Forum – Beginner Driving ?s

Posted 06 October 2016 – 12:38 PM – KLJcowgirl:

Hello again.  

I started my mini driving this summer, I’ve driven horses before, but have never trained one to do it.  She’s doing pretty well, but just when I think she’s ready to be actually attached to something, she proves me wrong.

I took her out yesterday and she had a big spooking episode.  She shot out into the middle of the road as we passed… ugh the freaking indoor arena she’s been to a number of times… and as I tried to circle her around to walk passed it again she reared and kept sidestepping.  I tried to walk her forward, but she eventually ended up spun around facing me.  I then lead her up to the perimeter fence and tried to drive her again from there, and she flipped her head about and tried to rear up again but I backed her until we couldn’t back any more.

I was able to walk her forward after a couple more times doing this, but she was prancey and chomping the bit (it was a lovely Piaffe though haha).  I weaved her between the trees there until I got a calmer walk and continued down the road.  She kept chewing the bit and flipping her nose out for about a block, then dropped her head and plodded along like she usually does.

On the way home I drove her passed this same place, and got hardly a blink from her about it… so maybe what I did worked???  Or she was just chilled out from the rest of the drive.

What I want to know is if there was a different way I should have handled that?  What on earth do you do if you’re hooked up to a cart or dragging something and that happens?  I would like to avoid the latter situation, so any advice helps!

I do know a gentleman who carriage drives QHs, and I’m hoping I’ll see him this weekend and talk to him as well, and maybe see if he can help me out (though this is the first really big explosion from her, so who knows).

Thank you all in advance!

Posted 06 October 2016 – 10:46 PM – MCassada

Sounds like you handled it well.

When mine does that in the cart I get out and ground drive.  A couple of times if I had not been wearing gloves I would not have been able to keep hold of the reins.  I had a halter but I could not settle him enough to even get to his head.  I just had to manhandle him until he calmed down.

Hopefully that episode was an exception for your girl.

Posted 29 October 2016 – 10:23 AM – rjrubicon

I am new to driving minis, but like you, savvy with horses. I think that I too would have first walked the horse on lead past the sport, then ground driven her a bit same spot once  safe to exit the cart.

Here is my scary spook story, and boy I was shaken up bad; First, I have loop hand straps that fit on the end of the reins and once with a fjord of mine that spooked, if I did not have those loops and gloves on I am sure we would have had a wreck, She reared straight up so high I thought she was doing a circus trick. Plus, she spooked a a CAT along side a road we were walking along..the cat meowed and she went stupid on me.  eek, so what I did was hop out and lead her by hand, until she stopped blowing and snorting, then ground drive behind my cart until my fjord mare settled down and got back to normal. After that, I went back to my ring to some basics, as the spooking just came by surprise (she had been doing well for 3 months but this was her first real spook and boy, it was dangerous) so I went back to ground driving for a few weeks only, me walking behind her cart, not just me, and added some cans with rocks tied to cart and floppy plastic bags tied all over cart to make horrible crackly noise and had car, motorcycles, and a friend with sparklers in her hand move all around us while I made her 1) first stand quiet for the whole ‘show’ going on around her 2) walk quietly past the ‘issue’ and trust me, it took a few tries to get past my friends noisy motorcycle,–it was harder than the sparkler show.  I was just not going to take a chance on being in public again and have her freak. Fjords are strong as oxen, so you can imagine how scared I was she would run or rear or wreck the cart and kill us all. Scary!

Oh yeah, I meant to add, when I was ground driving my mini for a month, I started out walking behind her, then walking behind her tiny cart and then I ponied her and her cart along behind my Fjord’s wagonette (which is big and noisy) for a few lessons, then had friends come over with their horses (saddle riding) and run around the training ring like idiots while I ground drove her again behind her cart and only then, did I dare actually get in the cart. I am so afraid of a wreck that I spend way more time on the ground than most people ever would, but that is because of that one scary incident I had with a fjord mare I once had spook BAD. Lucky for everyone, it was short lived and cured. She is quietly driving at a professional’s carriage company now and really never spooked again or got nervous after some super serious desensitizing lessons and that taught her I was the one she could trust.  She was very young, and for a fjord, was spookier than most, and took a looong time to get her safe for road work. Really, almost twice as long as any other I have trained. (PS I trained my riding horses to drive before I taught them to take a rider in the saddle, so I think that even if all anyone does with any horse is ground drive, that is always good for their minds, whether they are further trained to actually pull something, or go on to be a saddle mount.)

PS – I am not suggesting you do any of the stuff I did to restart this mare of mine, she really blew up bad on the road…but I am sharing my story to let you know how I handled this one particular mare. Just sharing for a story only— that mare needed lots of miles before she was safe, more than any horse I have ever had–I am sure yours would never need all that, but like I said, just sharing (got the sparkler tip from a friend that went to one of those Clinics for spooky horses, LOL).

As for your your spook incident , sounds like you quickly did get her in hand to trust in you and that is why she was calm on the way home. I am not mini experienced but I still would suggested maybe  some more ground driving in different places that you never go to, the noisier the better, before you get in the cart,  just until she gets used to acting under your guidance and control rather than re-acting to outside distractions. Never hurts to go back a step in foundation work with a horse, that is for sure, probably true for minis. But in future, if you can get off safely, you might have more control, and keep a lead handy to snap onto to bridle and walk a nervous one past a spook spot a few times and once stops jigging then ground drive past a few times before returning to cart. Sounds like you handled it, but a horse spooking when driving is a lot scarier than when in saddle, in my humble opinion. Good job getting your baby calmed down quick. I know it was not fun. And like Marsha said, hopefully just a one time thing.   Glad you both are safe and you handled it calmly! Good job settling her!

Posted 07 November 2016 – 01:09 PM – KLJcowgirl

Thank you both so much for your replies.  Marsha, I thought I had replied earlier, guess not.  I think I remember reading once upon a time ago a post from you (before I joined the forum) about your boy spooking at some cows?  Is that right?  I think I’ll have to go back and find that.

I have not had another big episode like that since then.  The worst I’ve had was Saturday.  A large dump truck drove past us (he was very respectful and slowed way down and got over as far as he could) and she lurched forward into a few steps of a gallop, but chilled right down after a bit of chomping.  She also laid down in the pasture while pulling her bucket of rocks, that was weird.

My goodness RJ, what a story!  I’m glad you and the horse are ok.  Thank you for sharing that story.  And I completely agree, the thought of a horse spooking while hooked to a cart scares me way more than the thought of my riding horse spooking.

Good idea to keep a lead on me to quickly snap on.  I do plan on ground driving her for much longer, as I won’t have my cart for a while.  And I am trying to take her as many places as I can.  We’ve even gone hiking while driving a couple times.

Posted 07 November 2016 – 02:34 PM – MajorClementine

Clementine does things like this and I find it harder to control while ground driving and not hitched to a cart than when she is hitched. It would be hard for her to twist herself sideways and face me with the cart attached. When she does have an issue I get out and ground drive her from behind the cart.

Clem hates tractors of any kind. It doesn’t matter if they are parked or working. Those things are scary! The way we work through it, is once she starts to freak out I ask her to stop. We stop and sit and wait while she looks at the scary thing. Once she’s settled a bit I ask her to go ahead. This usually results in backing or resisting and at this point I get out and stand behind the cart. We stand still some more. Then I ask her to go ahead again. Usually after a time or two of stopping, looking, and then asking her to go she will put her head down and hurry past. I keep her at a walk but let her walk as quickly as she wants without breaking into a trot.

This works well for us because Clementine isn’t an “exploding horse”. She will spook or shy but she doesn’t bolt or totally lose it. I have another mini, Major, who is the bolting type. Anyway…. I am able to push Clem a little because she doesn’t have extreme reactions. I would have to take a much different approach with Major I think.

IMO (and I might get burned for this one) you don’t have to wait until she is “bomb proof” to hitch her to a cart. Make sure she has a good whoa and that you two are comfortable together. Then work on getting her to accept and be hitched to a cart in a controlled situation like a pasture or an arena. Then you can ground drive her around town and then hitch her and drive her around town. There will always be more things to work on and times when you may need to get out of the cart and ground drive through a situation but it sounds like you will be able to handle those situations well.

Posted 07 November 2016 – 04:38 PM

How is she doing now?

I have a bit of a different perspective though have parts of the same feelings that each of the others responding do.

I can no longer access the Archives here – to reference other posts I have personally written (I’ve had a few people tell me how, but seems to be specific things missing from my access to the Forum even when signed in).  Makes me sad…

I have found that I do, in a controlled area, ground drive when hooked to a cart.  However, if I’m out on the road or driving somewhere else, I don’t dismount from the cart in a scary moment UNLESS someone can come help me OR I have a solid object in front of me that will stop the pony I’m driving.  I feel it is safer to be in the cart.  My 40″ shetlands weigh more than me (as singles) and they pull DRAFT HORSE SIZED equipment as pairs.

Here is the link to one pic of the girls with a ride on disk at a Draft Horse event.

Bell & Bit pull a full size draft horse disk at Plow Day event

If they were really spooked, they’d pull the lines away from me or drag me along with the cart, without a problem.  I can’t imagine ground driving a horse as big as a Hafflinger or Fjord that is hitched and upset…  I have always been taught that you don’t ground drive with a cart attached.  Once hitched to a wheeled vehicle, the safest place to be is the cart.  But if you go out to our photo albums, you will see us working our ponies in several cases in carts while ground driving – while in an arena and in a large round pen.  In one case, I did work a young mare from the ground – until I could get her to our normal unhitching spot.  I can’t explain now, why I didn’t want to unhitch out in the middle of the pasture.  I could have pulled the cart up to the round pen or the barn…  I probably had a reason then.

So – we do a tremendous amount of work long before hitching.  It starts with leading and lounging from the ground and introducing (desensitizing) to scary objects and loud/big movements and practicing the voice commands we would be using when driving.  Because I was working with a trainer of draft horses, I use the voice commands he used (& I still do most of our driving with the Draft Horse Club – haven’t graduated to CDE and not sure if/when I will.  A lot of the voice commands are different for CDE – the 2 clinics I’ve been to the CDE instructors laughed about our draft ponies and their commands.  Been a while since I’ve gone to a clinic now…).  Everyone is right – you can’t “de-spook” for every instance/situation.  But what you are teaching your horse is to “spook in place” and to listen to you/your commands – which is the most important.

Since I can’t keep up with the ponies on a lot of long straight lines, we often start them with one line not run thru a rein terret or harness tug.  It goes directly from halter to hand or bit to hand – one side at a time.  That then becomes a way to lounge or stop an upset horse when needed.  We swap that loose line back and forth – so that all parties are conversant with how it works and that we won’t always be turning the same way if a spook happens.  When we are further along in ground driving and we are all confident, I spend a lot of time still bending them around me on a circle, 1/2 circle and doing Figure 8’s w/ me doing my best to keep them on lite contact (or at least not sloppy loose lines – since most aren’t really working on full contact yet at this point).  We will go back to one line direct when we introduce a new object and we do a lot of dragging of objects before hitching to a cart.  I was lucky to have my metal ez entry cart, a wooden sulky jog cart and my friend’s ez entry cart. They all balanced differently, they all SOUNDED different in different ground.  I have one mare, that to this day, doesn’t like being hooked to a metal ez entry cart – no matter what.  She’s great hooked to the wooden sulky and as a pair to log or farm equipment/no wheels or to a wooden tongued/yoked forecart/wagon.  She went thru a long, long period where she did rear and prance in harness – we went back to ground driving w/o hitching and then ground driving while hitched w/ others helping.  Lots of repetition – for 2 years – before she really became confident and worked well while hitched single.


As to the arena – have you considered that there might have been a strange scent that day?

When we moved to this new property, we have a hog farm w/i 10 miles.  There are days I can smell it and it is offensive.  There are others when I can’t BUT all the ponies act differently – in levels.  I wonder – how offensive do they find that scent and how strongly can they smell it when I can’t?  It does cause them to pause – then to throw their heads around and get excited and high/quick step (prance) until we leave the area that I suspect the scent is “hanging around”.  That’s just with leading – I haven’t really done any driving yet here.  It bothers some way more than others.

I had an Arab mare that was sensitive to grave yards (VERY – did she “see ghosts” or “have a feeling”?) and I just had to learn where they were on my routes and NOT ride past them at certain times of day/night.  Just made my life much easier and kept her from getting upset – no amount of work got her over that and the main grave yard was just up our road 1 mile. When we first moved there, there wasn’t as much traffic and we were conditioning for beginner endurance rides – working along side many roads.  Now 12 yrs later – we’ve moved again and don’t have to worry about always having to trailer out to ride/drive.

I’m not sure how you can desensitize to a strange scent.  We did some – with the pack horses – so that they didn’t go crazy when they were loaded w/ mule deer, antelope, moose or elk.  The trainer I worked w/ then often got untanned hides (and they did turn quite nasty) to use for training the horses before they were sent out to pack hunters in CO, WY & MT.  Even when they were properly tanned and easily folded and lovely to handle, some horses found them too offensive – to look at, to see on the ground, to have put on their own bodies.  Those found a different job – it was felt they couldn’t handle the “stress” of a back-country, packing out job.

About lppaintedponys

Husband and wife team raising shetland ponies, rescuing dogs/cats & becoming self sufficient.
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