Is your horse stressed while driving?  You might not think that your horse is stressed at home but he really might be, especially if you are stressed while driving with him.

Some of the outward signs that your horse is stressed is kicking, biting, bucking, and bolting.  None of these are things we want to see our horse do while they are being hitched or while being driven.  Ignoring the signs of a stressed-out horse is not only unsafe for your horse but also you.

I know that right now there are a lot of people that are stressed due to the current Covid-19 situation in their lives.  The first thing you have to do is to get your stress level under control. 

The worst combination is a stressed-out human dealing with a stressed-out horse! 

There are lots of exercises that we can do to destress ourselves, from yoga to breathing exercises to putting the essence of lavender on your wrists.

So how can we help our horses when they become stressed while driving?

That lavender that I mentioned above can also work on your horse, just add some to a small bottle of water and spray on like you would fly spray.

Many horses get stressed out just getting in the horse trailer to get to a driving event.  Try just taking your horse for a trailer ride to some pleasant place such a trailhead or park and just take him out for fifteen minutes and then load him up and take him back home. Do this weekly, if he realizes that every time he gets in the trailer he’s not going to be worked he will be


A 2010 study by (Schmidt et al.) showed that a horse needs up to ten practice trips to get acclimated to being transported in a trailer.

If your horse is so connected to another horse where he is boarded then move him to a stall as far away as possible.  He will be upset at first so give him some hay to keep him busy.  Soon he will realize that he can be without that other horse.  Do not take a buddy with your horse you will be showing as this will just increase your horse’s anxiety when you take him away from the trailer.  This is also very disturbing to all the other horses at the event.

When you get to a driving venue don’t make the first thing you do, “hitching up your horse”. 

Get him settled in his stall if at a three-day event. If just a one-day event then tie him to his trailer, give him food and water and let him be for a good thirty to forty-five minutes.  If he is anticipating being driven the moment you arrive then he will be stressed.  When you are planning the day make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the event and to be able to let your horse chill out.

All of the increased activity that goes on at an event can be unnerving to some horses.  I usually find a parking place as far away from all the other participants so that my horse has a quiet place to hang, in-between driving classes or parts of a combined driving event.

Sure you might have to walk a bit farther to get to check-in or walk courses but your horses no stress level is worth the walk.

Keep your horse happy at an event by having food in front of them as much as possible.  It gives them something to do while in the stall and hanging at the trailer. I generally feed my horse about four times a day to keep him occupied.  My Friesian-Sporthorse is 16.1 hands and 1300 pounds so when he is in an eight or ten by ten stall he does not have much room so food is a good deterrent.

Keeping your horse drinking water at an event is even more important for his stress level.  Bring along the water from home for that familiar taste. If hauling water is not your thing then get your horse used to chlorine.  You can do this by putting the one-inch chlorine tabs to your horses’ thirty-gallon or larger water tank at home.  Then when you go to a show you can use the water at the venue and just put a chlorine tab into it when you get there. 

He will not know the difference!

When you sign up for a driving event you want to practice at home one level above that which you are competing at.  So if my horse is entered in intermediate then I will be practicing at the advanced level at home.  By doing this, when at the event, your horse will think it is really easy so there is nothing for him to stress over.

Make sure you practice at home in the cart and harness that you will be using at the driving event.  I know that this creates more of a beforehand cleaning job but it is worth having an unstressed horse at the event!

In the end, if you get to the driving event and your horse is still showing signs of stress then just use the event as a training tool for him.  If all he can handle is just dressage then that is all you do.  Don’t ever push your horse into a stress overload because that will be what he remembers for the next time. 

There will always be another event that you can take him to!

How far have we come since combined driving started?  Where did we start and where are we now?  Have you ever wondered why we drive the way we do?  My article this month will touch on some of the changes that have come about, not only to improve carriage driving, but to make combined driving easier on the driver as well as the horse.  This is “Then and Now”. 

Why brown gloves?  Then: In the book “On the Box Seat” by Tom Ryder, which was considered the driving guide of the time, states that dog-skin gloves were the best material of the time for driving. Nowhere in his words about gloves does it state any particular color.Now: Brown gloves are the norm for driving.  If you look in the ADS rule book, you will find that the only place brown gloves are mentioned is in the Rules for Pleasure Driving, Article 207.1.We all know that when driving Dressage and Cones, your gloves must be brown. 

Whips and Aprons

Why carry a whip?  Then:  In the beginning, your whip was made of holly, yew of thorn. The whip is held in the right-hand balanced at an angle across the body toward the horses left ear.Now: ADS states the whip should be held in hand at all times. Whip must be of traditional style and the lash must be able to reach all horses.  Whips now-a-days can be made of more modern materials such as graphite. The only mention of the whip being in the right hand is during a salute. 

Driving apron or knee rug?  Then: Originally made of light materials for summer and heavier material for winter.  The main purpose is to protect the clothes from being soiled by the reins or dirt thrown up by the horse’s feet. The heavier winter aprons also help you keep warm on a cold day.Now:  The rules today are pretty much the same that one must have an apron or knee rug.  You rarely see a knee rug! Today, you also need to be sure that your apron matches your carriage and what you are dressed in.   

Now - 2018 CDE in Arizona Eileen driving Pinegrove's Sailor Boy to a 2011 Dominiak Spider
Now – 2018 CDE in Arizona Eileen driving Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy to a 2011 Dominiak Spider

Hats & Overchecks

Hats?  Then:  In the beginning, people in general wore hats when they went out in their carriages.  It was more for protection from the sun and or elements. Men worn top hats or bowler’s, while women’s hats were adorned with flowers and ribbons.

Now: The rules state simply “the driver must wear a hat”, as well as any passenger.  They do discourage floppy hats. Also, in the last twenty years protective helmets being worn in dressage and cones no longer get penalized!

 Sidecheck/Overcheck?  Then: This item was a needed element in the olden days.  Originally it was only meant to keep one’s horse from grazing while traveling down the dirt roads or open fields.  Then it became a way of falsely putting your horse in what might look like a proper frame.

Now: If you are driving your horse in anything but training level, the use of a side or overcheck will result in elimination. 

One or Two Hands

One or two hands?  Then:  Way back in the late 1800’s reins were held in one hand, no matter how many horses you were driving.  This was developed in Germany by Master Achenbach, which is how it got its name.

Now:  Here in the United States, where the wild west met the old school, I think the west won and many more people drive with two hands.  This is quite functional until you get into the advanced level of combined driving where you must drive one handed in the dressage test. 

Two or Four Wheeled Vehicles

Two or four wheels?  Then: There is a really great video put together that is a must see (  In 1985, they were mostly driving two-wheeled vehicles that one would normally go to town in.  A judge drove on each carriage that went out on the marathon in combined driving.  Water was sometimes deeper than the horses going through it.  There were no time limits in hazards.  They were called hazards back then. Most vehicles were made of wood. The weight of a vehicle did not matter in the beginning. 

Now: You see more four wheeled vehicles in marathon, except for small ponies.  The judges now are placed at the obstacles.  Water cannot be any deeper than (50cm) or 19.8 inches. Your time in a hazard is a max of five minutes.  We are now politically correct, and it is now an obstacle not a hazard.  Most vehicles are now made of metal or a combination of wood and metal.  Weight is now specified in the ADS rules for the different sizes of horses.  I think all drivers are more conscious of the weight that their horse must pull. 


As you can see, we have come a long way since 1985 to advance the technology and safety for both humans and horses in the sport of combined driving.  Helmet, body protectors, lighter weight vehicles with brakes, delayed steering, slant seats, hand rails and many other great improvements can be seen.  Hopefully we will continue to improve the sport for all involved.  As with anything, with change comes controversy and we will never all agree 100% of the time.  So, go out and drive your horse, be safe and have fun!

Now: You see more four wheeled vehicles in marathon, except for small ponies.  The judges now are placed at the obstacles.  Water cannot be any deeper than (50cm) or 19.8 inches. Your time in a hazard is a max of five minutes.  We are now politically correct, and it is now an obstacle not a hazard.  Most vehicles are now made of metal or a combination of wood and metal.  Weight is now specified in the ADS rules for the different sizes of horses.  I think all drivers are more conscious of the weight that their horse must pull. 

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!”

The Festival of Driving with Shrimp Scampi started with our arrival at Dale Creek Equestrian Center on Friday March ninth. I found our parking space and a stall for Scampi and got her settled in for the weekend. As the afternoon went on more and more competitors arrived and by nightfall the grounds were pretty full.

With the arrival of dawn I was up feeding Scampi and figuring out my approximate time of my first class.  Being that it had been four years since I had shown Scampi, that she was now nineteen and she was diagnosed with PPID last year, I picked the classes that would be the best for her.  We had scheduled four classes for Saturday and four classes for Sunday as not to over stress her.

Four of the classes were arena, there was a super reinsmanship class and the other three were cones classes.  Now Scampi has always loved cones so I figured that she would do the best in those classes.

Of the three arena classes on Saturday morning of The Festival of Driving we placed a fourth and a fifth.  I had some time after the morning classes to have lunch and Scampi was able to have a rest before the first cones course in the afternoon.  The course was called Reverse Psychology.  The horse and driver drives the course of ten cones in order with red on your right, then once you go through the number ten set of cones you turn around and go through the set starting with ten down to one with white on your right.  It sounds easy but the driver has to rethink the red on right to white on right, and for as driver who has done a lot of cones courses it is a lot to rethink.  As it turned out my memory was working well and we ran the course in the second fastest time.

The second day of The Festival of Driving with Shrimp Scampi was met with damp ground from some overnight showers.  As the sun rose the day turned bright and sunny.

Our first arena class of the morning was the Red Hat class and there were a lot of red hats to be seen.  We pulled it off and took first place!

Then it was on to the Super Reinsmanship class where we drove the pattern that we had practiced at home ahead of time.  It was a fun class and we placed third in the pony division.

After a break for all involved for lunch, I was looking forward to the two cones classes coming up.  The first class was Fault and Out, where you keep running through the ten sets of cones until the whistle for times up is blown. I don’t think any made it further than set one after the first time through.  We pulled out a second place so I was pleased.

Out last cones class of the day was Your Route/My Route.  You first drive the ten sets of cones as set and then you drive them in any order or direction that you want a second time for a total of twenty sets of cones.  I think Scampi put it on full throttle and we won the class with a time of 02:45:62!


Rejoice Of Monarch is an American Morgan Horse mare who excels in trail riding.  She is fifteen years old and stands 14.3 hands.

“Rae” as we call her here has an impressive pedigree which parallels some of Daniel Dawson’s. She was bred and born at the Monarch Morgan Farm in Payson, Utah.  She was shown once as a yearling at the Morgan Medallion Show in yearling filly placing third

Her prior two owners used her for trail riding in the Phoenix Arizona area.

I am using her for trail riding here in the Prescott area and so far she is proving to be very reliable.

As we get better acquainted with each other I will post information on the web-site.

Have you ever gone to a horse show or a combined driving event and wondered why some competitors look great and others are drab and boring?  Then there are the drivers that are wearing a color that does not compliment their horse, their carriage or even them.  I know that yellow is the last color I would ever wear in a competition or anywhere for that matter. So what colors go best with your horse?

Lets start with the items that are required if you are doing Dressage and Cones at a Combined Driving Event, or you are at a Carriage Driving Event.

The American Driving Society rule book states that all drivers will wear jackets, driving apron, hat and brown gloves. Grooms must wear and have the same.  The driver must also carry a whip. In a Carriage Driving Event the ladies also have the choice of a conservative dress, tailored suit or slacks.

Your dress should also conform to the type of vehicle such as Formal, Park, Country or Sporting.  Less traditional attire can be used with a Combined Driving Marathon vehicle if it is specified in the class descriptions of the show.

Now that you know what you need to wear lets talk about what colors go best with you horse and vehicle.


First of all you need to know the primary color of your horse.  For the purpose of finding what colors you should wear with your horse, your horse will be in one of the following color groups:

  1. Black – black is universal and can wear any color.
  2. Brunette (Bay, Black, White, Gray, Blue Roan) – these horses look good in bright jewel tones such as blue,  purple, pink and red.
  3. Redhead (Chestnut, Sorrel, Live Chestnut, Red Roan, Dun) – these horses look great in soft earth tones such as vanilla, buckskin, rust and   chocolate.
  4. Neutral (Buckskin, Palomino, Grulla) – these horses look good in the same colors as the redheads or brunettes depending on their exact color tone.

For Appaloosas, Paints, Pintos and other horses with over 50% body white, they will look good in purple, blue, teal and turquoise.

Now that you have an idea of what colors go best with your horse you have to decide what colors from that group will look good on you also.  The majority of my driving horses are bay.  Colors in that group include pink, which is not my best color so I would not wear it.  Also the blue would have to be the right shade for me to be comfortable with wearing it.  The idea is that you,  your horse and carriage will look as one cohesive unit.

What colors go best with your cart or carriage will also have an effect on how all of your colors will blend together. Most metal carriages can be painted any color.  Black is by far the best color  that blends well with all colors of horses and any color that you might wear.  Now if your carriage has been painted say blue or maroon, then you have to think twice about the colors in your horse’s palette that will also match.

My carriage for my bay pony is actually maroon, which is a brownish red color so it will go fine if I wear black, or maroon.

I have seen a lot of brightly painted carriages over the years, from bright yellow to all  shades of green and blue.  Most of the time these are the marathon type vehicles which for marathon is not an issue but, if you choose to do Dressage in that same vehicle, it can be a problem for your presentation score.  It can also be a problem in a Carriage Show to try and make it look cohesive.

If your carriage or cart is all wood then it is probably just stained or left natural.  These light wood colors look best with your redhead or neutral colored horses.

Horse clothing color wheel

using a color wheel can help put your look together when you are doing dressage or show ring driving

Some other things to remember is that the judge is going to be fifty to one hundred feet away from you when they are judging.  What the judge sees from across the arena is color, silhouette and the cohesiveness of the carriage, horse and driver.  Black is always a good choice but unfortunately 75% of all who show will be wearing it, so you need to stand out from all the other black drivers and this can be done with a contrasting scarf that also carries into your hat or a bright tie and pocket square for the men out there driving.

Bright colors will help you stand out from the rest but you need to be bold to wear them.  Light colors have a tendency to accentuate flaws where dark colors will minimize them. Remember that your lap robe and your hat need to go with your jacket, slacks, skirt, shirt or tie to complete the picture.

If you want to get an idea of how colors go together, go to a few carriage shows and watch what colors are being worn by drivers and ask yourself, does that driver stand out from the rest?  Will the judge remember one of the drivers over the rest and how that driver drove over the rest?  Ask yourself does the driver, horse and carriage make a complete pleasant picture to look at?

Doing this will help you to pick out the colors that go best for you and your turnout. What colors go best with your horse?

What Is That Elusive Half Halt, what do I use it for and how do I get my horse to do a Half Halt?

The American Driving Society explains the Half Halt like this:

The half-halt is a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the aids, (voice, whip, and hands of the driver), with the   object of increasing the attention and balance of the horse before the   execution of several movements or transitions to lesser and higher paces. In shifting slightly more weight onto the horse’s hind quarters the engagement of the hind legs and the balance on the haunches are facilitated for the benefit of the lightness of the forehand and the horse’s balance as a whole.

The half-halt performs many functions: rebalancing, asking for attention, adjusting tempo (use outside rein for this), setting up for a transition between gaits, setting up for a movement, figure, or change of direction, increasing the horse’s core strength, asking for greater self-carriage and engagement, just to name a few.

Mary Twelveponies, in her book “Everyday Training Backyard Dressage”, shows how in the Disney movie “Miracle of the White Stallions”,  that during the exhibition for Patton, when Podhajsky comes down the center line in the canter and starts a canter pirouette, his use of the Half Halt puts his horse back together and he finishes the movement beautifully.

When you are riding a horse you also have your seat and legs with which to help communicate the Half Halt to your horse.

For drivers, we communicate the Half Halt to our horse by slightly squeezing both reins or one rein to get him first to listen to us.  Then again signaling him to  shorten his stride.  Once he shortens the stride, then slightly release the rein so he knows that you want him to stay where you have put him. Now you want to tell him to engage his hind quarters by using his lower legs. 

When driving, this is done by a slight tap on the inside with your whip.  You need to tap him where your leg would normally be squeezing him if you were riding.  If you also ride your horse in ridden dressage, than this will come easier to your horse.  If you over tap, then you run the risk of his back dropping and his head coming up, whereby losing the self-carriage that you are trying for.  It is actually easier for your horse to do a Half Halt and get into self-carriage while being driven, because he does not need to compensate for the weight of the rider when he raises his back.

The Half Halt is the tool that drivers use to help set up their horse for the movement that they want them to do.  This tool helps the horse’s balance, rhythm and harmony while you are driving him.  Yes, it is hardly visible to the non-horse person when done properly.

When teaching your horse the Half Halt you will first start as with all things with your horse at the walk.  If your horse cannot do it at the walk, then he won’t be able to do it at the trot or canter.

To execute the Half Halt while the horse is at a walk and on the bit, the driver will squeeze with their pinky finger just until he feels the horse check, and before the horse wants to slow, the driver then releases and urges the horse forward with his whip.  This results in the horse coming into better self-carriage.

The Half Halt can be asked for with both reins or with just one. One rein is used if the horse becomes overambitious, whereby you would use the outside rein, which is your speed rein.

If you want your horse to move to the left or right slightly, then you would use the rein opposite of the direction that you want to go.  This Half Halt has to be timed just as the inside back foot leaves the ground.  The result is the foot when it is set down will be under the center of the horses body, thereby moving him over a few inches.

When you are driving and ask for a Half Halt, have a word that you always use with the Half Halt, and soon all you will have to do is say the word. 
With my horses, I use the word “and”.

  •           A Half Halt helps rebalance your horse.
  •           Use your pinky finger and your word, then your whip on the horses side.
  •           Remember to release your pinky when your horse responds.
  •           Watch for your horses hind legs to become more engaged.
  •           Horse will develop self-carriage.
  •           Make sure your horse is always on the bit.

Teaching the Half Halt is a process that will take time.  If you have never used a Half Halt, you need to do short training periods, as your horse will get tired and possibly confused.  Once he has it at the walk, then you can progress to the trot and then canter.  You will notice that your horse will become more muscular as he learn to carry himself in a balanced manner.

As my final note, using Half Halts when coming down the center line to stop, will produce a smoother and squarer halt.  We all know that this is the last thing the judge will see at the end of your dressage test.  Leaving a good last impression is always a good thing!

How do you drive cones?  It sounds so simple at first thought!  Then your asking what does this have to do with you if you do not compete in Combined Driving.

There are many breed horse shows that have what are called Carriage Classes.  Within this category you will find a variety of obstacle classes which are a variation of sets of cones set up that you have to drive through.

  • Timed Obstacles (20 preset sets of cone)
  • Scurry Obstacles (10 preset sets of cones)
  • Town and Country Obstacles (includes non cone obstacles)
  • Double Jeopardy Obstacles (two drivers drive same course one after the other with same horse)
  • Reverse Psychology Obstacles (drive course one way then reverse and go through course in reverse)
  • Pick Your Route Obstacles (driver picks the route he wants to go through all obstacles)
  • Your Route My Route Obstacles (10 sets of cones driven in order then driver picks his own route and drives it again)
  • Fault And Out (10 preset sets of cones driven in order and repeated if no cones down until time is called)
  • Progressive Obstacles (10 sets of cones progressively narrower, you drive until you dislodge a ball or finish)
  • Gamblers Choice Obstacles (driver chooses obstacles and drives each in any order and can drive each obstacle twice, each has a point value)
  • Cross country Obstacles (1k course with obstacles)
  • Fault Obstacle (20 preset sets of cones over a predetermined time)

As you can see, there are a lot of ways that you can drive cones without going to a Combined Driving Event.  A great many of the breed shows, as well as the open shows, can have a variety of these classes that you can enter your horse into.

So how do you drive cones and not knock down all of the cones and balls?  Well, you start out by practicing cones at home.  You want to start with the cones, about two feet wider than you wheel width.  If your horse is also new at cones this will give him plenty of room for giggling around as he first drives through them.  The horses first instinct is to drop his head and take a look to see what these strange orange cones are.  Then he thinks maybe I should shy at them, and if they are too close to start with he will look at the right cones and shy to the left and hit the left cone. You want plenty of room to be able to keep the horse from hitting the cones.   The first time that your horse hits a cone, it will startle him, so you need to be ready when that happens.

Now, the new driver generally will also look at the cones instead of looking through the center of the cones, thereby chancing a knock down.  The other new driver issue is that they will look down at the cone on one side to see if they are making it through.  The problem with this is that when you look down, say to the left, this causes you to also drop your left shoulder resulting in you pulling the rein, therefore you will hit the cone.  Never look down at the cones as you drive through!

The very first thing you do when you practice at home is to decide which set of cones you will drive through first, and in what order you will drive through the rest.  Having a predetermined route will make it easier to practice as it gives you one less thing to think about as you drive the cones.

When you start to drive you need to be at a nice easy working trot (it is easier to trot through cones than to try and walk through them).  As you head for your first set of cones, you need to be lined up about fifteen feet ahead of the set you are headed for.  You need to aim for the center of the space between the cones and when your horse is properly lined up, your focus will change to a spot past the set of cones, straight out ahead of you.  You need to keep this focus until your horse and all of the carriage is through the set of cones.  If your focus wavers before your horse and carriage is all the way through, you will most likely hit the cone.  Now that you have made it through the first set of cones, it is time to head to the next set where you repeat the same process.

When you are learning to drive cones, an equal pace of your horse will make it easier for you both to learn.  When you get proficient at them, then you can ask your horse for a lengthened or strong trot or for a canter.  Cantering through cones is for the advanced and very seasoned horse and driver.

Here is some general information on spacing of cones that you will have at competitions:

Combined Driving:

  • Training level            35 cm (13.8″) + track width
  • Prelim level               30 cm (12.9″) + track width
  • Inter level                  25 cm (9.8″) + track width
  • Advance (FEI)          160cm (62.9″)

Pleasure Driving:

  • Precision Classes     20-25 cm (7.8-9.8″) + track width
  • Speed Classes           30-40 cm (12.9-15.7″) + track width
  • One width for all      200 cm (78.7″)
  • L shape                       3.6 m (141.7″)
  • U shape                       4.5 m (177.2″)

As you see from this list, the range of width goes from as little as 7.8″ (advanced) to as wide as 78.7″ for the one size fits all course.

The basic principals of driving cones is much like driving your automobile through a gate that is not a lot wider than your vehicle.  Aim for the center with your horse then look straight past and you will make it through without knocking a cone down. Remember do not look down at the cone as you drive through!  Stay calm and quiet when you are driving the cones and your horse will also stay calm and quiet and you will work as a harmonious team

I served as Judge At A Miniature Horse Show this past Saturday here in Prescott Arizona.  The Fun Show was put on by the Saguaro State Shetland Pony and Miniature Horse Club. This year the show brought out over forty horses to compete.

The day started out with judging the halter classes for Miniature Horses, Ponies and Miniature Donkeys.  Many of the competitors were new to the small horse world and many had horses that had not been shown before.  The beginning Novice Handler Open sported about sixteen horses and handlers.  Judging this class was a challenge to say the least because there were so many nice horses in the class.

Halter Class

Halter classes went on until about eleven after which we moved on to the Showmanship classes. Here again there were many competitors getting their feet wet in the novice class.  They all had fun getting their horses to properly do the pattern.  Of course Showmanship is judged on how the handler works with their horse.  I was really glad to see that we had one junior competitor in many of the classes.

Showmanship Class

We ended the morning with the Hunter class which is always a challenge for the handler as they need to keep up with their horse as they get them to jump, in form, over the five jumps.  We had about six competitors that tried their hand at this class.  We had some rails down and one jump that had to be reset when one horse went through instead of jumping it, but all had fun trying.

Receiving a Ribbon

The afternoon was started with the In Hand Obstacle classes.  The course consisted of a mailbox, trotting zigzag, side pass, back through, car wash and walk over poles.  The nemesis for most of the competitors was the side pass.  Most of the horses were wondering what their handlers were asking them to do, and why they were shoving them so much.  They all have plenty of homework for themselves and their horses.  The open class added a zigzag side pass and a grass inlay under the poles.  The side pass again, had the horses wondering what was going on.

Next to follow were the driving obstacle classes which included the mailbox, trotting serpentine, halt and back up, walk thru “L” and fake grass to walk over. The halt for ten seconds and backing the horse in cart were the major hang ups for the drivers.

Next we moved on to Pleasure Driving classes which saw many minis, ponies and donkeys hitched up and ready to show their stuff.  All of the driving classes went well with no major hangups.  They were all very well behaved and their drivers did a great jobs with them.  The Reinsmanship class followed  along withe the final driving class called “Golden Age Driving” where the driver had to be over fifty five.  This class proved we are all getting older!

We ended the day with a Costume Class which brought out the creativity of those who entered.  It was a great way to end a very successful and fun show.  I am sure everyone is looking forward to the 2017 SSC Fun Show!




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.