Some Driving Questions and Tips

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Stripe13

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I've been driving for about a year now, and I've been absolutely loving it! I have my main show horse Jessica, who really helped me learn how to drive. She was broken for driving before I got her and she took it right in stride once I started driving her again. I love driving Jessica, but I do have a few questions about how to make both Jess and I become better. I know the basics, however I come from a western riding horse background and I'm sure theres more to it than just the basics. I want to start showing in more breed shows this upcoming year, and I really need to get more refined in my driving training XD Sadly I don't have any advanced mini trainers I can get lessons from in my area, so I decided to ask here!

Here are my questions:

How do you get a driving horse to soften into the bit?

How do you get a driving horse into the right bend? Is this even important? (I would hope so?)

How do you get a driving horse to collect with its whole body?

How do you get your mini to drive with their hind end instead of their front?

how can you tell if your mini is nicely collected/driving with their hind end?

What exactly is "bridling up" your mini?

I've noticed that Jessica likes to "hang" on the bit while turning and will sometimes counter-bend. She will do this both in the cart and ground driving. How can I help with this?

I know judges like to look for extension from the front end and engagement of the hocks in the back while in driving classes. I'm planning to show Jessica in the western country pleasure/classic pleasure classes at breed shows, but she doesn't have the super long and graceful strides that most of the horses showing in these classes have. She also really doesn't have the fancy extension that the other breed classes have, however she does have a pretty nice low neck. I know most movement is mainly based off of conformation, but Is there a way to improve her movement and get nicer strides?

how can you work on headset with a mini? Jess normally has a nice low headset however sometimes she likes to bring her neck up and her nose out, especially when she'c clipped. How can I work on this?

are there any more advanced tips I should be aware of that you can think of?

Do you have any tips for breed show driving? (especially trail driving and western country pleasure/classic pleasure)
 

MajorClementine

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I have all the same questions. I can make my minis go where I want and go for a long time when they are in good condition. BUT... I would not do well in a show ring. Teaching a horse to drive vs teaching a horse to use it's body correctly I am clueless. Following and hoping you get some good answers.
 

Dragon Hill

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I'm not a "trainer" so you will get better answers from one, but all that starts on the ground. Round pen work, long lining, and ground driving, even just leading. To get collection, extension, bending properly, even being on the bit and head carriage, it all starts with getting your horse in shape and teaching him/her to use all their muscles. Probably the most important, but most overlooked, are the back muscles. The best exercise that I can think of for the back is walking up hill with the head no higher than the whithers. Serpentines and figure eights are wonderful bending exercises. Do you have someone that can video your horse working, or can you set up a camera on a bucket or tripod? You'll need to see what they are doing to see what they need to work on. If you don't know what needs improving, a good video will help, and some trainers can/will help by video.
 

Cayuse

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True collection coming from the back end is difficult, I'm not even going to try and answer since it is something I struggle with.
Bending is easier, I have had luck by lightly holding the outside line to support them and "squeezing" or "pulsing" the inside line until the horse softens their head/neck and gives to you. Once they "give" reward immediately. Once I can get them to soften and give up front, I cue with the whip at the girth while asking with the lines to have them bend their middle. I do this ground driving, but to be honest, I have had better results asking in harness as the shafts work in my favor to keep them from getting squirrely. I have no idea how correct this is lol, some of it I carried over from riding. Also, when I work on bending when ground driving, I'll work on keeping them very straight along the rail and go DEEP into the corner, almost nose to wall, asking for a bend just as they HAVE to turn. This seems to help set them up for success.
 

Marsha Cassada

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I have all the same questions. I can make my minis go where I want and go for a long time when they are in good condition. BUT... I would not do well in a show ring. Teaching a horse to drive vs teaching a horse to use it's body correctly I am clueless. Following and hoping you get some good answers.
This is pretty much where I am. I have found that hill work will teach a horse to use his hind quarters better. And ground work will teach him to be aware of his body. Most horses I have first brought home have zero clue how to use their bodies. It's gratifying, and interesting, to watch them evolve and figure it out. I have had classes and instructors try to teach me collection, but I cannot seem to wrap my brain around it.
 

Cayuse

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Someone once told me "Collection is sorta like if the back end works properly the front end follows" 😄 She could get a string bean to collect, but something was lost somewhere in the explaination of how!
 

Marsha Cassada

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Someone once told me "Collection is sorta like if the back end works properly the front end follows" 😄 She could get a string bean to collect, but something was lost somewhere in the explaination of how!
I know what you mean. I had a couple of trainers drive Dapper Dan and he looked like a fancy circus horse! But I cannot do it myself. I think there is an authority that transfers from the driver to the horse and he responds to it. It's a quality that I don't have. The same thing happened when I was taking dog obedience classes. My dog did just fine with me, but when the trainer took her, she looked like a Westminster winner.
 

Willow Flats

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I've been driving for about a year now, and I've been absolutely loving it! I have my main show horse Jessica, who really helped me learn how to drive. She was broken for driving before I got her and she took it right in stride once I started driving her again. I love driving Jessica, but I do have a few questions about how to make both Jess and I become better. I know the basics, however I come from a western riding horse background and I'm sure theres more to it than just the basics. I want to start showing in more breed shows this upcoming year, and I really need to get more refined in my driving training XD Sadly I don't have any advanced mini trainers I can get lessons from in my area, so I decided to ask here!

Here are my questions:

How do you get a driving horse to soften into the bit?

How do you get a driving horse into the right bend? Is this even important? (I would hope so?)

How do you get a driving horse to collect with its whole body?

How do you get your mini to drive with their hind end instead of their front?

how can you tell if your mini is nicely collected/driving with their hind end?

What exactly is "bridling up" your mini?

I've noticed that Jessica likes to "hang" on the bit while turning and will sometimes counter-bend. She will do this both in the cart and ground driving. How can I help with this?

I know judges like to look for extension from the front end and engagement of the hocks in the back while in driving classes. I'm planning to show Jessica in the western country pleasure/classic pleasure classes at breed shows, but she doesn't have the super long and graceful strides that most of the horses showing in these classes have. She also really doesn't have the fancy extension that the other breed classes have, however she does have a pretty nice low neck. I know most movement is mainly based off of conformation, but Is there a way to improve her movement and get nicer strides?

how can you work on headset with a mini? Jess normally has a nice low headset however sometimes she likes to bring her neck up and her nose out, especially when she'c clipped. How can I work on this?

are there any more advanced tips I should be aware of that you can think of?

Do you have any tips for breed show driving? (especially trail driving and western country pleasure/classic pleasure)
Hi Stripe13!
It's been raining here for 3 days straight so was just cruising around the forum and saw this post. Those are all such good questions! I too am trying to improve my driving skills and finally found a trainer to help me. I hesitate to give advice because I am learning but will share a couple of things here and ask some of these questions to the trainer too whenever we can get back to lessons after all the rain here.

One thing she has had me doing to get Rocko to soften at the bit is for me to take up more contact at the trot while urging him forward. She says it seems counter intuitive, but it does work. When I do this he does become lighter.

Another thing that she has me do at the canter is to slightly lift the outside rein maintaining good contact (when turning) to help him balance. Does that make sense? They need to build up their muscles to be able to balance themselves. I know many here do not believe in the use of a round pen but Annie's trainer used one to exercise her at liberty to develop her muscles.

I have cones set up in a large circle in my training area. We drive in and out through the cones around the circle to teach bending. And another set of cones set up in a straight serpentine also.

Others here have already mentioned good exercises for strengthening the hind end which is important. In another post I told how the trainer was having me back up my horse so he was rocked back on his hind and then going forward into a trot. This is a new to driving horse that is learning to use his hind end. Yours may already know how to do this but her hind end is just not conditioned right now. The man down the street said they condition the hind ends of their driving percherons by walking them around and around a huge track for a couple of hours. (I was hoping to learn more from them but turns out that they think people driving minis are ridiculous.) Some day they will get old and that harness will be hard to lift and then they might think differently. :)

I will ask my trainer to explain to me more about collection before I give some bad advice! One of the things I am learning is how important contact is while driving to communicate to your horse. I bought a lesson on contact from Andy Marcoux's website. It is 7 pages on that topic. One of the things he says is; "The main difference between a mediocre driver and an excellent driver is the range of contact that the two drivers are capable of. A driver can only drive to the level of their ability to vary and use contact." This is something I am always working on!
I hope some experienced drivers will jump in on this thread and share what they know. There isn't a lot of information out there and carriage driving is a dying interest in a lot of areas!
 

Dragon Hill

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The funny thing about carriage driving is EVERYBODY thinks they can, and that ANYBODY can drive. It doesn't even matter if they are horse people or not. Just try telling someone you are taking carriage driving lessons, and see. 🤪
 

Willow Flats

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I've had a couple of people over that had that mindset! 🙄 Driving down the road does not take the same skill as running a cones course or doing dressage.

Some people just like to drive for fun which is ok too.

I got my husband driving and he kept telling me "it's not rocket science." I had him take a lesson and he was humbled! 🤣😂

There are also two types of mini people here. Breed show folks and Combined driving folks. My trainer friend does both but that is really unusual!
 

Stripe13

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Bumping this just in case anyone else has any more tips! Thank you so much to the people who have already contributed, this has really cleared up some things!!
 

Marsha Cassada

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I've had a couple of people over that had that mindset! 🙄 Driving down the road does not take the same skill as running a cones course or doing dressage.

Some people just like to drive for fun which is ok too.
I agree that "driving down the road does not take the same skill..." It also means that one can enjoy a horse that is less athletic and whose mind works differently. Not every driver can do dressage and neither can every horse.
Looking at the photos of marathon drivers dashing through water is exciting. Driving with exact wheel lines in a figure eight is awesome. But I can't do that and I'm still having fun with my horses.
While lessons can be very beneficial, they can also frustrate. Doesn't hurt to have some lessons, but if that level of driving is not appropriate for oneself or his horse, then it's okay to just drive for fun IMO.
I, personally, felt quite a lot of frustration with lessons.
I'm not sure that Showmanship and halter classes aren't the best beginning for driving. I didn't even know about such classes when I got my driving horse, but now I'm thinking that would have been a good place to start.
 

Willow Flats

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Marsha, I hope you didn't take my statement to mean that I think any type of driving is superior over another. I have just been driving on my own for a few years and now that I am taking lessons and working on improving my driving skills I am finding it very challenging and also very difficult.

My trainer started showing in halter classes and then driving and thinks it is a great way to start your horse and get them used to all kinds of things going on.

I'm not just working on my driving skills but finishing a green horse so I am finding the lessons really valuable for my situation.
 

Willow Flats

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Stripe13 - I started watching a video I found on YouTube called Driven Dressage-the basics. At 16 minutes in she starts talking about lengthened and collected frames. I can now see that this is something that doesn't happen over night and you do ask for it with your contact, but the horse needs to develop the muscles to do it. I have only watched 30 minutes of the video so far but found it really interesting.
 

Marsha Cassada

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Marsha, I hope you didn't take my statement to mean that I think any type of driving is superior over another. I have just been driving on my own for a few years and now that I am taking lessons and working on improving my driving skills I am finding it very challenging and also very difficult.
The challenge makes it so interesting! I think one reason it frustrated me a little is because I was somewhat isolated. The other horse folk around me are the playday, yeehaw kind. Or ambling trail riders. There is little respect for miniature horses. Taking lessons made me uppity.
And since I couldn't take lessons regularly, it made me frustrated and then I sensed I was frustrating my horses because I didn't really understand what I was doing. So, I back-stepped into safe and relaxed and that's where I've been ever since!
The best-learned lessons I had were ground lessons based on respecting space, moving from pressure, how/when to reward, and recognizing some body language/herd dynamics.
 

Cayuse

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I also got frustrated with lessons, my focus is (well "was" before covid) pleasure driving/obstacle classes and everyone in my area who instructs does combined driving which is fine, I love the dressage part but I'm not interested in the rest and the instructors do not want to waste their time on someone who is not a purist and ventures out onto a different branch of the discipline. Which I understand, it's their business and they need to do what they do best, and it's like that across the board with other types of horse activities (hunter/jumper, breed shows, etc.) Also, the constant, not so subtle pressure to "upgrade" horse and equipment was real.
 
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