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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.

Teaching your horse manners is a must!  A person’s (or in this case a horse’s) outward bearing or way of behaving toward others.  Synonyms: demeanor, air, aspect, attitude, bearing, cast, behavior, conduct.

When you are working with your horse manners area must.  They are even more important than a person’s manners because youare working with a thousand-pound animal.

Manners should be the first thing a foal starts to learn when they are born. Manners are learned by repetition, like most things that we teach our horses.  The most important lesson that your horse must learn from the time he is born, is your space my space. Especially if you expect your horse to be sixteen hands and thirteen hundred pounds when fully grown.

Teaching foals manners is mandatory!

I have always made the first thing I do with my foals is teaching them how to walk with me on a lead. Once they get that down pat then I will put whoa and back into my routine.  I will lead them for about seventy-five feet and then I will say whoa with a slight backwards pull on the lead. 

Generally, within about a dozen times of asking for the whoa they have it.  I will then walk them seventy-five feet, ask for a whoa, and then say back, at the same time I will lightly pull backwards on the lead along with a finger to the chest at about the point that a future breast strap would be.  If they give me one step back I will say whoa again and then they get lots of praise. If you make this a part of your foal training it will soon become a way of life for the foal.

Remember this is all about manners: your space my space, whoa on command, back on command when needed, and standing still when told to. Never rush these steps and go at your foals’ pace not on your time clock.  Praise your foal at every step even if it is only fifteen seconds that he stands still. 

  Your foal does not have a time table!

If you have already taught your horse during ground work to stand still when you tell them “stand” then the harnessing and hitching stand will be easier. When I am working with a green driving horse I watch his body language so that I can catch him the moment he starts to move. I will touch him on the part of the body, usually the butt, that he starts to move and as I touch him I reinforce the word “stand”.  Your horse will not learn this overnight, so be ready to correct him for a good length of time.  

It is all about repetition!

When you are ready to hitch your horse that is green or that you are having trouble with standing, here are some helpful way to do it safely.

If you are fortunate enough to have a helper, you can stand your horse with his head facing your helper.  The helper is just a road block, so you don’t want them touching or handling the horse. The driver should have the reins over their shoulder, so each time your horse moves in any direction you need to tap on the reins and say “stand”.  Green horses can be squirmy the first few times you hitch them.  Again, this is not learned overnight!

If it is just you by yourself hitching there are two ways to stand your horse to hitch.  If your horse knows how to ground tie with a lead rope, then do that.  The second way is to have your horse at a hitching rail with the lead just wrapped around the rail a couple of times, “not tied”. While hitching by yourself you need to always have the reins over your shoulder as this and your voice are your only means of control. 

Eileen harnessing Daniel Dawson with him quietly standing at the hitching rail.
Eileen harnessing Daniel Dawson with him quietly standing at the hitching rail.

During this period of teaching your horse to stand for harnessing and hitching you need to have plenty of patience and time. If you are rushed on a certain day than do something simple like just part of the harness and then just ground drive your horse.  Believe me your horse will sense your lack of time and patience!


Learning proper manners is all about repetition!

Then when you are driving and need your horse to stand still in a lineup those manners come in handy again.   

There are some bad manners that are totally not acceptable with a horse! Biting, rearing, kicking, not walking beside you but ahead of you, diving for grass and rushing through gates.  When you think about a driving horse doing these things while hitched, it can be downright dangerous.

Diving for grass while driving a horse can cause all kinds of trouble.  Your horse is very likely to fall if he does this while you are driving him down the road. It is very easy for the shaft of your carriage to get caught under the shoulder strap. If you are driving with other carriages in a line in or out of a show ring you very likely can be run into by the horse behind you.

Bottom line is that proper manners will make you and your horses experience when driving a whole lot nicer!  So, teach them the manners they need to be good citizens, so that you both can go out and have a safe and fun drive!

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

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

Whips and Aprons

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

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

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


Hats & Overchecks

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

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

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

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

One or Two Hands

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

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

Two or Four Wheeled Vehicles

Two or four wheels?  Then: There is a really great video put together that is a must see (https://vimeo.com/31256145).  In 1985, they were mostly driving two-wheeled vehicles that one would normally go to town in.  A judge drove on each carriage that went out on the marathon in combined driving.  Water was sometimes deeper than the horses going through it.  There were no time limits in hazards.  They were called hazards back then. Most vehicles were made of wood. The weight of a vehicle did not matter in the beginning. 

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know that right now you are wondering why I am talking about how to fall.  We all think that you can only fall off a horse while we are riding it.  But take my word for it, you should also learn to fall out of a carriage or cart when you are driving.

No one ever wants to fall off a horse or out of their carriage.  We all know, that whenever you are playing with horses in any manner, there is always a chance that you can fall.

Have you ever been walking with your horse beside you on the way back to the barn and something startles him, and he jumps your way?  The next thing you know you are sitting on the ground!

We all know that falling off your horse can and will happen at least once in your lifetime, if you are an avid rider!

Have you been driving your horse down a peaceful dirt road and suddenly that scary deer jumps out and your horse jumps sideways and turns back the other way, and your carriage cannot go under itself to do that U-turn, and the next thing you know you come rolling out of your carriage!

These are all real possibilities, that can and will happen!  So why not learn how to fall properly, so when that time comes, you are prepared to receive the least amount of trauma as possible!

You are probably thinking that falling out of a cart or carriage is different than falling off a horse, but it isn’t.  No matter how or when you fall you still need to know how to fall properly.

Quite a few years ago, I was able to do a clinic with Gawani Pony Boy, where I was able to learn how to fall.  Since that clinic I have had one time when I had to bail off a horse I was riding.  I have used his technique and I came away with no injuries at all.

I have also used his technique for falling when my carriage tipped in an obstacle while competing in New Jersey.

So, what is the best way to fall!

To start with, you need to realize that jumping from a moving cart should not be your first choice of what to do.  Horses can run from 14 mph to 43 mph.  Most horses can only do this for a short period of time, but even at a trot they can go 8 mph to 12 mph.  If your think about deliberately jumping out of a carriage, leave it to the stuntmen!

There are times however, as when my carriage tipped, that one has no choice but to fall out so knowing how, is a good thing.

When you realize that you are going to come out of your carriage you need to try and stay as relaxed as possible.  Do not try to use your arms to stop yourself from hitting the ground.  Arms straight out will not stop the weight of the rest of your body without breaking.  You want to become like a rolling ball.

First thing you do, is to hug yourself with your arms as you feel yourself starting to roll out of the carriage.  Start to bend your left knee if your coming out the left side of your carriage and push away from the carriage, as you do, you will feel your left hip following your left knee, and then your left buttock to the ground. When your left buttock is on the ground you want to roll over onto your right butt cheek.  This will keep you further away from the rolling carriage. You will then continue your roll with your right shoulder.  By this time, your momentum will have slowed down, and you will be sitting there wondering what just happened.

Remember to let go of the reins or you will be dragged! 

Practice falling and rolling at home on a nice soft carpet. You can also place pillows on the left side to even give you a safer place to land while practicing.  Seat yourself on a dinner chair in the middle of the carpet.  Now hug yourself and proceed to lean to the left as if you are rolling out of your carriage. As you start to go down, bend your left knee and push with your foot and knee away from the chair.  Your hip follows and your left buttock gets to the floor, transfer your weight to your right buttock and roll onto your right shoulder.

As with any new skill you are trying to learn, start slow, have someone with you if that makes you more comfortable.  Remember, this is a learning process and once your muscles and your brain learn the routine it will still come naturally when you need it.  Once you have learned how to fall to your left, then practice the same routine to the right.

Just like driving your car, you run through your mind all the scenarios needed if a deer runs out in front of you, or you’re hit from behind by another car. If you do the same with falling from your carriage, it will come to you naturally.  You always need a plan just in case the unexpected happens.

Remember, that in 99% of all falls, you do not land on your feet, so be prepared to hug and roll.

Horses and Smoke do not go well together.  The obvious signs of smoke from the Tinder fire should be a reminder to everyone about how quickly a fire can start from just a campfire being in an unauthorized area and being left unattended.

It also brings back the memory of the Rodeo-Chediski fire in June 2002 and the Dose fire in June of 2013. The Dose fire I remember well, being I live at the base of Granite Mountain.  My son called from Orleans, California to tell me that the Doce fire was heading our way and if it comes over the pass, we need to get out.  My son is a career wildland fire fighter with the US Forest Service and was stationed here in Prescott.

Extremely Tense Days

I watched many horse owners try to figure out what to do if they had to evacuate.  A good friend of mine who lives on Mint Creek had to evacuate and she called me to help with her horses and miniature donkeys.

There was much that went wrong that week, as well as much that went right.  When trying to get up Williamson Valley Road, I had to dodge look-e-loos parked on the road taking pictures!  Then, there were those that were unable to get their horses into trailers at all.  When the officials finally set up road blocks at both ends of Williamson Valley Road, evacuation then became easier.

As you can see Eileen’s trailer is large enough to hold all six of her horses.

As you can see Eileen's trailer is large enough to hold all six of her horses so when you have a fire horses and smoke do not mix


You are probably wondering where this is all going too?

It just so happened that my Hackney pony mare was in foal at this time. I consulted my veterinarian for the best thing to do with her and the rest of my horses during the fire.

Because my pony was older, my vet suggested that I keep her as quiet, and in no way exercise her!

The smoke has a drastic effect on horses to start with, but her being pregnant, it would be even worse.

This study from the University of California Davis proves that horses and smoke do not go together. Smoke is an unhealthy combination of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, soot, hydrocarbons, and other organic substances.   Smoke is a mixture of solid and liquid particles that are in the air. They can irritate your horse’s eyes and respiratory tract, which then hampers their breathing.  All horses should have very limited activity whenever smoke is visible.  Even a human has eye and breathing problems during a forest fire.


Remember horses and smoke do not go well together.

If you have a scheduled event in an area that is smoked filled due to a fire, it is always better to cancel and be safe then it is to go! Several years ago, the organizers of the Tevis Cup canceled the race because of the amount of smoke in the area.

Now, if you must evacuate then you are faced with the problem of getting your horse or horses out to a safe area.  In my situation during the Dose fire, we were on stand by evacuation for a week, as the fire management had no way of knowing which way the fire was going to go.  Fires can be very unpredictable!

I had my large trailer hooked up and ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  I can get all six of my horses into my trailer at one time. There were many people who had to evacuate and did not have trailers big enough to get all of their horses into.  Many people need to take several trips to get all of their horses out.

The worst thing that happens when you are told to evacuate is getting your horse into a trailer. Here are some tips on how to get them in:

  • Everybody stay calm!! If you’re not calm your horses will not be calm.  Act as if there is nothing special about this trailer ride.
  • Always be sure that your horse is trained to get in your trailer.  When it’s time to evacuate, it is not the time to train your horse!
  • Load your horse like you would at any other time.  If you use leg wraps, then put them on. If you use a different halter, then use it now.  The horse needs to think that this is just like any other ordinary trailer ride.
  • Don’t be in a hurry.  If you are, your horse will think there is something wrong.
  • If you normally load your horses by yourself, then do it by yourself.  I know it is tempting for friends and neighbors, that may or may not know anything about horses to volunteer their help. Graciously, refuse their help.
  • If you have multiple horses, load them in the same order that you would if going to a show or trail ride.
  • Give your horse time to think if he needs it to get into the trailer. My Friesian Sporthorse will always stand and look into the trailer for maybe up to sixty seconds before getting in.  This is his normal.  You don’t want to change your horses’ normal routine of how he gets into his trailer.

You Can Smell The Fire In The Air!

Most evacuations, especially with fires, we are all able to see and smell them well before the actual notice.  This is the time in which you need to get together any special medication that your horse will need along with a copy of his registration papers to have in your truck.  All of the other stuff you might want to bring like feed, tack, buckets, blankets, etc. are just material items that your horse can do without during an emergency. Your horses will survive on whatever food and water is at the stable of facility you are evacuating too.

The most important thing is to save your life and the life of your horse!

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!”

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.

Is it a circle or an egg?  One of the hardest movements in a dressage test is the circle.

When it comes to the driven dressage tests one needs to learn circles from 40 meters at training level to 10 meters at FEI level, along with every size between.

When you start learning how to drive circles at training level you are starting with the 40 meter size. That size circle is in each of the four tests for training.

A lot of the preparation of being able to drive a circle, is first having the basic knowledge of geometry and how the size of your circle relates to the total size of the driven dressage arena.

For example:

  • The normal size of the arena is 40m x 80m so, if you are doing a 40 m circle it is basically half the size of the arena.
  • If you are doing a 30m circle it is 3/4 the width and 3/8 the length of the arena.
  • If you are doing a 20m circle it is 1/2 the width and 1/4 the length of the arena.

Once you get the basic geometry in your head, it becomes easier to drive the circle.  The easiest circles are those that start at the edge of the arena. These are also the easiest for the judge to see if you are making a circle or an egg. The barrier gives you a starting and ending point of your circle.  When the circle starts in the inside of the arena, it is harder to envision where you need to go.

If you, as the driver is not sure where you need to drive the circle to keep it round, can you imagine your horses frustration with the whole process!  My horse does not know geometry, so he is depending on me to help him get it drawn correctly!

The other thing I see drivers do, is they will do ten circles in a row with no relief for the horse. When the horse is first learning the proper bend, it is hard on their muscles, so ten circles in a row and your horse will become sore and bored. Each size of circle takes a different degree of bend in the horses body to make the correct size circle.  The 40 meter circle does not take much more than a slight bend of the nose and neck and the rest of the body flows right along.  Where as the 10 meter circle takes much more bend through the horses whole body to make a well driven circle.

The other thing that I see drivers do, is that they don’t follow the circle with their eyes.  You can not look straight ahead and drive a proper circle.  That is like looking straight ahead while driving your car and turning right at the same time.  You are going to run into something!

So, how do you drive a circle that does not look like an egg?

First, be sure that your horse is able physically to bend his body throughout his total spine.  If your horse is unable to do this, then he will not be able to make a proper circle.

For example, my Morgan gelding who has driven his whole life, suddenly had trouble bending his body to the right. It was as though his spine was stuck and no matter how hard he tried he could not do it.  I had some body work done on him over a six week period and we found that somehow he managed to dislocate his right shoulder which made it painful for him to bend to the right.

Next, as you are driving say a 40 meter circle, break it down into four quarters.  Find a focal point for each of the quarters, such as a cone, tree or a letter on your arena. If you are starting your circle at letter “A”, then your first focal point would be half way between the corner at letter “F” and letter “B”.  Your second focal point will be at Letter “X”, your third point will be half way between Letter “E” and the corner at “K”, with your last point being at letter “A”.

As you leave letter “A”, you will be turning your head slightly to the left looking at that first focal point, by doing this your left shoulder will drop slightly which will put a little pressure on your left rein. As you are driving this first quarter, keep a very steady outside rein (right rein) and every four to five steps do a slight pull on the inside rein.  This will keep your path of travel at the right arc.

Once you have reached that first focal point, you will then turn your focus to the second focal point letter “X”, continuing around in this same manner until you are back to the beginning letter “A”.

As you practice doing your circles this way, you will find that they become easier to drive.  If your circle starts to fall in then you are asking to often with your inside rein.  Try increasing the number of steps between the asking.  If you are traveling and your horse is moving out away from the arc of the circle, then you may have to decrease the strides between or ask with a bit more intensity.

Remember, that circles are easier to accomplish at a working trot than at a walk.  Do not over do your circle drawing so your horse does not get bored.  Put some straight lines or diagonals across the arena to keep the horse focused on you and what he is supposed to do.

Once you get the process down, and you can do it without thinking at the large circle, then you can start moving on to smaller circles.

Smaller circles require the horse to be more under himself and truly working from his rear-end. The smaller the circle, the more often you will need to tap on that inside rein.  The horses body will need to be on a more pronounced bend as the size of the circle goes down.

Now, I am sure you are wondering why there are circles in all dressage tests?  Everything you do in a dressage test will translate to both the cones course and the obstacles.  Being able to properly execute a circle will make those turns in the cones course easier to execute.  Cone courses are all about full circles or partial circles that take you from one set of cones to another.

Circles, properly executed, will be of great assistance when you are making your way through an obstacle that has tight turns that can slow you down.  A well executed circle can save time and energy, for the horse, in an obstacle.

So you see the execution of great circles is very important in all three phases of Combined Driving!

“Have fun and drive a circle”

If you are taking a private lesson or participating in a clinic, your mindset going into it will set the tone for what you will learn. Getting the most out of a lesson or clinic is all up to you.

What is a lesson as compared to a clinic?

  • Clinic:  a group meeting devoted to the analysis and solution of concrete problems or to the acquiring of specific skills or  knowledge. Examples: writing clinics, golf clinics, driving clinic.
  • Lesson: an activity that you do in order to learn something

As you can see both a lesson and a clinic are an activity that one participates in to learn something, in this case driving a horse.

 Lessons are generally given one on one.  I know there are some trainers that will do lessons for a group, but in my experience with giving driving lessons, it is very hard to concentrate on a group of drivers at one time. Drivers are generally at different levels of skill as are their horses. Private lessons also provide a quieter and distraction free experience. There is also the safety issue of a group of drivers in an arena at the same time, especially if the arena is not large enough.

 Clinics are generally given to one student at a time with spectators and other drivers watching. This way all of the drivers and spectators get the benefit of what each student is working on and the knowledge of the clinician.

 When you are paying good money to a driving instructor you expect to get good instruction.  You as the student, need to be able to take constructive instruction, whether it is how you are used to doing things or not.

 Instructors all have different ways of teaching and as in anything, there are different ways to do most things.  If you do it one way and the instructor shows you a different way, it does not mean that either one of you is wrong. 

When you have worked with horses for years, you soon realize that every horse learns in a different way, and processes the information given them in different ways. 

 Students should never argue with the instructor and the instructor should never yell or demean the student.  With horses there is never a clear right or wrong way of doing a movement, just many different ways to look at something.  Besides arguing and yelling will just upset the horse!

 You should always start your lesson by letting the instructor know what issues that you want to work on.  By doing this, the instructor will be looking at how you are currently driving your horse to be able to discern what you or the horse is doing wrong.

 When you have paid your money to attend a clinic as a driver or as an auditor, there are things you need to know.  As the driver, you need to come with a clean and well groomed horse.  Your cart or carriage should be reasonably clean and in good, safe working condition.  Your harness should be clean and in good condition.  Bailing twine holding your trace onto the carriage is not good condition!

Know ahead of time what you want to work on with the clinician.  The clinician will not know what issues you or your horses are having unless you let them know. 

Clinic at Verde Valley Equine Festival

Verde Valley Equine Festival in Cottonwood Arizona with Eileen doing a participation clinic with drivers

 After you have completed your time with the clinician, and after you have put your horse away, you should write down the comments that the clinician has given you while they are clear in your mind.  This way when you get home you won’t be going, “what did the clinician say about my trot”?  You can also get permission from the organizers to be able to record your lesson with the clinician.

 Now, it is time to go and watch the other participants with their horses.  It is amazing how many drivers will have the same issues.  You will probably also learn other lessons that will be of help.  It is always good to experience the “wow” moment when the clinician says something that you have been having an issue with.  You can always come away with one good tip and that tip makes the whole clinic worth it.  While you are watching the other students, be respectful and not talk loud to your friend that just showed up.  Pay attention and learn as much as you can from the clinic.  After all, you have paid good money for this experience so make the most of it.

 When you have a scheduled lesson with a trainer and you are using your horse, then you need to allow enough time at the lesson location to get your horse and carriage unloaded and hitched up before your lesson time. 

 If you are taking lessons on a trainers horse, you probably expect that the trainer will have the horse ready for you when you arrive.  If you are late, then the horse has to do more work than just your lesson.  Be respectful of the trainer and their well trained horses.

 When you have taken lessons from the same trainer for awhile, then they will know what items and issues that you have been working on

When you are driving your own horse and have worked with the same trainer for awhile, then the trainer will know if you have worked on your lessons at home.  Working on lessons at home will make your next lesson better and you will not be repeating the same thing over and over.  The trainer always likes to see their students advance in their driving abilities

Be on time, be ready and have an open mind and you will start “Getting The Most Out Of A Lesson”.