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Nose to the Ground Issue 016: Carriage Driving
December 01, 2005
Winter weather has come. It's not quite "March of the Penguins" (an excellent movie) weather but we'll likely get a little taste of that in the next month or two. If a movie were to be produced titled "March of the Polar Bears" Nessi, our eldest Fjord could participate. At this time of the year Nessi takes on the look of a polar bear (fortunately he retains his gentle Fjord nature). His coat goes from a slightly brownish dun to almost pure white and very long.
Speaking of Nessi, I've been thinking of doing an article on driving as it's an activity we enjoy and he excels when it comes to pulling a cart or buggy. He's a pretty good trail horse also. So, this month's article is dedicated to carriage driving with a couple of gift ideas at the end.
I usually don't feature links in the newsletter but I've come across a couple I thought I'd share.
I've come across a charming website on the the Andalusian breed. This website originates in Spain, authored by a Spanish farrier, but is in english. Not a gift shopping site but an interesting site nontheless.
Another find, with gift-giving in mind, is a cowboy hatshop the Jaxonbilt Hat Company. They feature a number of styles and custom hats but what attracted me is their line of hat styles from the movies as worn by some of our cowboy heroes (Lone ranger, John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy and many others). I don't know much about them but one of the "movie" hats might make a fine gift, especially for nostalgic types.
The Web Site
Looking at Your Guide to Gifts For Horse Lovers traffic statistics the most popular pages continue to be those addressing the saddle, horse art, buckles and belts, and cowboy hats.
In the horse world driving is somewhat relegated to the background which is a shame as it's for just about everyone - challenging and a great deal of fun. You'll learn about horses from an entirely different perspective (and I don't just mean from the rear).
While I was out and about doing my Roy Rogers thing, my wife began testing the horse and buggy waters. At her urging I took up the activity and it wasn't long before I was hooked. What really sealed the deal was, after learning the basics of driving, we started training one of our Fjords to pull a cart.
Carriage driving is an excellent way to continue to enjoy working with horses when riding has become difficult for either you or your horse or if you just want to try something new and different. Two of our horses have been trained both for riding and driving. The one activity does not interfere with the other.
One thing you should never do is buy a cart and hitch it up to your favorite riding horse expecting your horse to know what to do. As a minumum the results will be exciting but most likely downright dangerous.
You do it in stages. It's work but very enjoyable work. Most horses don't seem to mind pulling a load, it's the noise and unfamiliar pressures on the harness from the moving cart that the horse has learn to accept.
However I'm jumping the gun a bit. Before worrying about training a horse to drive you need to learn to do it yourself.
Where to Start
Learning to drive is similar to dressage. You work on patterns, large circles, small circles, figure eights, serpentine though pylons, etc. - learning rein and cart management as you proceed. It'll be somewhat tense at first but before long you'll be out on the road moving along at a walk or nice little trot.
A good harness will cost about the same as a good saddle. maybe a bit more. There's more leather parts to worry about than with a saddle but once you understand what each part of the harness does, it makes remembering what goes where easy. I'd suggest looking for a good used harness to start with.
When sitting in a cart or buggy you don't have to worry about keeping centered and balanced, (i.e., maintaining a "good seat") as much as in the saddle. On the other hand you'll have to pay more attention to rein management as well as learning carriage management (so you don't sideswipe a tree or go off a cliff).
I'd recommend learning driving first with someone else's horse(s) under the tutelage of an experience carriage driver. Then if you want to train your own horse for driving, get the necessary equipment and go for it or have someone else train the horse. Ground driving, where you walk (or jog) behind the horse under harness, while controlling it through the reins is a good way to lose a few pounds!
Once you've mastered driving a single horse you can take a shot at driving pairs. I guarantee it's more than twice as involved and difficult as driving singles but persistence will pay off.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the necessities of driving pairs is in finding two horses that are compatible with one another - not always an easy thing to do.
Whether with one horse or more, if you like competition you can always work towards the show ring. And don't forget your local hometown parade. There's usually a spot for a horse and buggy there.
I'm hesitant to suggest it as it may be out of print, but "On the Box Seat" by Tom Ryder is an excellent book on driving containing about everything you need to know on the subject.
Another book, from Canada, and definitely in print is "Breaking and Training the Driving Horse". This book will get you off to a good start, even if you don't intend to train your own horse - the basics are there for your information.
Driving Gift Ideas
Here's a couple of ideas for gifts if you know someone who is getting started in the sport.
1) A pair of gloves, nice quality riding gloves for the warmer part of the year or gloves with fleece inner lining for colder weather. Trying to hold the reins with unlined gloves during chilly weather can take much of the fun out of the activity.
2) Sleigh bells - if you are driving in the snow, sleigh bells makes everything complete. Even the horse enjoys the rhythm of the sound of the bells.
I'll see you again in the New Year.
Goose Bay Ranch
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