A Driving Primer from the American Morgan Horse Association

Yes, you can start your driving horse at home. It makes little difference whether your horse will ultimately be a park horse, carriage horse, pleasure show horse, or a horse for you to simply enjoy driving at home. The basic approach is the same regardless of the discipline. There are a few caveats for starting your own horse, however.

One careless mistake can forever affect your horse’s attitude about learning and his ability to learn well. While training your horse should be a fun and rewarding process, you must be willing to take the educational process seriously to be fair to your horse. He did not ask you to train him. Heike Bean, in her valuable book, Carriage Driving, put it this way:

“What does it feel like to be this animal of flight, who must submit to being strapped to a carriage and controlled through a piece of metal in his mouth, doing things and going places he would never dream of doing on his own?”

Obviously, the handling a young horse receives from birth can play a significant role in how well the learning process is accepted in the future.

Professional trainers have facilities and equipment specifically designed for the purpose of training horses which minimizes the risks involved. That does not mean you will need specialized equipment to train your horse at home. Training equipment need not be expensive, but it must be well made, of proper fit and design, and in good condition. There may even be ways to use or modify the equipment you already have. Equipment failure can put you in harm’s way without warning and in an instant can ruin your horse for driving.

Training your horse to safely pull a vehicle rarely can be done single-handedly. Professional trainers have qualified assistants to help them. This does not mean the amateur horseman cannot start his or her own driving horse, but safety for your horse, yourself, and your assistants always must be the prime consideration. There will be steps along the way that will require you to have assistance from at least one other person, sometimes two. These people should be familiar with handling horses, and preferably, with the process.

You should seriously consider paying for professional help at some of these critical junctures if you have the slightest hesitation or concern about how to proceed. It does take a certain temperament to train horses well. People who are calm, deliberate, and attentive usually are more successful than those who are excited, unfocused, etc. Some people lack the patience and confidence necessary to train horses well. Some are simply scared. Carefully assess whether you have the qualities necessary to increase the chances of a good outcome.

Preparing horses for driving must be done in a safe environment. If your quarters are cramped, cluttered, full of noise and other distractions, your outcome will probably suffer.

Perhaps the best method of starting your driving horse at home is to work with a professional trainer. This may sound odd considering the topic at hand, but a professional can be invaluable at guiding you through the steps involved. It is not advisable to start your driving horse by yourself if you have never driven. Take some lessons to gain an understanding of what is involved. There is a lot of involved preparation required to produce a result which, when finished, looks fairly simple and straightforward. Locate a trainer who will bring you along through the training process before you try it on your own. Attending appropriate clinics given by professional trainers is another excellent way to learn how to educate your horse. The American Morgan Horse Association maintains a Professional Committee that provides a list of clinicians across the country. Books and articles, while quite helpful, pale in comparison to real life experiences. This article is only meant to be a guide. It is by no means a definitive manual on the subject.

Download the 20-page Teaching Your Morgan Horse to Drive booklet.

For more information on the versatile Morgan Horse, go to the American Morgan Horse Association.

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