Incorporating choice into your driving training

Next month in the Study Group, we’ll be talking, and learning, and experimenting with all things related to giving our horses choice and control in our training.

Anytime our horse is able to make the choice to engage with us, or participate in what we’re asking, they’re going to be so much more willing and learn much more quickly because they made the choice, instead of just trying to respond to whatever were telling them to do.

Remember that in order to give your horse the opportunity to choose, you have to allow them to say no. That’s the hardest part. But just know that once they understand that they CAN say no, they’ll be much more likely to say yes!

Driving training might be one time where it feels like you can’t give your horse the choice to participate, but incorporating choice will both give your horse confidence in the process AND give you a much better idea of how comfortable they are. And I think that we can all agree, that knowing your driving horse is okay with what you’re doing is very valuable information!

Introducing Harness

So often when we start training our horse to drive we forget that the first thing they have to learn is to wear the harness. I’ve known too many Miniature Horses who dance around while harnessing or even leap into walls to get away from the harness, and that’s a sure sign that their early introductions to it were not very fun for them.

If at all possible, introduce the harness to your horse at liberty. That’s the best way to make sure they can say no – give them control over their feet.

But you can still make sure your horse is choosing to say yes even if they are tied, but you have to be even more aware of their body language and if they step away, you do too, only putting the harness on them when they say yes.

Introducing the Cart

Unfortunately, it’s pretty common for people to do very little preparation before hooking the cart to their horse for the first time. It often goes well for them too, but not because the horse is comfortable, instead because they’re overwhelmed and don’t know how to react yet. They will one day though, and we’ve all heard the stories about the horse who “out of the blue” had a wreck or runaway.

But we can avoid anxiety about the cart, by making sure that our horse is able to choose to engage with the cart – or not.

Will they choose to walk along behind the cart? Next to it?

Can they stand between the shafts and choose to stay there? What about when the shafts touch their sides?

Can they walk along between the shafts while you pull the cart, and stop when you stop?

This can be done at liberty, or on a halter and lead, but the key is that we DON’T stop them if they try to get away from the cart. Remember, that the power of choice lies in their ability to say no. The more you allow the No, the more likely you’ll get a Yes next time.

If you’d like to learn more about the value of Choice, you can start with the Understanding Your Miniature Horse course, and then join the Miniature Horsemanship Study Group, where its our February 2021 topic.

And if you’d like to learn more about the process of starting your Miniature Horse in harness, the Training Your Miniature Horse to Drive course is starting February 1st!


One thought on “Incorporating choice into your driving training”

  1. Yes!

    I do the majority of my training at liberty, so the option to say no is always there. Often I think Cooper walks away because he is confused because I haven’t been clear about what I’m asking him to do. He never goes far and always returns, but I find the “time out” gives me an opportunity to reflect on what I am doing and how I could do it better. I think we’ve built a really solid foundation of trust and respect because allowing him to say “no” has made me a better communicator.

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