We’re all doing our best, there’s no doubt about that! But there is also always room for improvement, and odds are these are 5 places where you could be helping your driving horse, instead of making their job harder.
1. Poor Cart Balance and Harness Fit
We can ALL improve our harness fit and cart balance. It’s a never ending job to continue to critically evaluate our set up and make adjustments. Our horses change shape as they gain (or lose) fitness, and we need to be on top of adjusting our equipment to keep them happy.
There have been multiple occasions at a lesson or clinic where I’ve been able to make adjustments to harness and cart balance that have made dramatic differences in the performance of the horse. My favourite was a horse who’d been harnessed so that he was carrying much of the weight of the cart on his harness saddle happily floating along after we fixed it for him, and his delighted owner saying, “look at him, now he can fly!”
While you might not need to make a huge adjustment, if you haven’t taken the time lately to re-evaluate your harness fit and cart balance, there’s probably something you’re missing that would make your horse’s job easier.
2. Not Being Clear Communicators
Horses can’t read our minds, and when we’re talking about a Miniature Horse pulling a full sized human, they need a little warning to rebalance themselves to change speeds and gaits. Besides, it’s just polite! Sometimes we get so caught up with having a responsive horse, that we forget that part of that is to be an effective communicator.
Be consistent in your cues. Use your voice and breath first, instead of your whip. Give your driving horse a heads up before expecting a response.
The smooth transitions and improved strength and balance will quickly show in your performance, and your horse will thank you!
3. Relying on Equipment Instead of Training
Who’s been told, “you need a stronger bit/martingale/draw reins/etc on that horse!” *raises hand*
We ALL have, and most of the time it’s said by someone who really wants to help us. And trust me when I say I’ve tried them all! But what I’ve learned is that a horse isn’t going to understand what you’re asking any more clearly because you’ve used a stronger tool. If they don’t understand, they aren’t going to understand any better just because you have more leverage or can physically restrict them. Don’t use equipment in place of training.
These sort of shortcuts might seem to help at first, but they might also make things worse, and they’ll never truly create the strong, happy, partner you want in your driving horse.
Go slow, you’ll get there faster.
4. Focusing on Where Their Head Is
If you’re like me and had your early driving experiences in the show ring, you know that “getting their nose in” or “having a headset” is the holy grail of a good driving horse.
Except – it isn’t.
It took me a long time to truly understand that a good “headset” is a symptom of good balance, and it needs to be the last thing you worry about. Balance starts with their big strong hindquarters, and that’s where we need to keep our focus. When their hind legs are reaching well under their body, when they are comfortably bending in the direction of travel, when they maintain their balance through transitions and begin carrying more and more weight on their hind end – then their “headset” will fall into place.
If you start trying to pull their nose in, you’ll be stopping them from using that powerful engine, from lifting their back and elevating their front end, from reaching their potential.
Drive your horse from back to front, not front to back.
5. Not Paying Enough Attention to Our Own Position.
We think that because we aren’t sitting on our horse’s back that we don’t affect them.
But we do.
Years ago my brother and I were playing with a fancy driving horse and realized that we could get him to float by simply tightening our abdominal muscles. And that was just the tip of the iceberg!
Today I know that when my horse is counterbent on the corners, and getting worse instead of better, then the place to look for the problem is me, not them. I take a deep breath, shrug my shoulders to my ears and roll them back, let them sink into my heavy elbows and make sure my weight is balanced equally on both feet and both sides of my bum. Once I’m straightened, instead of trying to bend my horse around the corner I simply look where I want to go and turn my core and almost 100% of the time, the problem is solved.
We are 50% of the partnership, after all, and our position matters. When you’re having an issue, look at yourself first.
You can find more on helping your driving horse be their very best, with exercises and quantifiable skills to work on, inside the Improving Your Miniature Driving Horse online course – register below!