Pessoa Training System with Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy is the best tool to use to help your horse find his own natural frame.

The Pessoa Training System was designed by Nelson Pessoa. With this tool you are able to start your green horse long and low. As your horse learns self carriage you can adjust to achieve the most advanced collected frame.

I have been using the Pessoa system with Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy for about ten years and it has been a great training tool. The best thing about it is that the horse is basically learning on his own. Sure I hold the lounge line, and I have a lounge whip to keep him moving in the direction that I want him to go. I never pull on his head, mouth or face.

Once you have watched the video you will see how quiet Sailor is.  This is the way you want your horse to be during this training process.  When introducing your horse to the Pessoa training system you will start at a walk.  Your session only needs to be about fifteen minutes.  Remember the horse is learning how to carry himself in a frame and it will tire him out. Work several sessions at the walk until your horse relaxes into what he is being asked to do.  Once he is comfortable with the walk then move onto the trot and then the canter.  Only a well conditioned horse will be able to do the three gaits for any length of time.

Remember you are teaching your horse to carry himself in a dressage frame. He needs tp stay round and on the bit during the whole session.

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.

The importance of warming up your horse, especially when you are at a driving show or a Combined Driving Event is probably the most important part of showing and competing.  But it does have to be done correctly.

Learning how to warm up your horse starts at home as part of your normal routine.

All horses, whether you compete with them or just drive them for fun on the trail where you live, need to have a warm up period in which to get, not only their bodies ready for work but also their minds.

We will address the mind first, for without it being present you won’t even need the body.  A well-trained horse who has a particular job, in this case, driving, needs to have his mind on the job at hand.

Most of the time when you go to drive your well-trained horse he is there with you, but there are those few times when you are all hitched up and ready to drive out and within the first five minutes you get the feeling that your horse woke up on the wrong side of the bed!

Large warm-up area away from other horses. Eileen is driving Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy.

Getting ready for dressage with Sailor in North Carolina at a Combined Driving Event

When this happens the best thing to do is ask him to do just one small thing, say like halting and backing up two steps.  Then you take him back to where you hitched him up, unhitch him, take off the harness and put him in his stall.  You will be thankful later, because he will remember that kind gesture when you least expect it.  Even horses can have a bad day, for whatever reason, and it is just not worth the fight!

I have had this happen with my horses, and when I have come back the next day, all is well and good.  Just like you and me we sometimes have a bad day for whatever reason.

I will use my Friesian Sporthorse as an example here for the warm-up that I do at home: 

Once he is harnessed and hitched I start by walking him quietly, on a loose rein for about five minutes.  I then will move him up to a slow trot to give him time to get all the normal coughing and light snorting to clear his airway and lungs out.  Continue to trot him working up to a working trot for about twelve minutes and going approximately 1.8 km. I do this whole warm up on my property by going around the flat part of my course four times. Then I walk him for about five minutes, or until his pulse and respiration comes down to normal.

This is my warm-up that I do every time I go to drive Sailor.  You need to note that Sailor is 16.1 hands and about 1250 pounds, so it takes this amount of time to get all his muscles and tendons warmed up to be able to work on dressage, cones or the endurance that is needed for a marathon course.

This type of warm-up will keep your horse sound, so if you don’t have a lot of time one day to drive more than about 15-20 minutes, then just use your warm-up as your drive time.  Warm-up time is still driving your horse and having fun.

So, you are at a driving show or are getting ready to do one of the three parts of a Combined Driving Event and you need to warm-up.  You want to do the same warm-up that you do at home.  First, doing what your horse is used to in a warm-up will keep him thinking there is nothing different about what he will be doing.

If you don’t lounge him at home don’t do it at a show.

If you don’t canter him around for ten minutes at home don’t do it at the show.  I think you get the idea.  You want to make the warm-up seem as normal as possible.  The last thing you want to do is get your horse hyped up or so exhausted he will not be able to show at his best.  When I am warming-up at a competition I try to find a quiet area in which to do this.  When at home my horses are generally driven by themselves so trying to warm-up in a place where there are ten other carriages being driven around can become distracting to your horse.

At a show or competition is not the time to try and teach your horse anything new.  If he does not know it by the time you leave your ranch, he will not miraculously learn it during warm-up.  If you think after the warm-up that your horse is not really wanting to do this competition, there is no shame in pulling out of a class or portion of a CDE.

We all know that our horses become very aware of where they are at especially when you have trailered to a show.  There are so many new things for them to see and smell.  This is all normal so if you keep everything you can the same at the show as at home it will help them enormously:

Take his normal water and feed buckets with.

Use his regular halter and lead rope

Use his regular harness that you show in for several weeks before at home.  (My show harness is the same type as           my regular work harness.)

Use the carriage that you will be showing in at home for several weeks. (My horses presentation carriage I do not           use on a regular basis until I am getting ready for a competition.)

Just remember going to a show or competition is supposed to be a fun experience for both you and your horse!

My motto has always been:  “If you’re not having fun than don’t do it!”

Now that spring has arrived, we look forward to longer day and the show season that is ahead of us.  Now is the time to think about tuning up your horse for driving dressage.  Do you want to go from a score in the sixties to a score in the forties or lower then here are a few tips to help you get there.  Driving dressage with purpose is the best way to accomplish this.

First, I will address the all important walk.  Does your horse know how to do an active walk?  So many times I see horses that have never been taught to walk properly.  I know that it is more fun to go fast than it is to go slow.

The US Equestrian rule book describes the walk like this:

“Walk is a regular four beat movement, with the horse remaining in   light contact, walks energetically, supple, with even and determined    strides with the hind foot touching the ground in front of the foot print of the fore feet and stretching forwards and downwards.”

For your horse to understand that there is a difference between just walking along down a trail, and walking in a dressage test, you have to practice this at home just like all of the other movements of a dressage test.  The easiest way to teach your horse the difference is to do transitions from a free walk, take up the reins, controlled four beat walk, then back to a free walk.  For the upper level test you can practice the controlled four beat walk, then extended walk and back to four beat walk.  This way your horse will learn the difference between the various walks.

Many of the lower level driving dressage tests end with you doing a working walk down the center line.  In this case it is the last thing the judge sees so why not make it spectacular!

Knowing your driving dressage arena is really a good idea.  When you get to a new venue, it is a good idea to walk the dressage arena at least once so that you know what is there.  The items that can be found around a dressage arena can be many:

  •           Pop up tents or small wooden house for the judges.
  •           Bleachers or lined up chairs along the side lines.
  •           Sides can be marked by white rails or white chain.
  •           Letter posts are usually white but they can also have pots of flowers   on them.
  •           Judges booths can include flower pots, tables, chairs, etc.

If you know your horse well, you will have some idea of any strange items that he might not have ever seen.  Once the judge blows the whistle, then you have 90 seconds to get into the arena. Generally, this is enough time for you to drive around the outside of the arena, which I suggest that you do.  This gives your horse a chance to see all that is around the arena, and if he is going to spook, it is better before you enter the arena then spooking during the test.

I was at a CDE with my horse Sailor and it was the first time where the judges sat in the little wood houses.  Sailor felt he had to stop at each one as I went around and say hi to the judges.  I was thankful that I took that one drive around before entering the arena.

So, what is that centerline all about?  In every dressage test you will go down the center line two times.  This is how the test starts and also how it ends.  This is your first and last impressions on the judges.  You need to make the most of the two times that you will drive it.

Duck Club CDE-Example of a chain arena.

Duck Club Combined Driving Event in California. Eileen is driving Pinegrove's Sailor Boy in Dressage

When you come down the centerline you need to be businesslike the whole time.  Smile, look where you are going, and look like you are having fun!  Look at the judge so that they know that you mean business. When you horse is coming down the centerline the judge cannot tell if your horse is a great mover or just an average mover.  Make sure that your horse is aimed straight for the “C” and is balanced and obedient.  Always make sure that your horse halts and is immobile.  When at home you can mark the centerline with dots of paint or small colored rocks to learn to drive a straight line.  The horse will not make a straight line if you can’t drive a straight line.  Your focus when driving a straight line is a point beyond the judge and letter “C”.  Once you come around the corner to come down the centerline, and your horse is straight, keep your hand very still and you will find that your horse will do the rest.

The halt needs to be practiced at home the same as all the other movements.  Your horse needs to stand still at least ten seconds.  The best time to practice halts is at the end of a training session when your horse is a bit more tired.  You can use it as a reward, if he stops and stands still for those ten seconds, then call it good and end the lesson.  If he does not stand still, then take him around a couple more times and try it again.


I always use the word “stand” after my horse stops so that he knows the difference between “whoa” and standing still for a period of time.  If you say “whoa” and he stops and then he wiggles a little bit and you keep saying “whoa”, he will not get the idea of standing still.

Remember to use the whole arena.  Be sure to round the corners to the size of your horse and carriage (A 12 hand pony with a four wheel carriage will go deeper into the corner than a 16 hand Friesian and a four wheeled carriage). Corners are meant to be rounded and not squared. When doing a diagonal across the arena, you need to start your turn before the letter, so that when you get on the diagonal you will be straight.  You will aim just to the left of the letter across the arena before you turn back onto the long side, so that you are straight before having to turn the corner.

Now, to the circle that generally starts out as an egg and end with a flat side.

Circles are basic geometry, if you need a 40m circle that is half of the arena, and a 20m circle at the end of the arena is quarter line to quarter line and so forth. You always start your circle at the designated letter. If you break the circle into quarters, it will make it easier to drive.  Once you start your circle say at “C”, you will then look toward the first quarter point in your circle.  Once you get to that point, you will then look to the second quarter point and so on. If you are doing a circle to the left you look to the left at the quarter point, you will drop you left shoulder and the reins will adjust just enough to guide your horse around (again at this point keep your hands very still).  You cannot pull your horse around the circle with the reins. All circles start at the letter and end at the same letter.

All judges really want the drivers to do a good job.  Drive like you love what you are doing. You are there to show off your horse and driving ability to the judges and the spectators. Always have a “Watch This” attitude.  And always let your horse know that you appreciate all the effort that they put into your test.  After all, I’m sure they would rather be in the barn sleeping or eating!

Conditioning your horse for the upcoming show season does not have to be a long drawn out process. But you need to remember that after four months of winter your horse is going to have a little more flab to loose then he did at the end of fall and some of his un-worked muscles are going to get sore when you start working him again.

If you have ever been to a gym or suddenly, had this great idea for fun, and decided you should take a hike up a mountain then you know how your horse will feel when you start his conditioning program. So you need to remember that your horse will also be feeling like he has been to the gym at the end of a long winter, so starting your conditioning program gradually is the best way for both you and your horse to get back in shape.

If your horse has been out in a large pasture for the winter then it will take you probably about a month to get your horse ready for the show season. When your horse is out in pasture he has a tendency to move around more than one being stalled all winter so his overall condition will be better than the horse who has been in a stall for the winter. The horse who has been in a stall will probably need two to three months of conditioning to be ready for the show season.

For the stalled horse you can begin your conditioning before the end of winter actually gets here. I know many places across the country will still have snow but normally there will be roads and areas that are traveled frequently that you will be able to use. You can use these areas to start exercising your horse by just hand leading him up and down the road.

This is also a good time to remind your horse of the word whoa and how to backup in a straight line. Just remember that while leading your horse up and down the roads you will also be gaining some good exercise. The other way you can help condition your stalled horse is to use a round or bullpen for your horses exercise routine. Just be sure that there is no slippery ice or snow inside the pen before you start. You will probably need up to three weeks of this type of exercise to be equal to the pastured horse.

One of my favorite ways to condition my horses is by using the Pessoa Lunging System.  This system was invented by Nelson Passoa who was an international show jumper.  The idea behind the system is to encourage balance in your horse while getting a gradual build-up of the horses top-line.

It is based on the principle of pressure and release. It places the horse in a better position to assist muscle build-up, and increases use of the horse’s back muscles.

By using this system you are able to work your horses without you even touching his mouth.  You start your horse at a low top-line and gradually bring him up over a course of several months. So by lunging your horse you can not only strengthen his top-line, but also build muscle tone and stamina.  I like to do this in my large arena so that the horse is able to go on a straight line as versed to a constant round circle.  It is also easier for your horse to learn to balance himself at the canter on a straight line.

Before you start any exercise program with your horse whether he is pastured or stalled the winter there are a few things you need to address first. Being your horse has not had a bit in it’s mouth for several months it’s always good to check his teeth and have them floated if needed. For those of you who pull your horses shoes at the end of fall to let them stretch out during the winter months you will need to have the farrier come and  trim their feet and have shoes put on for the start of the season. The last thing you need to do is assess your horses general health and if you have any issues address them before you start working with your horse.

Once you are able to start working your horse in carriage you should start with 15 minutes a day with a walk – trot – walk session has a warm-up period. If you have gone your 15 minutes and your horse is blowing and breathing heavily then you need to make it a shorter session until he can do the work in the time allotted. The basis of this warm-up period is to help send the blood to the muscles and the legs so that they get warmed up in the still cool days and help the tendons become loosened thereby avoiding any health issues.

After each session you need to have a cool down period of just walking, this can be anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on your horse. I have found over the years working with my horses, that a schedule of  three day on and a one day off works, works well with them.  As your horse starts to get fit you’ll want to add more time to your daily session for a maximum of approximately one hour of working. You also want to add, to your walk – trot – walk session, a canter section to help increase his heart rate to be able to achieve maximum conditioning. When you start adding the canter sessions start with just one or two minutes of cantering and then go back to the trot or the walk. At first I would only add a couple of these canter sessions into your workout and as your horses condition improves you will be able to canter for longer periods of time.

If you really want to keep track of how your horse is doing in his conditioning then the purchase of a Polar Equine Belt that goes with the Polar RS800CX watch would be one way to accomplish this. The watch is normally used for us humans to keep tract of pulse and respiration’s during exercise.  The system has been adapted for the horse so that you can watch and track his P & R during his workout.  It also comes with a computer program that supplies you with charts and statistics of your horses progress.

There are also other adaptable apps for your cell phones that can also work.

The following is what your horses pulse should be at different work modes, remember theses are just approximate numbers:

Resting pulse 40 beats per minute

Moderate work 75 to 100

Heavy work 101 to 200

Recovery should be 10-15 minutes to less than 60

If it drops to 44 to 52 than work can be increased

If above 70 then work was to hard

These are just guidelines and if you have any questions than consult your veterinarian.