Ground driving is the biggest part of driving training. It’s when you teach all the cues and communication that your horse will need to know to make driving a fun and safe activity for you both.
Many people jump into driving training with their Miniature Horse with a lot of enthusiasm but not a lot of experience. And that’s great, we all had to start somewhere, good for you for giving it a try!
But I see pictures online of people with their new harness, starting their horse ground driving, and they’re making it harder on themselves than it needs to be.
Here’s the top three tips I wish they knew to make it easier for themselves, and especially for their horse.
Keep your reins low.
Instead of running your reins through the rings on the top of the harness saddle, run them through the shaft loops instead. Buckle them down first, so they can’t flip up (might have to wrap around a few times if you have a wrap strap harness, and then keep your hands low, so that the reins run on either side of the horse’s bum, instead of staying up over their back.
This makes it SO much easier for you to help the horse understand that they are going to be facing away from you, as their own hip will correct them when they try to turn around. You’ll be much less likely to get into a big tangle, if you just remember to keep your reins and hands low.
Get rid of the check and blinders.
While most driving harnesses for Miniature Horses – especially the kind that people are most likely to get as a starter harness to see if it’s something they and their horse will enjoy – come with blinders and an overcheck. So, most people just use them, because they came with the harness.
Horses don’t know how to steer from a bit, they need to learn. They do, however, know how to move away from a person herding them. By removing the blinders so the horse can see you, you’ll be able to use your body position to help them understand what you’re asking with your rein cues. That is, when you’re asking your horse to go left, move yourself to the right, to help show them the direction you want them to go. (Added bonus! Moving your feet more than your hands will make your rein cues much clearer in these early learning stages!)
And as far as that overcheck? It’s not necessary. It interferes with their balance (which makes it even more important to avoid in the early stages of training), it’s often too short, and in many driving venues it’s not even allowed. Get rid of it – if you plan to drive in the show ring where a check is required you can reintroduce it once your horse is comfortable driving and strong enough to balance themselves, and your performance will be much better for it!
Don’t try to ground drive your horse the very first time they have a bit in their mouth.
I know, it’s so tempting! They look so cute in their new harness, and you just want to see how it would go!
I promise, it will pay off in the long run if you allow them to become accustomed to carrying the bit before you start trying to ground drive. Take them for a walk, work on other groundwork skills, let them wear the bridle and bit while closely supervised in a small pen for a bit so they can try to eat and figure it out without the added confusion of rein cues. Until they’re no longer mouthing constantly, don’t ground drive them from the bit.
BUT you could start ground driving from the halter instead! Then you can work on both skills, becoming comfortable with the bit and ground driving, separately, and when they’re comfortable with the bit you’ll be able to switch with minimal concern from your horse.
These three small changes can make a big difference in your horse’s comfort and understanding of what you’re trying to teach them, and it’s these basics that build into a safe and happy driving horse in the future!
If you’re interested in learning more about training a Miniature Horse to drive, my step by step Training Your Miniature Horse to Drive course will help – click here to learn more.