Posts

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.

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.

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.

As we head for the winter solstice, we find that we are pressed for daylight hours in which to drive our horses. Thursday, December 21, will be the shortest day this year.  The sun will be up at 7:32 am and it will set at

5:23 pm, which will only give you nine hours and fifty minutes to get up, go to work, and drive your horse.  Really, not much time when you figure that most of you work an eight hour job.

When you become pressed for daylight, what can you do to fit your passion for driving into your somewhat small leftover time in your day.

The first thing one needs to do is to be organized, both in their lives as well in their barns.  A well organized barn and tack room will make it easier to minimize pre-driving activities, such as grooming, harnessing and hitching up your horse.

If you board your horse, then you need to be sure the stable you are at has enough space for your carriage and harness to be stored properly.  There is nothing worse than having to dust your equipment off before you are able to use it.  A carriage cover does work well but it’s that extra time it takes to remove it and then put back on that is it’s downfall.  There should be proper space in the tack room for you to be able to hang your harness properly.

When you have your horse and equipment on your own property, you do need to keep it organized as well.  I have six horses myself and without an organized tack room and carriage barn, I would never get any driving done!

My tack room contains all saddles and bridles used for riding and training.  I also have trunks for storage of blankets for each horse.  This is also where all grooming and miscellaneous supplies are kept. This building is only twelve feet from the tie rack, which makes it even more convenient.

Now my carriage barn is where all of my carriages and harness are kept.  Unfortunately, not all my horses are the same size, so there is at least one carriage for each.  The one wall has all of the harness for the horses hung on it.  Again, there is a separate set for each horse, and all of them are labeled with the horses name. The carriage barn has it’s own hitching rail for harnessing and hitching also.

All of this organization helps me be able to quickly groom and hitch up my horses in the fastest time possible, especially for this time of the year when we are pressed for daylight.   So organize, organize, organize!

Some of the other things that you can do to save time during your busy week are:

  • Be sure if you are boarding, that your horses feed schedule is well before or after you plan to be there, that way you don’t have to wait for him to finish eating.
  • If you have lights at your stable or home then plan to use them during the winter months.  It will give you extra driving time.
  • Don’t schedule shoeing or vet visits during the late afternoons, so you are not tied up during your driving time.  Most vets now days have at least half days on Saturdays for appointments.
  • Remember to make your chosen time to drive just that if you board your horse. Long conversations with other boarders can eat into your time really fast.  Explain to them that you have limited time and that driving your horse is your first priority.
  • Leave your cell phones in your car or house to save precious time!
  • We all know that our horses love to be brushed all over, but for the sake of time, limit brushing to only the needed areas.  When time is short, I brush where the saddle sits and down around the girth area, which are the most important. The rest really can wait until the week- end when you have more time.  Forego the combing of the mane and tail, believe me, your horse won’t care about his hair-do!  Finally, just check his feet for any rocks stuck in his shoe or frog areas.  The poop in there will not be his downfall, after all he has been walking around on it all day and is just fine with it.
  • Now you are ready to harness your horse.  You should have just three sections of harness to put on.  The saddle with back strap and breeching.   The breast collar and traces already buckled in and lastly, the bridle with reins attached. I have found that having the reins attached to the bridle and the traces attached to the breast collar is the quickest way to get them on the horse.

Now you are ready to hitch up to your carriage.  I always leave my whip, helmet and gloves on the floor of the carriage, so they are always handy when I go to hitch.

With a bit of practice and a well trained horse who will stand there either ground tied or facing a hitching rail or fence, you will be off in no time driving your horse when you are pressed for daylight.

My carriage barn with hitching rail!

Eileen's Carriage Barn and Hitching Rail right outside at her Combined Driving Center in Prescott Arizona

If you do your grooming, harnessing and hitching the same way every time and at the same place, your horse will quickly learn what is going on and what to expect.

With organization and the above steps to save time you will be able to drive your horses during the short days of winter.  I have found that I am able to groom, harness and hitch up in fifteen minutes.

Driving the senior horse is not what it used to be.  Twenty years ago, a senior horse was any horse that was over fifteen.  Now the senior horse is considered senior when he is over twenty.  This has all come about because of the advancements in veterinarian medicine, as well as the way we now feed and care for our horses.

When your horse becomes a senior it does not mean you have to put them out to pasture to just hang around for the rest of their lives. How would you like it if when you turned sixty years old, you were told that you are too old to do what you love to do?  Sure, they will take a little extra care and attention to keep them going strong. The way I figure it, we owe it to them when they have served us well.

When I look at the horses in my barn, they have all served me well and they are all able to still do what they love to do. My horses range in age from one year old, and then it jumps to fourteen through twenty-two years for the other five horses.

When they get into their upper teens and twenties, you will need to adjust what you do, as well as how you do things with them.  Take for instance my twenty-two year old miniature horse.  He competed in his last Arena Driving Trial and driving show last year.  He now has some arthritis in his hocks, so he is on “equioxx”, as well as a supplement that is working really well for him.  We still go out driving and he is a great horse for new driving students.  This being said, I don’t expect him to work five days a week like he used too.

SBF Shrimp Scampi in a halter class at a mini and pony show in Prescott Arizona

Now, this little guy has been shown since he was five in both Combined Driving Events and show ring driving.  He has been my front guy in pairs, unicorn and four-in-hand, so he has done a lot.  He is a horse that has been there and done that, which makes him a great beginners horse. Besides, for being a part of my horse family since he was four months old, I would never sell him or stop having fun with him just because of his age.

One of the best things about driving the senior horse is that no matter what you do, they will always have your back.  This is indispensable when you are at a new Combined Driving Event venue and there are lots of strange obstacles that the novice horse would jump at, but not the senior citizen.

Our senior citizens really don’t know that they are as old as they are.  That is a thinking process we put on them, because that is how we think. They will still run and buck and frolic around when let them out into a large open space.  Sure, maybe not quite as long or as high as they used to, but they still have fun out there.

Many of our senior horses are being used as student lesson horses.  It is a job that they excel at, as they are so settled that they actually show a new student what to do.

One of my other senior horses, Scampi, an eighteen year old Hackney pony, is a perfect beginners driving horse.  When I am working with a green driver and Scampi does not understand what the driver is doing, she will walk over to me and stop.  She has this expression on her face as if to say “what is this person trying to tell me, I know I am not supposed to run into that fence”.

“There is no price you can put on this type of senior horse.”

Many novice drivers that want to get into carriage driving are able to get a better feel for how to drive from a forgiving senior citizen.  At a time when the number of drivers is decreasing across the United States, it is better for novices to learn on these senior horses. That way, they are not scared by a young fractious horse and decide at that point that they would rather not drive.

I generally start out new drivers on my miniature horse Snoopy (31″) and then progress to Scampi (12 hands) and then to my Morgan Nicky (14.1 hands).  By starting this way, I find that the student stays calmer, and a calm student is a learning student.  Can you imagine starting a new driver behind a 16.1 hand, 1300 pound horse?  This large horse might be the calmest horse around, but his shear size itself would be scary!

These senior citizens are used in many areas because of their age and the calmness that comes with it.  The average age of the horses for the Budweiser hitches is fifteen.  Most upper level dressage horses are in their teens.  When it takes so many years of training to get ones horse to this level, why would you not want to take advantage their knowledge and experience in their senior years.

The other area that the senior horses excel at is taking care of the horse crazy kids that are now in their senior years. I know that dealing with an excitable young horse is not at the top of the list of things that a senior person wants to do as they get back into horses after many year of being away.  Lets face it, as one gets older, they have creaks and stiffness that they did not have in their younger days.  I know many seniors that want to get into horses for riding or driving just for the fun of it and to remember their childhood when they rode every day of the week.  Driving the senior horse would be a great way for them to safely get back into horses.

So, as you can see, driving the senior horse who has so much more going for them then most people give them credit for.  Don’t replace you seniors, for age is just a number and not a true picture of what the horse can really do! Enjoy them, hold them sacred and appreciate all of the years that they have given you!

So you have arrived, with your driving horse, at the driving venue with all of his paraphernalia, now what do you do?

If it is your first driving event, whether it is show ring driving, Combined Driving Event or a sanction breed show with driving, the enormousness of it can be scary to say the least.

If you do things in the proper order than this process will be less stressful for both you and your horse.  Usually, there will be people or signs that will lead you to a temporary parking area or your assigned barn.  You now need to hunt for the check-in booth or tent to pick up you packet.

Things you will find in your packet:

Diagram to your barn stall

Your driving horses number

Papers that you need to fill out and sign

Your order of go

Information and maps of the grounds layout

Maps and timing information of the obstacles and course.

Information booklet about the event that is given to all spectator and competitors.

Some shows give you coupons and souvenirs of the show (pen, horse cookies, sun screen etc.)

Now that you have your packet, it is time to park your trailer and find your driving horses stall. I know that everyone likes to be close as they can to the meeting tent, bathroom and the manure dumping area.  But being totally honest, this is the area that becomes the most congested thereby making it an accident waiting to happen.  If you have a choice and are able to park a bit farther away, it really is quieter and nicer.  Lets face it, we all bring with us another source of transportation (bicycle, moped, golf cart etc.) so being parked at the front door of your driving horses stall is really not that important.

Your driving horses will get along just fine in the barn with all the other horses. If you don’t spend all day in the barn with your driving horse at home, then why do it at a competition?  Your driving horse just might think that you don’t trust him!

First of all, do get your horse out of the trailer, after all he has been standing all the way from home to the event site.  If he stands being tied to the trailer, then leave him there while you get his stall ready.

You will need to take his water and feed bucket, your poop cart and rake, and a pen to fill out the information required on his stall card.  Inspecting the stall to be sure it is safe and there are no faulty latches, sharp edges or boulder, that you horse can hurt himself on, is the first thing you should do.  You normally will find a sack of shavings sitting in the middle of the stall if you have ordered it.  Open and spread shavings around the middle of the stall and place water and feed buckets in corners. The corners work best as they keep the buckets out of the movement zone of the horse.  These stalls can be as small as an 8 x 8, so space is at a premium.  Now your horse is ready for his hotel room for the weekend.

Pinegrove's Sailor Boy and Eileen at their trailer at the Lets Have Fun In Texas Driving Trial

Never depend on the supplied latch or clip to keep your horse in.  I always buckle my driving horses halter around the bars for extra security.

Now it is time to set up your camp area, which is also your tacking and hitching area.  Be sure you give yourself enough room between your neighbor for you both to be able to work at the same time.  Parking/camping areas can become very crowded at many venues as space is at a minimum.

Once you are settled in and are having a bite to eat, it is a good time to go through the items in your packet. Remember also to check the official competitors board at least twice a day for any changes or update on information.  Times can change if some competitors do not show up or when the weather decides to change.  Marathon courses can change after the TD and Judges do their official run of the course.  Remember what you see on the course is always right, as people are only human and some maps might show obstacles differently.

Now that you and your driving horse are settled in and you have checked out the grounds and courses, there is one more thing you need to do.  Go to the competitors briefing that is generally scheduled around five o’clock on the day that everyone is arriving.  You will generally be introduced to your hosts, as well as the judges and technical delegate.  They will let you know of any changes thus far and you will have a chance to ask questions.  Be sure you listen and pay attention, because you never know if an answer to an asked question will be of help to you.

The following are a few of the crazy things I have come across as I have competed across the United States.

  • Competitors that cross tie their horses in the small isles of the barns whereby blocking other competitors from getting their horses out.
  • Competitors that use the isle of the barn to harness their horses.
  • Competitors that park their carriages at the entrance of the barn and proceed to hitch up there.
  • The competitor that warms up their horse in the warm-up arena with no consideration for anyone else in the arena. Remember that not all horses are at the same level of training. There are also horses for which this is their first time at an event.  “Courtesy” is the best policy.
  • Courtesy when driving ATV’s and golf carts should be the norm. The horse and carriage always has the right of way.
  • When warming up on marathon day, remember that the horse and carriage on the course has the right of way. Many events, due to space limitations, you will find that the marathon track will cross the warm-up areas of the road to the start of the marathon.
  • When it is not your time of go for dressage, do not block the entrance to the dressage arena. You do not want to be the person that causes another competitor to be eliminated, because they could not get into the arena.
  • After the marathon when you take your horse to the wash area be sure that all horses have been cooled, before you decide to wash your carriage. The horses health is more important then your carriage being clean.
  • Never depend on the organizers to have a first aid kit, for either people or horses. You should have a well stocked one of your own.

Go to driving shows and combined driving events and have fun, but remember to be courteous and aware of everything around you.  If we all follow this, then we will all stay safe and have fun!