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Carriage Driving: Enjoying Horses From a Different Perspective
Besides being just plain fun, carriage driving offers a way to get to know horses from a different perspective, especially if you want to learn to teach a horse how to pull a cart or buggy.
In the horse world driving is somewhat relegated to the background which is unfortunate as it's for just about everyone. Driving is challenging and a great deal of fun. You can do it for pure pleasure or take part in competitive events. You can take a pleasant little drive down a country lane at one extreme or try your hand at chuckwagon racing at the other. You'll learn about horses from an entirely different perspective (and I don't just mean from the rear).
As a youngster I had my cowboy heros. Later in life when I got my first horse, I knew I belonged in the saddle (it was actually the beginning of a second childhood of sorts). As far as driving was concerned, the movies taught me that if you were a man driving a buggy you usually got shot and if you were a woman you usually had a runaway team to deal with. Better to be the hero in the saddle!
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 found I really enjoyed it. After learning the basics of driving, we started training one of our Fjords to pull a cart. At that point I was hooked.
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.
If you're into eXtreme sports you can always try Chuckwagon Racing. A visit to the Calgary Stampede (every July) will give you a first hand look at this exciting sport.
One thing you should never do is buy a cart and hitch it up to your favorite riding horse expecting the horse to know what to do. If it doesn't, the results will certainly be exciting and most likely downright dangerous.
Just as you have to get a horse to accept weight on it's back as a first step in training it for riding, you have to train it to accept something new and a bit noisy following along behind it when you have driving in mind. The horse needs to understand that what's following it isn't going to have it for breakfast.
You do it in stages. It's work but enjoyable work. Most horses don't seem to mind pulling a load, in fact they seem to enjoy it. It's the noise and unfamiliar pressures on the harness from the moving cart that the horse must learn to accept.
However, before worrying about training a horse to drive you need to learn to do it yourself.
Where to Start
Look for a driving club or organization in your area or someone who teaches the sport.
Get in touch with the American Driving Society. You can contact them at -
North of the border it's the Canadian Carriage Driving Society at -
and in the UK a good contact is The British Driving Society at -
Once you've become active in the sport you might want to participate in a carriage driving forum. A good one to subscribe to (it's free) is the Carriage Driving Forum at -
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 will 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 costs roughly the same as a good saddle. maybe a bit more. There's more leather parts to worry about than is the case with the saddle but once you understand what each part of the harness does, remembering what goes where is not difficult. I'd suggest looking for a good used harness to start with.
A good source for new harnesses and accessories is at www.smuckersharness.com, the Smuckers Harness Shop web site. You'll find their catalog informative.
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).
You'll find most horses tend to be one-sided, performing well going in one direction and offering some resistance when going in the opposite direction. This can be a particular problem (as I've found out) when attempting to match two horses for driving as a pair. You just can't hitch any two horses up together and always get good results.
One of the more challenging aspects of learning to drive is getting the proper amount of pressure on the reins. At first the horse will move in a saw-tooth pattern, weaving back and forth but will "straighten out once you've got your act together.
I'd recommend learning driving first with someone else's horse(s) under the tutelage of an experienced 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 workout!
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.
You can "go for broke" and try driving four-in-hand but that's a different league altogether - something I've yet to attempt.
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.
Take up the sport and you'll have some fun and also learn how to spell carriage correctly, a word I always have trouble with.
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