Tag Archives: driving

A Big Napoleon Complex

6 Jan


We finally started some serious work with the Dukester.  The pictures are unfortunately still in the camera.  Dukie has a small Napoleon complex.  Or is that a big Napoleon complex?

To help with that, he was forced to wear Katie’s fuzzy pink harness pad for ground driving.  I discovered he also takes a smaller bit that I have, so I had to order a new bit.  And thanks to our trainer, his bridle now fits since his head is extremely small even for a mini.  He also likes to bite people so some ground work is in order to build respect.

But he is an athletic little guy.  He is show ring rather than dressage trained, so we are working to have him become more responsive to half halts.   I’m looking forward to working with him more.   Macho is doing really well so he is going to get out and start getting into driving condition again, too.  It is a big challenge to go from a well-trained schoolmaster type driving horse like Macho to a greener, younger horse.   There’s also a bond with the old horse that needs time to form with a new horse.

I am not a Dressage Queen

20 Oct


I am not a dressage queen, as you can see from my snazzy T-shirt over blue long underwear took.  You, too, can have this look at your next show.  I will explain how.

If you don’t know what a dressage test is, it’s a driven or ridden pattern in arena marked with letters.  You trot, circle, halt (or fall off) at various letters.  The test is approved and published by a prestigious horse committee of some sort.  They reached into a jar of letters, pulled them out randomly, put on blindfolds and stuck them on a prototype arena.  These letters are not alphabetical.  You enter at A, but the next letter is K.  There’s an M and a C and an E and a B  and an F all sitting there in no logical order for you to memorize.

Then you need to look at a test and memorize what to to between or at various illogical and memorized letters.  If you have a reader reading your test out loud you can only hope they don’t suffer from any form of dyslexia or happen to sneeze and lose their place and cue you to the wrong letter.

Then there’s a thing called a judge’s stand.  It’s a fancy table, sometimes with a scary canopy, at the end of the arena where the judge sits. The committee spent long hours figuring out how to make this table as scary as possible for a horse.  As your horse rounds the corner towards the judge’s stand they must pass the scary object and not spook.

So I decided to memorize ADT training test 1 (which I had already memorized since I never have advanced beyond this level) and take the outgrown riding pony to the show for a dressage test.

I packed a nice wool hunt coat to wear over my long underwear shirt.  I got to the show and put on the hunt coat and it was several sizes too small.  I had grabbed my kid’s hunt coat.  Every hunt coat looks pretty much the same until you put it on.  The sleeves were just below my elbow and it wouldn’t button.   Then they called me to go warm up.  I had to wear the long underwear shirt with my number on the back.  Not the classy impression I was hoping to make.

Pony entered the arena for some ground driving warm up and proceeded to whinny and  act like a giraffe with her head up.  This is not a spooky pony, but horses were whinnying in the stalls attached to the arena.  She calmed down in a few minutes and I hitched her up.  Off we went.  I should also admit that I had only driven pony three times this fall.  At a walk, mostly.  So I wasn’t sure what would happen when I asked her to trot.

I got a trot briefly, then an unauthorized walk.  I got her going again with my whip and was looking for the mystical letter X which lays in an ancient vortex in the center of the arena between the letters B and E, which are glued on opposite walls.  The holy grail of X was there somewhere, but apparently not where I was, as I stopped short.  But it was a nice stop.

So I saluted with my whip.  The judge looked at me with no response.  Oops.  I gave a big nod.  The judge nodded back and  we took off at the working trot.  We had to do an arena-wide circle.  I knew this could be bad.  But I had no idea how bad until I saw my own tire tracks.  The circle had an extra bulge like a a solar flare ready to shoot off the sun and decimate humanity.  The second circle lacked the bulge but was reminiscent of the Hindenburg before its fateful demise.

As I headed back to K or was it F the working trot had no momentum, except during a brief canter and lurch after I tapped her with the whip.  Pony generally doesn’t have momentum unless there is food involved.

But her trot was pretty.  This trot earned her many blues as a riding pony and when she collected today she was lovely.  I remembered to nod with my salute at x before exiting the arena and took a deep breath.  I had survived my test with the green pony who just needs better steering and conditioning.  We got a score of 64 which seemed generous, but I will take it.

Riding vs. Driving

3 Jun


I was the usual horse crazy girl, and riding is a great joy of my life.  I cantered, galloped and trotted through my teen years on a bay QH, a roan half Arab and my neighbor’s barrel horse, Pat.

As an adult, it was harder to ride.  Things like time, money and a creeping sensation called fear got in the way.   It’s also something that only one person can do at a time.   One person per horse.  In a family, you want to do things together.  Only one other person in my family rides, so that leaves everyone else out.

Then I discovered driving.  I always wanted to do it.  I loved the clink of their harnesses and clop of feet.  The Jethro Tull song “Heavy Horses” always had me crying before the track was half over.

But I have no space for a draft horse.  We live an an expensive area and are lucky to have a tiny patch of pasture in the country.

A nice lady taught me to drive her big horses, not drafts, but one was pushing 16 hands.  Then I got a tiny trained driving mini off CL and away we went.  I soon discovered driving involved the whole family.  Everyone wanted to drive the mini.  He could pull two kids in the cart and babysit the newest beginner.  In a pinch, he could pull me and my daughter a short distance.

Other people also are fascinated by horses in harness.  I think it’s a vestige of a simpler time, when gasoline fumes and loud engines didn’t obscure the sound of the countryside.  You can get places still hearing the songs of birds, and are serenaded by the rhythmic clop of hooves on hard earth.

You can take a passenger or two in the cart (depending on how big your horse is). People like to visit the horse, help with harness, hang around a quiet driving horse.  To be a driving equine, your horse (or mule, or donkey)  must be a quiet, well-behaved creature.  Driving horses are the cream of the crop of calm, smart and good-mannered creatures.

Driving is the most social equine activity in some ways, because your friend can come along, even if they don’t ride.  Everyone likes a drive in the countryside. The only downsides are that drivers are few and far between so it can be hard to find other drivers to trail drive with, and fewer trails are appropriate for a cart theses days.  In flatter parts of the country, that is not a problem.

Back in Harness

29 Apr


Brief (and shockingly) good weather was a perfect time to put the riding pony back in harness.  She hadn’t been driven in about a year due to being a riding pony that is almost but not quite outgrown.  She would be considered outgrown by many.  However, in Europe kids stay on ponies a long time and in America kids move off ponies quickly.  My daughter does not want to give up the pony she grew up with so she is the last teen we know riding a small pony!   This year it may be harder for this little pony to pack a bigger rider around the show ring so pony goes back in harness.

This is the time of year I start longing for a big riding horse again.  But driving is fun, too.  And we’ve got the pony!

Horseshoes in the Dust

18 Mar


Dusty harnesses, stiff as cardboard, hung from hooks in the back of the shed.  Collars, tugs, backbands and breeching retained their crumpled shape if I lifted them from the hooks.  Once I attempted to clean and soften an ancient bridle, to no avail.

Horseshoes lined the crossbeam over the woodpile and turned up in the dust on the shed’s floor and sometimes elsewhere around the farm.  Our farm hadn’t seen horses since the late 1940s when grandpa got his first tractor.

I liked one set of shoes in particular.  They were pony-sized, and I only found three.  I visualized the pony who had worn them and made up stories about her, since my dad didn’t want to talk about horses.  Later he mentioned their beautiful, perfectly-matched team sent to slaughter because there was no market for horses after tractors came in.

I didn’t learn to drive a horse until four years ago.  I didn’t find anyone to teach me until then.  But it was a lifelong dream, started by the harnesses hung from the walls behind the tractors.

My biggest trouble learning to drive was that I was a Western rider.  The horses I rode all neck reined.

When driving, all you have are your reins and voice.  And your whip. That was hard for me to fathom and took rewiring my brain.

I love driving every bit as much as I hoped.  I don’t know if the harnesses and horseshoes are still back in the old shed in Wisconsin.  Maybe the new owners threw them out.  But I am sure horseshoes will still turn up in the dust if someone goes looking for them.