by Mitzi Summers
It is important to investigate and learn varied techniques to train and to improve your driving horse. Knowledge of the final result required will help to focus your training. Your horse was almost certainly taught to long line as part of his initial schooling. In hand work, proper lungeing techniques, and work under saddle will also serve to aid you in continually improving your horse.
Of the three methods, lungeing is the least physically taxing for the trainer. If done properly, with the correct equipment, it still should be an exercise carried out with thought, precision, and a thorough understanding of how to improve your horse for driving.
It is of paramount importance for a driving horse to stand absolutely still until given the signal to move. To accomplish this it is necessary for the trainer to be consistent, so that the horse understands this basic requirement. I have noticed people bring a horse out to lunge and immediately send it off at a trot, or even worse, allow or encourage it to dash about in an excited manner.
Lungeing is a suppling, warming up exercise. The horse should always accept it calmly and as a beneficial part of his schedule. I can always tell with a new horse if he has been lunged incorrectly. His energy will be a bit frenetic, and he will expect to move off right away.
To reschool, lead him to the outside of the perimeter of the circle and ask him quietly to stand. Keep your energy low.If he is very nervous because he is expecting to be forced to dash about, at least make certain that he stands fairly quietly until you take a few steps toward the inside of the circle. Gradually increase the distance and the length of time before he is asked to walk off. Eventually you should expect him to stand for several minutes.
Have the correct equipment. I like to protect the legs of the horse with polo wraps or splint boots. Lunge with a surcingle, and later on side reins when he is going FORWARD into contact. Be very careful when introducing side reins. All kinds of resistances can be brought about by using the incorrect length or height. I always attach them first to the halter or cavesson. Do not attach the lunge line to the bit. Use a cavesson or halter.
Your objectives when lungeing are the same as when working your horse in harness, i.e., relaxation, rhythm, impulsion, hindquarters engagement, and an even contact with the bit. It gives you a wonderful perspective and understanding of how your horse moves, how he accepts contact, the degree of activity from his haunches, and the quality of his movement. By the judicious use of half halts you can see the improvement of your horse’s balance and suspension between trotting diagonals.
In-hand work includes long lining your horse. You need to have a level of physical fitness for this, as you will want to trot your horse and be able to keep up with him if he momentarily goes a bit faster than you desire. Long lining is an acquired skill. The trainer needs to have a good knowledge of contact, voice aids, and use of the driving aids (whip). It is best for a horse to be thoroughly trained with long lining before progressing to hooking him up to a cart.
It is also very useful to occasionally long line even a fully trained ridden or driven horse. It keeps the schooling process new and progressive. It allows you to see your horse from either side. You can position yourself so that you can stress the use and support of the outside rein when turning. This is important when riding or driving.
The progression and level of training of your horse can be safely observed and improved by the trainer while in a much safer environment, without a cart attached to the horse. Changes of direction through half circles and across the diagonal can be included, as well as many dressage figures such as figure eights, serpentines, straight lines, bending through corners, and circles of various sizes and turns. You can change positions so that you are on both sides of the horse at different distances to the horse’s head, and even come to the center so that you can be double lungeing.
All this time one of the most important things you should be working on is the quality of the contact that you have with your horse and his acceptance of the bit if you are using one sat this time. Work with improving your ability to maintain a light elastic contact so your horse is comfortable with going forward into contact.
You should also progress to the trot when using long lines. It is much easier to be in the lungeing position when trotting. Work at getting the horse to accept the transition to trot in a calm matter, first just leading, then lungeing, then on long lines. Position yourself with the long lines so that you are just behind the surcingle. If you get too close to your horse’s head he may believe that you wish him to slow down; too far behind and you may be left a bit behind and pull on him when he goes a bit faster.
Riding your driving horse
Riding a driving horse helps so much in improving him. Obviously if you are driving a very small pony or miniature horse, or do not ride yourself or have a good rider to help you, it will not be a possibility. Riding can help to develop lateral suppleness in your horse. There are no shafts to prevent the ability of the horse to bend, so circles at different diameters can be incorporated, as well as lateral movements such as leg yields.
As the training progresses and if you are able to ride more advanced dressage or have a trainer to do so, movements such as shoulder-ins, and haunches-in will help your horse become even more athletic and malleable when being driven. Since you are riding specifically to improve the horse for driving, keep this in mind when you plan your exercises. Again, standing patiently and quietly while you mount is of paramount importance, so the horse always understands to wait for a signal before moving. Be careful how you accomplish this. Lately several methods to force your horse to stand still have surfaced which are fairly new and mostly due to marketing techniques. (Come up with something new even if not needed so it can be sold). Chasing the horse around a mounting block with a flag is one of the more bizarre methods I have observed.
From the horse’s point of view, being mounted simply should not be allowed to become a task that causes him pain or fright. Just give your horse a treat right before and after you mount. Take your time. I have never known this to fail. After the first few times you only need to treat occasionally, if at all. In this way, the learning was positive and certainly the horse did not become worse. Ignore people who say that you are bribing your horse. Actually, so what if you are?
Driving is becoming a increasingly popular way of enjoying your horse, whether you are involved in pleasure or endurance driving, or schooling your horse up to the level of doing fairly advanced dressage movements. It is a wonderful skill to learn, especially if age or injury prevent you from riding as much as you would like to. Having a clear idea of exercises to do which will improve your horse will make driving even more enjoyable.
Exercises to improve your driving horse
by Mitzi Summers