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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!

So, what has happened to the marathon over the past twenty years?  There are a lot of drivers scratching their heads and wondering if the American Driving Society (ADS) has lost their minds!

As with any sport rules and ways of doing things and playing the game has changed for many reasons:

  • Football – to help save the players brains for the future.
  • Gymnastics – so that the young gymnasts have a safe environment.
  • Baseball – so that fowl balls do not hit the spectators.

I am sure there are many other examples that you can think of.

In the driving world we have seen helmets and safety vests arrive and the walk section of the marathon disappear.  We have seen a drop in the number of drivers go down but has risen again by the inclusion of miniature horses.  The American Driving Society, and many other horse groups, have given up a lot of their control, and United States Equestrian has gobbled us all up.

Due to fewer drivers and fewer volunteers, we have seen the three-day Combined Driving Event be sent to the background and the one- and two-day events take over the calendar.  In doing so, we have watched most three and five phase marathons be replaced by the two-section marathon. 

This new two-phase marathon has a lot of advantages:

  • You need less property.
  • You need fewer volunteers.
  • Less signage along the course.
  • Fewer timers.
  • We all get to go home sooner.

For those of us who are west of the Mississippi river, where there are fewer events, it is hard to justify driving 500-1500 miles for just a one- or two-day event. For me personally, the closest ADS events are a hard-two-day drive, at minimum, for me and my horse.  Some can be three days of driving. That is just one direction!  I must drive that same amount of days to get back home.

When you are living in a densely populated area, say on the east coast, you can be to an event in less than a day’s drive.  The west is so much more spread out that we don’t have that advantage.  Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live, and I wouldn’t move for all the tea in China.

Now, as for the marathon and where it has evolved over the years.  There is no longer a “walk” section, the “Transfer” has replaced it.  The time to do the transfer is set by the technical delegate. The transfer has no set pace so you can walk, trot or canter at will, if you make your time. This is just for the three-section marathon.  Transfer section is now 800-1500 meters.

Eileen driving SBF Shrimp Scampi at Ram Tap CDE, CA and she was going HC
Eileen driving SBF Shrimp Scampi at Ram Tap CDE, CA and she was going HC

The two-section marathon (A & B), now is done at a slower speed so the competitor can choose when to walk, trot or canter.  There is no transfer section.  You can also just stop and stand still if you want.  On a 6km section A, you could trot the first 5km and then just walk the last 1km. That way your horse will supposedly come in more relaxed.  The compulsory vet box is still ten minutes.

Basically, they are saying that on the two-section marathon, it is up to the driver to decide if they want to walk their horse before they get to the vet box.  The speeds for section-A have been lowered, so competitors don’t feel as rushed to get there.

Section-B has stayed pretty much the same. The entire section can be done at whatever pace you want (walk, trot, canter) except for training, they can only walk or trot.

ADS verses FEI

If you happen to be at an event that is ADS and Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), then you need to know which rules are being used for the event.  There might be lower levels using ADS rules, and advanced level using FEI rules, or everyone will be using FEI rules.  The last option seems to be what is normally happening when there are advanced competitors. 

If you are attending a Driving Trail that is ADS, then only section-B is used, but beware, this section can now be up to 10km.  In the two or three section marathons, the maximum length of section-B is:

  • 4 km for training going 13 kph
  • 5 km for preliminary going 14 kph
  • 7 km for intermediate going 14 kph

So, having a 10 km section-B you better be sure that your horse is conditioned to do that length without any rest.  Remember this is the section where the obstacles are, and we all know that we want to do them as fast as possible.

My suggestion is that if you are going to any ADS or FEI events, you need to read the ADS rule book on combined driving (which is the yellow section) or the FEI rulebook.  Whichever one of the two that is going to b used at your chosen event.

The last thing we ever want to happen is to be eliminated, because we were unsure of the rulebook being used for the specific event. 

Now if you are only going for the fun of the event then just go HC (hors concours) and relax and enjoy yourself.  HC means that you are not competing for a placing or prize. 

Remember, most of us just want to go and have fun!

        

      

It was a pleasure to be invited by the High Country Carriage Driving Club to be one of their two clinicians at their 4th Annual Driving Bonanza in Calgary Canada. The event was held June 24 to 27, 2019 at the Fish Creek Ranch in Bragg Creek, Alberta. Due to inclement weather it was moved to a nearby fairgrounds. The lovely facility with a new covered inside arena had plenty of room for two clinicians to work students at the same time.

Enclosed arena at the Fairgrounds

The hosts of the event Susan and Doug did a great job keeping everything running, even with the change of venue. Monday and Thursday were wet days but the students took it with a grain of salt. They all showed up on time at the arena for their scheduled lesson.

There wide range of horses that here presented included singles, and pairs of all sizes. The breeds that were being driven included:

  • Andalusian
  • Fjord Mix
  • Miniature
  • Standardbred
  • Shire
  • Mule
  • Welsh Cob
  • Haflinger

and I’m sure I have probably missed one or two breeds.

Eileen Teaching at the HCCDC Driving Bonanza in Alberta Canada
Eileen Teaching at the HCCDC Driving Bonanza in Alberta Canada

Eight lessons were taught each day with different drivers and sometimes the same drivers with different horses. Some students had a lesson with me each day. It was nice to see the progress that they had made by the last day.

The 4th Annual Driving Bonanza ran smoothly despite the rain and cold. The two sunny days I taught most of the students outside. They were able to practice cones as well as drive in an area that was flat enough to do a dressage test.

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! 

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”.