Asked Questions - about the School
What's the differences between driving draft and light
It's like night and day ... or not much at all ... depending
on what one means by the question. Both kinds of horses are
really fun to drive. Generally, the lighter horses are quicker,
and more responsive, whereas the heavies are quieter in disposition,
easier to work with - particularly for beginners, initially,
but the big guys are more difficult to harness for a small
person - yet they have so much more power that having a handful
of four huge drafts is an experience most people will never
forget. Four light horses at speed is equally impressive,
and that is an environment that demands genuine expertise
mixed with caution, as is also true for four heavies. Each
size horse has its purpose; today that purpose is often simply
to satisfy the personal desires of the owner.
We prefer the heavies: we use them for teaching drivers, for
parades, and special events. When they arrive, the ground
shakes and the huge wagon wheels are noisy. Never have we
seen anyone look at them and go "ho-hum" in boredom.
Our sponsors can see that response from the crowd, which is
one reason why they continue our sponsorships.
What kind of horse should I buy? or, what to look for
in a driving horse?
One with a good brain, who is willing to go forward (at the
speed the driver wishes), who is not skittish or afraid of
his own shadow, who does not startle easily. "Laid-back"
is apt, but not so much that he won't move forward over obstacles
or come up to speed. This question has books written to try
to answer it !
If you already have a horse with an "attitude",
we'd suggest not even trying to drive him. There are way too
many good horses out there to take such chances.
Can I learn to drive and teach my horse at the same time?
It would be so much fun for us to learn together.
We can think of few things that are more dangerous. There
are so many little things that matter - and can go wrong -
putting life and limb at risk. We hear this question in every
class we teach and we could not be more sincere when we respond:
Never! Always use an instructor, and make sure that the driver
is fully trained to drive before hitching a horse of any kind.
As for training a horse, many believe that's also an area
for experts. We generally buy broke horses, as we believe
it's more efficient, but we have started a few, as well.
Why do all the driving bits have different places to locate
Horses attitudes and energy levels changes over time, each
drive.. We often will start out a fresh powerful horse "bitted
down" with some curb action, only to see an hour later
that he'd be happier, more forward (or less) with less curb
action (or more). With the multiple line slots in the driving
bits, adjustments are simple to do, and everyone is happier
and more comfortable.
Why do you put so much emphasis on harness fit and adjustments?
Simple. The horse cannot communicate in words. He will tell
you if something if fitting incorrectly, but in his own way
(head bobs, refusal to push, etc.) and the driver must be
able to interpret the horse language and then make the corrections.
The fit is critical to the horse being comfortable; if comfortable,
he can work all day; if not, he'll be sore in an hour and
will remember who did it do him.
So, it is really important that a teamster be able to identify
and readjust an ill-fitting harness long before the horse
begins to complain.
What kind of shoes are needed for driving.
It depends. Ask your farrier about what your own horse needs,
but we find that bare iron (and heavy) shoes work best on
our heavy horses. We do not like thin shoes at all. Sometimes
we add borium when we know we will be driving on asphalt or
concrete and pulling heavy loads ... even on the level. If
we are headed for a paved road and need to pull a load up
a hill, we'll always add the non-slip borium. Don't forget
borium on the front feet, as horses use them to pull as well,
especially when the load is really heavy.
When to use a breast collar and when to use a neck collar
and the pros and cons of each?
The heavy neck collars are mostly used for the heavier loads.
They are more effective because - over a long day - the horse
is more comfortable and the neck collar fits his natural curves
a bit better. There are two styles: work collars are made
with as much collar-to-neck surface as possible, while coaching
collars (often made of patent leather) are smaller and more
elegant, as the loads often are.
The breast collar - a horizontal strap around shoulders below
the neck - is for lighter loads.. It works just fine for that
purpose, and - when occasionally pulling a heavy load - can
be made even more comfortable by adding wide pads between
the leather strap and the horse.
What is your biggest problem with driving students
The incorrect use of the human voice. Most of them talk to
the horse way too much. It takes a while for them (often nervous,
which makes them chatty) to realize that the horse responds
best when the driver (and her hands) are quiet.
Driving horses must know some words. "WHOA" is one,
and perhaps the most important, but we spend a lot of time
explaining to humans that WHOA does NOT mean SLOW DOWN. It
means STOP, and should never be used otherwise. Lots of expert
horsemen get this wrong.
I usually use "Whoa" to get my riding horse
to slow down, why is it used differently in driving?
We'd argue that you should simplify things for your horse.
Save "WHOA" for the critical "STOP" command
... meaning "Stay here until I tell you to move, and
do not move your feet again." When driving (and on the
ground when hitching up a team), it's important that they
stay stopped. The horse does not get to vote on this matter.
When they learn you mean it, you rarely have to raise your
voice at them.
We'd suggest that riders who say "Whoa", meaning
"Slow Down," really ought to say "Easy"
or "Yeahh" or almost anything else (but consistently)
to get the horse listening, but NEVER say "Whoa"
when they really mean "slow." There is more on this
subject in Lesson One!
Is leather harness or synthetic harness best?
Not really; it matters more what your purpose is. The leather
is more "traditional" and smells nice, but is harder
to care for. The newer materials are perfectly suitable -
and washable- AS LONG AS THEY ARE WELL MADE, but that's true
for leather as well. That means that the inside near the horse's
hide must be smooth, with no sharp burrs. The nylon and Biothane
harness can develop these burrs during manufacture (stiffer
material, cut with a hot iron) and these should be avoided.
What heavy breeds are best for driving?
All are good. Use your own personal preference. Ditto for
color. Remember the basics: "No foot, no horse"...
and search for a sensible animal... stay away from the squirrely
ones... of any breed. Really short people may want to avoid
really tall horses, though; harness seems to get heavier after
a while ... and the bigger the horse, the more it weighs!
Are there any organizations or clubs in Virginia for draft
horses and contact info?
Yes, see our Driving Club Information.
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