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. 


BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Very educational.

Your making me want to try this driving thing out. Although I was thinking more along the lines of a team. We have our blue roan and his brother, a red roan that I always thought would make a great team.

Cut-N-Jump said...

BEC's- Next time you're in the area, come on by. You may just be hooked on it. Sounds like the beginnings of another horse person trying something new.

Bif said...

About talking to them. I found myself sometimes singing or whatnot while ground driving, and my horse found it very confusing! "I only have your voice telling me what to do, and your voice is doing a lot of weird things I don't recognize..."


Cut-N-Jump said...

That is kind of the problem I had with Kat. He heard talking behind him and stopped dead. I had to tell him to move forward again and he would, but say anything- even to praise him and he stopped. I talk to him when I am grooming, tacking up, etc. but in the lines during work- talking, to him meant stop.

Sometimes in the beginning, using only your voice only for commands-
stop - whoa (obviously)
go - cluck, kiss, "walk on"
turn left- Gee with a tug of the rein
turn right- Haa with a tug of the rein

and telling them how good they are doing... keeping it all as simple and clear as possible for them is the way to go. As they progress and relax, becoming more comfortable and confident, then try adding the conversations and singing.

It can be challenging and frustrating, but you will find something that works for you and your horse. Once you do, work with it and gradually expand from there.