Combined Driving or carriage driving is modeled after ridden three-day eventing. The challenge generated by the addition of a horse in harness hitched to a cart or carriage adds a thrill to the sport. Horses must exhibit the highest level of training and willingness to perform. Only voice command and reins along with just a touch of the whip are allowed.
The equestrian presents their horse drawn carriage in the dressage arena to demonstrate obedience and suppleness and the skill of the horse.
The marathon is the equivalent to the ridden cross-country phase.
Equestrians and their horse and carriage must complete a series of hazards negotiating up to six gates.
The cones course tests the ability of the equestrian to clear 20 gates at the required pace without incurring penalties.

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It turned out to be a fun day with Eileen and Snoopy her twenty-four year old miniature horse. Eileen has had Snoopy his whole life and has literally been there and done that!

Eileen and Spragues Orion Royal Herbie better known as “Snoopy”

Snoopy is an American Miniature Horse and loves his jobs. When I got him he was only five months old and was about fifty pounds. My son-in-law just picked him up and put him in my truck to bring him to my ranch. Now Snoopy is about 160 pounds and stand 31″ tall at his weathers. He is considered a strawberry roan.

Snoopy has been my lead driving mini, as he will go anywhere that I ask him to go. He always pulled his partner through water when I drove him as a pair. He was my lead man when I drove him in a unicorn hitch in carriage driving shows. In a four up hitch he was the one I depended on to always go where told even if the other three mini’s were not sure.

Eileen and Snoopy waiting to play musical hula hoops!

June 1, 2019 we went to a Fun Playday and he got to hang out with a lot of other mini’s and play some games. Now at “24” he is still as solid in what he does as he as ever been. We did a poker run through obstacles to earn out poker hand. He did great but my poker hand only had a pair.

Eileen and Snoopy just hanging out!

It was really a fun day, being able to hang out with my best little man. Snoopy enjoyed himself but by the end of the day he was really for his Senior Citizen mid day nap!

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

January 26th found us rising earlier than normal to make a trip down to Apache Junction for our first Arena Driving Trial of the year. Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy is going advance for the first time in about eight years. During training I found that he was getting very bored with the Intermediate tests as was I, so I decided to move back up to advance.

It was a sunny and warm day, at least in my opinion, as we woke up to 22 degrees. Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy finished his breakfast, while I walked the cones course and checked out the dressage arena. Then after a hot cup of coffee and a Danish Allan, my husband and navigator, and I walked the obstacles. There were four obstacles in an Arena Driving Trial, and they were very well laid out.

Eileen driving Pinegrove's Sailor Boy warming up for the obstacles.
Eileen driving Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy warming up for the obstacles.

When our go time finally came around Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy was ready, as was I. We had a good go of it in dressage and I was appreciative of the judges comments. Afterwards we headed for the cones course where Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy was a bit too excited and we knocked down two cones and we accrued some time penalties.

An hour later we hitched up for our turn at the obstacles. Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy was happy to be able to canter through the obstacles and we had the best overall time in our division.

For our first Arena Driving Trial for the year I was happy with Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy performance!

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.