to reach all horses.  Whips now-a-days can be made of more modern materials such as graphite. The only mention of the whip being in the right hand is during a salute. 

Driving apron or knee rug?  Then: Originally made of light materials for summer and heavier material for winter.  The main purpose is to protect the clothes from being soiled by the reins or dirt thrown up by the horse’s feet. The heavier winter aprons also help you keep warm on a cold day.Now:  The rules today are pretty much the same that one must have an apron or knee rug.  You rarely see a knee rug! Today, you also need to be sure that your apron matches your carriage and what you are dressed in.   

Now - 2018 CDE in Arizona Eileen driving Pinegrove's Sailor Boy to a 2011 Dominiak Spider
Now – 2018 CDE in Arizona Eileen driving Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy to a 2011 Dominiak Spider


Hats & Overchecks

Hats?  Then:  In the beginning, people in general wore hats when they went out in their carriages.  It was more for protection from the sun and or elements. Men worn top hats or bowler’s, while women’s hats were adorned with flowers and ribbons.

Now: The rules state simply “the driver must wear a hat”, as well as any passenger.  They do discourage floppy hats. Also, in the last twenty years protective helmets being worn in dressage and cones no longer get penalized!

 Sidecheck/Overcheck?  Then: This item was a needed element in the olden days.  Originally it was only meant to keep one’s horse from grazing while traveling down the dirt roads or open fields.  Then it became a way of falsely putting your horse in what might look like a proper frame.

Now: If you are driving your horse in anything but training level, the use of a side or overcheck will result in elimination. 

One or Two Hands

One or two hands?  Then:  Way back in the late 1800’s reins were held in one hand, no matter how many horses you were driving.  This was developed in Germany by Master Achenbach, which is how it got its name.

Now:  Here in the United States, where the wild west met the old school, I think the west won and many more people drive with two hands.  This is quite functional until you get into the advanced level of combined driving where you must drive one handed in the dressage test. 

Two or Four Wheeled Vehicles

Two or four wheels?  Then: There is a really great video put together that is a must see (https://vimeo.com/31256145).  In 1985, they were mostly driving two-wheeled vehicles that one would normally go to town in.  A judge drove on each carriage that went out on the marathon in combined driving.  Water was sometimes deeper than the horses going through it.  There were no time limits in hazards.  They were called hazards back then. Most vehicles were made of wood. The weight of a vehicle did not matter in the beginning. 

Now: You see more four wheeled vehicles in marathon, except for small ponies.  The judges now are placed at the obstacles.  Water cannot be any deeper than (50cm) or 19.8 inches. Your time in a hazard is a max of five minutes.  We are now politically correct, and it is now an obstacle not a hazard.  Most vehicles are now made of metal or a combination of wood and metal.  Weight is now specified in the ADS rules for the different sizes of horses.  I think all drivers are more conscious of the weight that their horse must pull. 

Conclusions

As you can see, we have come a long way since 1985 to advance the technology and safety for both humans and horses in the sport of combined driving.  Helmet, body protectors, lighter weight vehicles with brakes, delayed steering, slant seats, hand rails and many other great improvements can be seen.  Hopefully we will continue to improve the sport for all involved.  As with anything, with change comes controversy and we will never all agree 100% of the time.  So, go out and drive your horse, be safe and have fun!

Now: You see more four wheeled vehicles in marathon, except for small ponies.  The judges now are placed at the obstacles.  Water cannot be any deeper than (50cm) or 19.8 inches. Your time in a hazard is a max of five minutes.  We are now politically correct, and it is now an obstacle not a hazard.  Most vehicles are now made of metal or a combination of wood and metal.  Weight is now specified in the ADS rules for the different sizes of horses.  I think all drivers are more conscious of the weight that their horse must pull. 

So, you have brakes, now what and how are you supposed to use them? Unlike a car, brakes on a carriage, and yes, some carts, are not used to stop your horse.

To stop a car, the brakes must suppress the kinetic energy. They do so, by using the force of friction to convert that kinetic energy into heat. When you press your foot down on the brake pedal, a connected lever pushes a piston into the master cylinder, which is filled with hydraulic fluid.

Horse drawn carriages can have either disc or drum brakes:

Drum brakes:

When the brake pedal is applied, two curved brake shoes, which have a friction material lining, are forced by hydraulic wheel cylinders against the inner surface of a rotating brake drum. The result of this contact produces friction which enables the vehicle to slow down or stop.

Disc brakes:

In a disc brake, the brake pads squeeze the rotor, and the force is transmitted hydraulically.  Friction between the pads and the disc slows the disc down.

I am sure you are wondering why you can’t stop a horse by using the brakes? First, the brakes are not connected to the horse.  The horse does not know you want him to stop when you press the brakes.  The only way he knows this is by your voice and reins.  We all have a que that we use to slow our horses down and to stop them all together.

You have brakes, but what exactly is the sequence when you go to stop your horse.

When stopping your car, the first thing you do is take your foot off the gas and then apply your foot to the brake.

When you want to stop you horse the first thing you need to do is ask through your hands and voice for your horse to slow down. Once he starts to slow, you will see his back breeching start to tighten around his butt.  It is at this point that you start to apply pressure to the brake in your carriage.  This slows down the carriage only, and you will see the breeching loosen. As your horse slows even more, you will apply more brake, this will keep the weight of the carriage from pushing your horse.  If you are asking your horse to slow and stop, but the carriage is still pushing him forward, it is a mixed message to him. Continue doing this until you are stopped.

Yes, brakes are good for other things when you are driving your horse!

Brakes are a great help when you are going downhill.  When you have a hill that is slight and short in length, a tap of the brake to keep the carriage from pushing on your horses’ butt as you go down is helpful. This just slows the carriage down, not the horse.

Now, if your trotting down a long steep hill that is when the brakes can really help.  By applying the brakes equally, if you have front and back brakes, you can hold the cart off your horses’ butt, which keeps the carriage from pushing your horse faster down the hill. If you only have back brakes then you will need to apply and release, apply and release, that way you will slow the carriage down but not cause the front to slide sideways.

Front and back brakes?

Since I just mentioned front and back brakes, I should explain that most carriages that have brakes on all four wheels, they will have two pedals.  One for the front brakes and one for the back brakes. This way, you can use them together or independently. Never apply the front brakes first!  Doing that can cause the carriage to tip or slide sideways.  Yes, it is ok to use two feet to apply the brakes, left foot on the front pedal and right foot on the back pedal.

Applying the back brake only, if the horse is in a hard stop, the weight of the carriage and the passengers can be thrown forward bringing the back wheels off the ground, making the brakes useless.  This is also why if you only have back brakes, you need to remember to press and release the pedal to slow or stop in an emergency.

Drum Brake for the back of a carriage

Another good way to use your brakes is during dressage.  Say, you are coming to a halt at “X”, and you want to slow the carriage down at the same time you are asking your horse with a half halt, apply your brake each time you half halt.  This will help stop the carriage at the same time the horse stops.  You are more likely to land at “X”!

Using Your Brakes

In dressage, when you are making that last corner turning into the long diagonal, where you are going to ask for that extended trot, is another spot to apply some brake, as you ask for that half halt of your horse. This makes your corner look better and tells your horse that there is a different movement coming. Slowing your horse and carriage down before doing the extended trot sets up the movement.

Disc Brake on a Kuhnle that has brakes on all four wheels

When doing dressage, be sure that your brakes are clean, and your brake fluid is full.  The last thing you want is for the judge to hear a squeal every time that you apply your brakes. Use your brakes only when they are needed!

During a marathon course there will be times when brakes come in real handy. Those tight turns in obstacles where you want to slide the back of your carriage to get around the post quicker.

During cones, when you want to canter the long distances between cones, and then slow down again to get through the center of the next set of cones.  Just another example of when to use your brakes!

Learning how to properly use your brakes in conjunction with your commands to your horse through voice and reins is a learning experience.  Start at a walk in the learning process, then when you have it down go to a trot.  Have fun and be safe, because it will take awhile to get it down smooth!

I know that right now you are wondering why I am talking about how to fall.  We all think that you can only fall off a horse while we are riding it.  But take my word for it, you should also learn to fall out of a carriage or cart when you are driving.

No one ever wants to fall off a horse or out of their carriage.  We all know, that whenever you are playing with horses in any manner, there is always a chance that you can fall.

Have you ever been walking with your horse beside you on the way back to the barn and something startles him, and he jumps your way?  The next thing you know you are sitting on the ground!

We all know that falling off your horse can and will happen at least once in your lifetime, if you are an avid rider!

Have you been driving your horse down a peaceful dirt road and suddenly that scary deer jumps out and your horse jumps sideways and turns back the other way, and your carriage cannot go under itself to do that U-turn, and the next thing you know you come rolling out of your carriage!

These are all real possibilities, that can and will happen!  So why not learn how to fall properly, so when that time comes, you are prepared to receive the least amount of trauma as possible!

You are probably thinking that falling out of a cart or carriage is different than falling off a horse, but it isn’t.  No matter how or when you fall you still need to know how to fall properly.

Quite a few years ago, I was able to do a clinic with Gawani Pony Boy, where I was able to learn how to fall.  Since that clinic I have had one time when I had to bail off a horse I was riding.  I have used his technique and I came away with no injuries at all.

I have also used his technique for falling when my carriage tipped in an obstacle while competing in New Jersey.

So, what is the best way to fall!

To start with, you need to realize that jumping from a moving cart should not be your first choice of what to do.  Horses can run from 14 mph to 43 mph.  Most horses can only do this for a short period of time, but even at a trot they can go 8 mph to 12 mph.  If your think about deliberately jumping out of a carriage, leave it to the stuntmen!

There are times however, as when my carriage tipped, that one has no choice but to fall out so knowing how, is a good thing.

When you realize that you are going to come out of your carriage you need to try and stay as relaxed as possible.  Do not try to use your arms to stop yourself from hitting the ground.  Arms straight out will not stop the weight of the rest of your body without breaking.  You want to become like a rolling ball.

First thing you do, is to hug yourself with your arms as you feel yourself starting to roll out of the carriage.  Start to bend your left knee if your coming out the left side of your carriage and push away from the carriage, as you do, you will feel your left hip following your left knee, and then your left buttock to the ground. When your left buttock is on the ground you want to roll over onto your right butt cheek.  This will keep you further away from the rolling carriage. You will then continue your roll with your right shoulder.  By this time, your momentum will have slowed down, and you will be sitting there wondering what just happened.

Remember to let go of the reins or you will be dragged! 

Practice falling and rolling at home on a nice soft carpet. You can also place pillows on the left side to even give you a safer place to land while practicing.  Seat yourself on a dinner chair in the middle of the carpet.  Now hug yourself and proceed to lean to the left as if you are rolling out of your carriage. As you start to go down, bend your left knee and push with your foot and knee away from the chair.  Your hip follows and your left buttock gets to the floor, transfer your weight to your right buttock and roll onto your right shoulder.

As with any new skill you are trying to learn, start slow, have someone with you if that makes you more comfortable.  Remember, this is a learning process and once your muscles and your brain learn the routine it will still come naturally when you need it.  Once you have learned how to fall to your left, then practice the same routine to the right.

Just like driving your car, you run through your mind all the scenarios needed if a deer runs out in front of you, or you’re hit from behind by another car. If you do the same with falling from your carriage, it will come to you naturally.  You always need a plan just in case the unexpected happens.

Remember, that in 99% of all falls, you do not land on your feet, so be prepared to hug and roll.