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

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

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

  1. Vaccinations as needed normally (Spring and Fall)
  2. Deworming as needed by fecal sample review
  3. Dental exams at least once a year for most horses (a bit hitting a bad tooth is not appreciated by your horse)
  4. Basic regular hoof care whether you go barefoot or require shoes
  5. Chiropractic, massage, equine bodywork is great when needed
  6. The best feed that you can afford for the level of work your horse is doing
  7. Rule out any, and all health issues such as Cushings (PPID)
  8. Make sure your horse is eating the right amount of feed.
  9. Weigh your feed to make sure all meals are the same amount.

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

Common Driving Injuries

One of the more common injuries that I have seen has been in the horse’s back due to the driver asking their horse to pull a carriage that is too heavy for them or a carriage full of people that is way too heavy.  This is when the conditioning at home comes into play to keep this from happening.

One of the worst things you can do with your horse is to let him just hang out between competitions.  Your horses’ mind stays where you left it, but his body does not. This can cause problems going into your next competition.  Keeping them sound and fit in-between is just as important as getting them ready at the first of the showing season.

Eileen driving Sailor at the Black Canyon ADT. Sailor showed good condition while running the cones course. Keep your driving horse in shape is how Sailor achieved this.

 A solid base of cardiovascular fitness and musculoskeletal strength provided by regular conditioning sessions at the walk, trot, and canter will keep you ready for the next competition.

  • Horse whiskers – don’t be in a hurry to shave them off.  New rules in many organizations are not allowing you to do this.  FEI has banned trimming whiskers in competition horses. 
  • A few things you need to look out for during the showing season are:
  • Make sure you keep your horse well vaccinated during the show season. You don’t want him getting sick because he was lacking his vaccinations.
  • Be sure to do a fecal sample when you return from a competition.  If they’re going to pick up some worms, it will be at a competition.
  • If they seem to lose weight at a competition then be sure to have your veterinarian look at them and advise a plan to keep their weight up.  A lot of times weight loss is related to a teeth problem, so make sure your veterinarian checks them.

Joint and leg issues are different in many breeds.  The reason for this is that breeds have different conformations.  For example, Warmbloods are bred to have a combination of elevated movements and an elongated stride. They are uphill in front and have a very powerful lower back and pelvis.

Knowing your breed and what its strengths and weaknesses are will help you develop a conditioning plan for Keeping Your Driving Horse In Shape.

Building a team of professionals ahead of the competition season will make your life much easier.  This team will be your go-to person if and when there is an issue.  Your team should include your veterinarian, farrier, chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncture, and bodyworks therapist. So put your team together and use them when needed and as always we hope we will never need them in an emergency!

Always evaluate your horse constantly so you can avoid a problem before it becomes serious!

Your going to a driving clinic and you want to get the most out of it that you can! I think one’s attitude going into the driving clinic is important. It starts with knowing what to expect before you go. Your going to a driving clinic and you want to get the most out of it that you can! I think one’s attitude going into the driving clinic is important. Your going to a driving clinic and you want to get the most out of it that you can! I think one’s attitude going into the driving clinic is important.

I have participated in many driving and riding clinics over the years. Most of these were many years ago when I was learning the craft of driving.  I have been driving for over thirty-four years. In the past twenty-five years, I have been the clinician for many clinics both here in the United States, as well as internationally.

As a participant in a clinic, there are many things that will make your experience the best that it can be. After all, you are paying good money for the driving clinic, so you want to get as much out of it as you can.

Here is a list of some basic things you need to have at a driving clinic:

  1.  Come with an open mind.
  2.  Have your driving horse in the best condition you can.
  3.  Be sure your harness is properly fitted to your horse.
  4.  Be sure your vehicle is in good working order.
  5.  Bring a helper with you. Helpers can assist you with getting ready to drive, as well as being a second set of eyes and ears during your lesson.
  6.  Have a camera or cell phone that your helper can use to take video or pictures of your lesson.
  7.  Always wear a helmet.
  8.  Bring plenty of clothes for layering, if needed.
  9.  Be kind and respectful to the clinician and other drivers.
  10.  Be on time for your lesson.

From the clinicians’ point of view, they are getting paid to help you with any specific problem or driving movement that you might want to work on. 

Eileen giving a lesson to a pair at the HCCDC clinic in Calgary, Canada
Eileen giving a lesson to a pair at the HCCDC clinic in Calgary, Canada

Not all clinicians teach the same!

The first thing you need to realize that not all clinicians, work the same way when giving a lesson.  You can go to one trainer and they will approach an issue one way and then if you go to a second trainer, they may approach the same issue in a different way.  This does not mean that one way is wrong, or one way is better than another.  People in general do not always learn the same.  There are three different ways that people learn:

  1. Visual – They learn through seeing, they think in pictures.
  2. Auditory – They learn through listening, they think in words.
  3. Kinesthetic – They learn through moving, doing and touching.

Clinicians develop their way of training which in many ways are based on how they learned and on their life experience with driving horses.   

Once you arrive at the driving clinic grounds, make sure you find out where you need to park and where the arenas are that you will be having your lesson in.  If the clinic is more than one day, then you will need to find your camping space and a place to house your horse.

Check out the facility

When you are all settled in, then take a bit of time to check out the facility and say hello to your hosts. Generally, there will be a schedule board with the times for the lessons.

There is a schedule to be kept, so make sure you are at the arena at least five minutes before your time slot.  Lessons at a clinic are generally forty-five to fifty minutes with a ten-minute break in between.  These ten minutes is when the clinician has a chance to sit down, have a drink and take a walk to those little green, blue or white boxes.  Be patient, and if the clinician is a couple minutes behind, it is not the end of the world.

Once you have finished your lesson, be polite and thank the clinician, they really do appreciate it.  Exit the arena as the next student is waiting to come in.

I have just returned from a clinic in Calgary, Canada sponsored on by the High Country Carriage Driving Club. I was one of two clinicians invited to this yearly event that the club has.

The event was well received by drivers in Canada, and the club did a great job in keeping the event running like a well-oiled machine. This was amazing, as at the last minute, they had a acquire another facility as the weather decided to rain the week before and for two days of the event.

Rain was on the schedule!

This being a four-day event, the days were long for the clinicians with eight lessons each day.  You can see that well mannered horses, as well as knowledgeable drivers, made our jobs easier.  The organizers kept us well feed and dry, which was a chore within itself!

By the last day of the clinic, both the students and I were able to see the progress that many of the horses had made over the four days.  Many of the students that I taught, took a lesson from me all four days which made it easier to work on specific things that the students were having trouble with.

As a clinician, there are many things that I look at when helping the students:

  • Look at the vehicle that they are using for safety.
  • Check the harness for proper fit.
  • Ask about the horse and its history.
  • Find out if the student is a new driver or a seasoned driver.
  • Then find out what they want to work on and accomplish.

There is a lot of work that the clinician does while teaching a student.  When they ask you to remind them what they were working on the prior day, don’t think they have a bad memory.  They have seen eight students, that they have just met on the prior day, and remembering exactly what they worked on with you can sometimes be difficult.  Speak up and refresh their memory, it only takes a sentence to jog the clinicians mind.

Remember to get the most out of the clinic, keep an open mind, and be able to adjust if schedules get backed up.  After all, you have come to learn and getting upset does not help you or your horse. If you get one good tip that helps you with your horse, then the clinic was worth participating in!  You have paid good money for the opportunity, so learn and most of all have fun!