Sometimes you do have to 'back up' to move forward.
After Nuzzling Muzzles posted pic's of the last ADT on her blog I have exchanged a few emails with Lytha, a Horse crazy American in Germany about starting her horse for driving. Recently Cindy was having some issues with her horse and it was recommended she do some long line work with him as well. Nuzz was also having some issues with Rock a while ago and again, I threw out the suggestion to back up and ground drive/long line him.
Can I just say the benefits of ground driving and long line work are HUGE! Because, yeah. They most definitely are. Especially for me and Kat as well as my mares. I am a visual learner. I learn by seeing it happen, but also from hands on. If I can see what they are doing, see them doing it right, I can picture it in my mind when I am on them and then get a better feel for it when it happens right and like it should.
I was told by one of the ladies in the driving club that she does more ground driving than actual driving in the cart. She always seems to k.i.c.k. some serious a.s.s. in dressage in that respect, so obviously her words have their merit. MiKael of Rising Rainbow also told me one time to do more ground driving and long line work with Kat. Make him really work in the lines, then when he is put to the cart he will have life a little easier because of the shafts, but he should still be able to move properly either way.
I can clearly see the benefits of when I do more ground work than actually taking the cart out for a spin. One thing I have found myself doing though- I ask for certain things, particular movements in the long lines, but toss it aside when the cart is attached. WHY? I have no idea! It's one of those WTF moments if there ever was one. He can do it without the cart and he can certainly do it with the cart, if I had only asked him to. DUH!!!
I have been able to sort out my issues in my mares saddle work, by working her in the long lines as well. I can see what she is doing and fix it from there. The long ling work has improved my riding and in turn the riding improves my driving if that makes any sense to anyone. Clear as mud? I thought so. The long line work fixes the horse. When trying to sort out how to ask for something when driving, I ride my mare and think about what and how I am asking for things. The long low work in hunters for example. I know how to ride for it, but driving for it? Really wasn't all that different when I rode it and thought about how I asked for it.
On another note about driving, when starting the horse in harness, you get him used to things touching his body all over and them being able to handle it and let it go without incident. The harness is essentially a whole bunch of straps. They hang down, rub against the horse and sometimes they break. Stuff happens and who knows when it will fall apart, but if you can get the horse used to as much of it as you can, in a controlled environment, little steps at a time within their comfort level- you will be able to reach them mentally in a lot of otherwise scary situations and they will look to you for 'advice' on what to do next. You want to sort of have them experience every scenario of straps dangling around their legs and such so that when the day comes that a strap comes loose or breaks, they are fine with it and wait to let you sort it out.
Stopping is a HUGE issue with driving. How many times do you hit the brakes in your car, just running to the store? How many times do you expect those brakes to work? The horse is no different. Whoa means stop everything NOW and don't move. When starting the horse to drive, you will or at least should do a lot of stopping, standing for various lengths of time and waiting. Walk a serpentine, stop and stand, walk a circle or two, stop and stand. There should be no effort to move forward until you are ready and ask for it. You don't know how long you may have to wait in traffic or for it to clear if you ride or drive near roads. Kat admittedly likes to creep on me. It drives me nuts and I can't stand it when he does it. Your horse should also stand quietly for hitching and unhitching. This is when Kat's creeping really sets me off. He knows he shouldn't move, but one step, two steps and slowly before you notice, we're halfway across the parking lot.
Another thing I did with Kat was to push him to his limits. This was for a few different reasons. 1) To see how much he could take before he blew and 2) to see How he would blow when he did. 3) I also needed to know what his 'trigger points' were. What was going to set him off? Even still, does everyone remember his ***epic tantrum*** at the horsepark? I still wish that had been recorded. Kat blew up in a big way and nobody seen it coming. It happens. It really sucked at the moment, but we survived and moved on. One of the women that was there for it, is still amazed by what happened and how far we've come since then, when she sees us at the ADT in AJ.
If you know your horses trigger points, warning signs and what they do leading up to a meltdown, you can divert the energy and Hopefully avoid the meltdown before it happens. You will know when you are trading on thin ice with their delicate minds. You can also begin to work them through things leading up to what might have caused the epic meltdowns before. It all takes time. Sometimes you have to slow down and back off to make progress, if that makes sense. If anyone wants tips on how to ground drive or long line work, let me know in the comments and I will try to get photos more hands on type stuff.