Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I know it has been a while since I have posted anything here. Two weeks in fact.  Kat is coming along nicely and actually slacking off a bit since he is getting bored going around and around the back pasture/arena. Even throwing cones, buckets and poles out there as obstacles to go through and around, is just not that thrilling for him anymore. He is getting lazy in his work and I really have to push him to get anything out of him.
So Sunday I took him around the arena a few times, we went both directions through the poles in the "L" shape, wove through the buckets and when he was actually a bit tired, I stopped him by the gate to open it up.  One of the mares is right there by the gate and although she clearly does not like him, he thinks he has a chance with her.  He stayed where I left him, while I opened the gate and waited until I told him to move on before going through it.  He tried stopping in front of her stall and with a reminder of him having a job to do, we headed for the driveway gates.

Out the driveway and we headed down the street. There are only three houses on our side of the street. Two on the other side. I figured this would be a good time to walk along behind the cart and go see what he is going to do. The neighbor has some dogs that usually come running out to the fence and bark. I was hoping they would, but they waited until we were almost past before showing up. He stopped to see what the commotion was and decided to poop. Of course he thinks he can't do two things at once so I had to try convincing him he can. 

The neighbor on the corner has about 4 horses in their pasture. All of them came running to see what in the world we were. Kat decided he was all important and started huffing himself up and showing off.  He again got a few reminders of the job at hand and he needed to behave no matter what was going on. We made it to the corner, waited for a car to pass, then made a nice turn around and headed back. another few small reminders of his job and he settled right in, walking along to go home.

He did really well in that he did not get antsy because we were going home. Since the sun was getting hot I needed to rinse us both off and call it good. As we were coming down the street to our driveway, a truck went by and actually stopped to watch us.  Kind of fun, since there aren't too many people in our neighborhood that drive. I know of three actually... 

I need to get Pal back to work and I also need to make replacements for my shaft poles since he stepped on and bent the PVC pipe from the last pair.  I also may hop on and ride him a few times in between too.  The TB mare is getting her feet done on Friday and then she will be ready to go.  I may have to find another harness for her or just stick to ground driving for a while.  Kat needs his feet done and we are entering a Darby competition up north next month.  There's a fun drive the day before and I hope it all goes well. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What a bust?

Over the weekend I was going to try to get pictures for both blogs, this one and TWGH. I brought Kat out to drive him Saturday night and just as I was putting him to the cart the wind kicked up. It was a strange wind that you couldn't really tell which direction it was blowing in from. Out to the South and East, the skies were dark and looking like we could get some rain. Which we did.

There was also a bunch of lightning going on. Both the flash type and the bolts striking the ground or whatever it was hitting. Which made me think climbing into a metal cart in a lightning storm was NOT a good idea. I don't care if it has rubber tires on it... I already had the shafts through the tugs and the traces hooked.  My cones were all out and the storm was headed our way.  So much for doing anything with the horses.

Last week I had tried the nylon harness on the TB mare to see if it was going to fit and what adjustments if any, needed to be made... What a joke! No pictures, but it won't work for her.  The saddle fit, one hole to adjust larger on both sides, but not any more. The crupper fit, but not the breeching, the breastcollar might work but the strap over the neck is too short and the traces definitely won't. Since they are attached... yeah, not happening.

Then came the bridle. I am so glad this mare is patient and tolerant beyond everything.  The bit adjustments were on the last hole as long as they go. The buckles to adjust the blinders were let down and by the time the bit was positioned where it should be? The top of the blinders were low enough she could look over them. The metal piece that is supposed to hold them out to the sides, was laying on her forehead. She sighed and gave me a look as if to say, Seriously??? This is a joke, right?

Sunday night I headed out to work Pal. Something in the neighbors oleander bush next to the fence in the corner, was out to get him. He knew it was there, something was going to jump out and when it did, he would be eaten.  Which also caused him to forget how to lunge.  He would blast around past the bush, then whip his butt around to the outside and stop to face me and the killer in the plant.  I managed to get some pictures of him moving before getting out a whip and putting a stop to his game.

This one looks kind of dark but clicking on it brings it up bigger with more light.

Heading towards the oleander....

Yep, I had left my buckets and poles out too. Another driving obstacle.

You can see here, he is looking at the oleander and still has and ear on me. That bush really had him on edge. Even after walking him up to the corner and making him stand there, he still though something was going to get him.

All it took was the whip popping a few times behind his butt and a miracle happened. He remembered how to go around on the lunge line and to keep moving. No crowding towards the center, no egg shaped circles, his brain returned and he started to work. He also started to sweat. Which is something he seems to be strongly against doing.

When he finally settled down and started to work, It was time to put the bridle on, attach the lines and ground drive. He walked off with no hesitation, no questioning glances, just leaned into the bridle and walked off. Lots of circles, big and small, stop, wait, then walk some more.

Things were going well so I decided to kick it up a notch. I brought in my shaft poles for training. What they consist of is a piece of heavy 1" rope with a snap on one end, run through a long piece of 1" PVC pipe. The other end has a knot in it to keep the PVC pipe up by the snap.  They are a good weight and teach the horse how to move between the shafts, make noise behind them as the ends slide along through the dirt and are relatively cheap to make. As well as being easy to replace if things go wrong.

Like they did for us.


At first I brought the pipe/shafts in and adjusted things so that I could hold the rein as well as hold on to the shafts and drag them around as we went. Let the horse hear the noise and understand it is not going to hurt them.  Adjust the rein in the hand through your fingers on top of the shaft, so that you can drop the shaft, but still hold onto the rein, if need be. You can always come back by and pick up the shaft again. If you have a helper that can walk along beside you with the shafts- even better, but many times most of us don't.

Pal seemed unfazed by the sound so I ran the shafts through the tugs on each side and snapped them to the ring on the breastcollar.  I let him stand there for a little bit before asking him to walk on.  A few laps around and a couple of turns into our work and Pal blew up. He started to trot ahead, then added in some bucking and the rodeo was on. He pulled the lines through my hands and took off across the arena. He ran to the corner to stand next to the WB

I walked up to him, led him out of the corner and asked him to stop and stand. I let him settle down and waited for him to relax.  Once he did, I checked everything to make sure nothing had broken, everything was still fastened and in place where it should be. I kept talking to him the whole time. Telling him how he just needed to relax and nothing was going to hurt him. Haaaa!

We started walking again, he was doing fine. I praised him. A few laps around and he put his head down. When he did, the ring on the saddle that the overcheck snaps to- BROKE!  The snap flipped up over his head and smacked him right in the forehead. He was not amused.  He started to buck again and threw a tantrum. 

This time I kept a hold of the lines and brought him around in a circle to the right as if doing long line work. He was still jumping and diving, but slowing down and decreasing the intensity with each jump.  **This is when longer lines than the actual reins are a safety issue. The horse can kick and you stay out of range.**

I almost had him stopped when he decided he wasn't done yet. He bucked a few more times and spun around to face me. As the shafts swung around behind him he looked at me with bugged out eyes.  His back hoof came down on one of the shafts and he bent the PVC pipe, which rattled him a little.  He kept his head though and settled down to stand there.  I took the shafts off of him and long lined him a little more before calling it good for the day. 

***As far as the horses blowing up, throwing tantrums and having a fit- it is better that they do it now and learn to trust that you will always get them through things. They can also learn to work through their tantrums. It's a lot like the young horses bucking the first few times they wear a saddle on their backs.  I prefer this than if they hold it all in, waiting until they are put to the cart.  Kat had his share of minor fits and gave me signs along the way, he just waited for the epic one and picked that day at the horsepark...  It can be fun, but can also be incredibly dangerous at the same time. The best any of us can do is try to lessen the chances of danger as we go. *** 

Friday, July 8, 2011

PSA and another great deal

Too good to pass up!

Big Dee's has their Troxel brand Sport Helmets- ON SALE! (who doesn't love those words?) for $22.50

A lot of the driving competitions around here, require anyone in or on a cart to wear a helmet, regardless of their age. No exceptions. Granted they are only available in black or white, but you can get a colored cover for an additional $3.50.

Isn't your brain worth it?

They also have ground driving lines for $17.50 For those of you just getting started, this is not a bad deal and since you can use them for ground driving horses you will later ride- not a large outlay of cash.

*** I forgot to add this- sale is good through September 15th.***

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In the beginning...

Since wanting to start Pal and my TB mare Mommy Mare in harness, I will at some point need a cart. I have been shopping them online for some time and getting familiar with what I need and what I want and I found one on CL. It needs a new Singletree, but those are easy to find, not too expensive and simple to replace. 

For anyone wanting to get into driving, now is the perfect time to start learning as much as you can about the different kinds of cart and carriages available, the different features of each, how much they cost and what is or isn't allowed in the type of competitions you wish to participate in. It is also a good time to do your research on harness as well.  Find out what is going to work for you, what the costs are and give yourself a target for your budget.

Included with the cart was a nylon harness.  While a nylon harness can be acquired rather cheaply and they do work, they are not my first choice for use when it comes to putting a horse or pony to a cart.  First off is the way they fit. Or maybe more of how they don't.  For the beginner it may all seem well and good, but as we go over things, safety being high on the priority list for everyone, it will become clear as to why they aren't used in competition.

Getting started I put on the saddle. They do have a tree of sorts in them to keep things up off the spine. This is very important if you will be using a two wheeled cart. More weight will be dispersed on the tugs and saddle. If you will only be using a two wheeled cart- meadowbrook or easy entry type carts are common, you want the saddle to be wide and cover more area. This reduces the amount of pressure per square inch.  A four in width seems to be the minimum from what I am finding.

Not the best shot I know, but it is on and adjusted to almost the last hole on both sides, as small as it goes.  When putting the saddle on- just like any other saddle- put it on a little too far forward and slide it back. This keeps the hair smooth underneath. Also just tighten it up to snug. You can tighten it up a little more later on. This keeps the horse from becoming 'cinchy'.

Next we have the breast collar and traces.  With the nylon harness- the traces are attached and do not come off or adjust.  This can be a problem if your horse is extra long or super short.  The breast collar should sit right about at the base of the neck, where the shoulders join in. Not too low, but too high can cut off their breathing if they need to lean into the harness to go up a hill or something.  This one is adjusted in about the middle of the holes provided.

I run the traces through the tugs on the harness saddle, then lay them up over the horses back. This keeps everything up off the ground and neat while you are putting the harness on the horse.

Then it is time to put on the bitching strap and crupper.  This one is in need of a few adjustments still. The breeching should not be this low and the crupper was not in the right spot since the backstrap is too long. For now though, it will do. I adjusted the backstrap after our workout and will fix the breeching soon enough. It was adjusted as short as it would go and still hung this far down. Good rule of thumb- the breeching and breastcollar should hang level with the tugs for the cart shafts. It makes for a neater appearance and proper fit.

Once the breeching and crupper are on, I run the tie back straps through the tugs and back through the buckles. If you can wrap them around the traces or run through them, I do it to keep them from sliding off the horses back while lunging.  This one, I ran the traces through the turret rings and tied them off.  This is the beauty of the nylon harness though. If the traces or tie back straps should come down and you end up with straps around the horses legs, the horses could step on them, damaging or breaking them. Nylon has less tendency to break and being a cheaper harness, you won't mind as much if it gets dirty. Rinse it off and do it again. 

Later on, you may actually want to do some ground driving with all of the straps down.  Things break, stuff comes undone and your horse needs to be used to straps hanging down and maybe touching their legs.  The more you can do BEFORE you put them to a cart- the better. The more they trust you and the more relaxed they are, the less that sets them off- the safer it will be for everyone. 

Once the harness is on, I like to take my horses into the arena and tie them to the fence. This gives them a chance to settle into the routine, but it also gives me a chance to grab the bridle, long lines, the cart if we are using one and anything else I may have forgotten.  They are not in trouble, just hang out for a few minutes and let me get everything organized before going any further.  Before I lunge the horse, I will again check the girth and adjust it as needed. Just a hole or two can make a big difference and with a green horse, you don't want things going wrong yet. Not on purpose or by accident.

Driving bridles have plenty of buckles on them, believe me and as you adjust the buckles for the blinders, remember to adjust the buckles below for the bit.  You want the horse to be comfortable and this to be as pleasant as possible for them too.  Pal is starting in a D ring snaffle, Kat was started in a loose ring snaffle. There's no reason to jump right in with a shanked driving bit if the horse has never worn one before.  Also the nylon harnesses usually come with an overcheck. You can take them off, however if adjusted to the loosest setting, they will not allow the horse to put their head down and graze while you work.

Remember what I said about how the nylon harness fits or doesn't? Well this one has parts adjusted as small as it goes, as long as it goes and others right in the middle. A good harness should be adjusted on or around the same holes on each piece. Of course there will be exceptions, but for the most part it could at least come close.

Pal after our workout.  We did some flexing and bending exercises and walked around the arena a few times. Mostly a lot of big circles until he is more in shape and his fitness level comes up.  He did really well and I can hardly wait to see his body change as we progress.

I noticed the harness didn't have the reins, but for now this is not a big deal. The reins or lines for driving don't often allow you much room behind the horse when ground driving them. Long lines or even two lunge lines gives you plenty of space to be behind the horse, ground driving or push them out and long line them.

At first when I was behind him and asked him to move he was confused. Or at least he acted like he had no clue in this world what I wanted him to do. Just a small tug on one rein, cluck and a kiss asking him to move forward. I would get one step at a time and took that. I praised him when he did it, then asked for another. Soon he was walking off with no problem.  

When he finally moved off a few steps, I asked for a stop. Nice soothing, calming whoa....  We want the driving horse to be quiet and responsive, yet above all- whoa always, Always, ALWAYS means stop!  Making sure that the horse understands stop, is never a bad thing.  When we are just starting out, it's a good time to make sure this is clear.  I asked him to move on again and he did.  

When ground driving, you want to try to stay behind the horse, where you will be when you are in the cart. Let the horse become accustomed to hearing you behind him and the idea that all of your voice commands come from back there.  Also keep your hands low, arms relaxed, the reins loose but feeling, watch that they keep an ear on you and they are paying attention to you.

Another thing to remember is that when the horse has the bridle on, the blinders prevent them from seeing you approach their side or behind them. You must speak to them and let them know you are there and life is good, how wonderful they are, etc. Talk about your day, how nice or crappy the weather is/was or even sing to them, but let your voice be heard and let them know you are there.