Drivin’ Miss Kelly
As a very timid rider who started with horses late in life, the idea of taking up driving came at a much unexpected moment. – I had just been bucked off my horse at dressage show during my test. Sitting in the dirt in front of the judge, I laughingly said, “I gave up hunters because I thought I’d be more likely to stay in the saddle with dressage. What’s next?” The judge was kind and perhaps only kidding, but she replied, “Well, you could try driving.”
Flash forward about 5 years. My horse, Wizard, is 25 and I’m 50 and we both have bad knees. But we enjoy each other’s company and, though mostly retired, Wizard still liked to have a job to do. I again thought about driving and decided to see if it’s something Wizard and I would enjoy. While I’ve since found that the Pacific Northwest has a big driving population, at the time I didn’t know they existed. So armed with Doris Ganton’s fabulous book and video Breaking and Training the Driving Horse, I located a small road cart and purchased an inexpensive web harness and set about teaching Wizard (and me) to drive.
As always, Wizard was a trooper as I attempted to figure out the intricacies of the harness – just where did all those straps go? I had the book propped up on a tack trunk as I tried to get the harness on the page to look the same as on Wizard. Once I got Wizard all hooked up that first time, I took a picture. I don’t have it anymore, but I remember Wizard had that pained look on his face as if to say, “NOW what is she trying to do with me?” I walked Wiz around the paddocks a few times to see how he’d react to a cart bouncing along behind him. When he continued to be unconcerned, I hopped in the cart and headed out into the pasture.
I thought we were doing great. Wizard seemed happy enough just walking around and we even changed direction a few times. But, after awhile, Wizard decided that he’d worked enough pulling the cart and me and he decided to head back to the barn. That’s when I realized that maybe there was more to this driving thing than I thought!
Any of you who are already driving and read this are probably turning purple right now because teaching your horse to drive the way I did is probably not the best way. You should always, ALWAYS seek the advice of a qualified trainer when attempting to teach your horse to drive. One bad experience for a horse with a cart can ruin him forever as a driving horse. But, as always, I was extremely lucky with Wizard and everything turned out fine.
While some of the principles of driving are the same as riding, driving is more challenging as you don’t have the use of your legs or weight to help direct your horse – as I found out when Wiz decided our driving session was done! You rely more on your voice and whip (which acts as your leg for bending and turning) for influence, but once you master the basics, there’s a whole world of fun things to do with driving. From relaxing Sunday picnic drives to the skill of pleasure driving shows to the thrill and challenge of combined driving, there is something for everyone.
Kelly O’Neill is owner of a boarding stable for retired show horses. She has over 20 years of horse care expertise, with extensive experience in the care of the senior horse. Kelly has been a groom for two professional rider/trainers and has assisted in feeding, blanketing, turnout, medications and vet visits at several barns before opening one of her own in 1998. She now writes on her knowledge and love of horses for both fun and as the premiere writer for Classic Equine Equipment.