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Canadian Carriage Driving Classic Gold Whip winner, Jeff Kohler of Relhok Farms, Ontario, has kindly taken time out of his busy training and showing schedule to write CarriageMart the following article. We hope you enjoy it.

The Beginner Driver – How To Learn To Drive Safely
courtesy of Jeff Kohler, Relhok Farm
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Said to be one of the fastest growing Equestrian disiplines, the sport of Carriage driving is attracting a wide variety of people to this nostalgic pastime. The difficulty in it being a realitively new event is the lack of ease in finding information and resources on the topic. Leaving new comers in the position of fear to even begin or to the reckless abandon of experimentation with trial and error.
The ten most common causes of accidents in carriage driving are as follows:

  • A lack of skill or ability of the driver
  • Carelessness & overconfidence of the driver
  • The driver’s lack of horse-sense
  • Inadequate or incorrect training of the horse/pony
  • Unsuitable size/temperment of horse/pony
  • Spooking horse/pony from outside causes
  • Equipment failure
  • Poor fitting harness or carriage
  • Lack of a knowledgable assistant
  • Failure of correct reaction when problems occur
With these in mind, you may now set off with a game plan as how to correctly start your carriage driving carreer. We will go through each of these causes, giving pointers and key elements to allow you to creat a safe and correct turnout, that you will enjoy for years to come.

Lack of Skill or Ability of the Driver

With your choice to start carriage driving made, you now have to gather all the information on the sport that you can. The best way to do this is to contact a driver/coach or trainer in your area. Names can be supplied by national driving oganizations such as :

This way you have the ability to discuss your needs and ideas, with a knowledgeable person, that can inturn share with you their experience and possible past mistakes in the types of harness, vehicles and animals.

If you fall under the category of a novice, you will need to learn everything from the ground up. Principles of proper grooming, feeding and overall horsemanship. Then there are the disipline specific tasks, of learning the names and functions of each harness/vehicle part. This information will make for a better overall understanding of the turnout you are driving. It may seem trivial however it is a step that should not be missed. Picture being on a marathon coarse in future years and your knowledgable groom stating that “A trace is down !” If you do not instinctively know what that is, you are putting the whole turnout in danger.

Getting as much hands on time with a skilled teacher will also help you to learn with the aid of instant correction, as to eliminate future bad habits. The great benefit of taking lessons from an established driving barn, is that you will also have access to trained experienced animals. This allows you to gain needed confidence on seasoned animals, which will take some pressure off the whole experience. If you are trying to learn proper rein handling on a green animal, they are going to be more sensitive and less forgiving of small errors that may occur. A well trained animal is also going to teach you how to drive correctly. They will know the proper feel, be on the bit and bend well. The correct look and feel will soon be come second nature, and will follow you through your development. Compared to a poorly trained animal that, you have to hold quite strongly, this will them teach you to be very hard handed, and it will be hard to correct later.

Carelessness & Overconfidence of the Driver

First off I will talk about the dangers of overconfidence, whether it is because of a calm relaxed animal or the idea that previous equine experience allows you the“how hard can it be” attitude about carriage driving. Both are very dangerous mind sets, and are very underestimating of the problems that can occur. Unlike riding you are responsible for the welfare of all the passengers in the carriage. Regardless of who puts the animal to the carriage, it is the drivers responsibility to check the harness, for correctness of fit and safety. From the time that the driver steps into the carriage, they should be attentive to the animals every move. Watching the terrain ahead to each ear move. This will allow you to properly evaluate the situation at hand and coming up. The ramifications of a carriage crash are much worse than that of a loose horse undersaddle. If an upset occurs, the horse is still attached to a carriage, increasing the danger and damage to people and things around the loose animal. Each horse/pony that is driven should be handled in the same regard, with the same attention given to monitoring its behaviour. Even calm horses and ponies spook at things, and the driver needs to be ready to correct the problem.

The Driver’s Lack of Horse-sence

The art of keen Horse-sense is a skill that takes a lot of observation and understanding. In order to be truly successful in a partnership with a horse/pony, you need to understand them and why they do the things they do. Actions and reactions are two of the most important to your actual driving. Actions of what they do on their own and the reactions you get when you apply a stimulus. Commonly the way a sensitive horse reacts to a heavy handed driver, or the initial way a hard-mouthed horse does not react to a light-handed driver. The art of “reading” an animal, learning what ears can tell us or how they hold their head will help reduce the chances of an incident.

Next month I will talk about the cause of accidents with the horse/ pony with regards to suitability, training and spooking.


This article was provided courtesy of Jeff Kohler, Relhok Farm.

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