Training a Horse For Harness – What You Must Know!

Ever watched one of those period movies, noticing the horse drawn carriages and thinking to yourself you want to do that, or what would it be like? Join us on a journey now to see just what it takes to become a carriage driver, and how a horse is trained to harness.

Most people who take up carriage driving are either those who do not feel confident on the back of a horse, or who due to physical limitations cannot ride, but still wants to enjoy the company of horses or the thrill of horse sports.

Driving has become increasingly popular for use with weddings and special events today with many competitive drivers now offering this Motorrad service as a means of funding the upkeep of their horses and carriages. Ponies with kids’ carts have become a popular and often lucrative favourite on fairs and festivals.

Well to start carriage driving you would need a horse of course. However not all horses are suited to carriage driving. When looking at, or for a horse to use for driving the most important consideration is temperament. A carriage horse often requires prolonged periods of sanding, and nervous or fidgety horses do not do well, not to mention they are more likely to startle or shy.

For years now many have looked at certain breeds when searching for a carriage horse. And although there are breeds like the Friesian, Hackney, Connemara and Welsh Cobs who are considered as good carriage horses/ponies, the truth is any breed of horse is suitable for carriage driving, as the success of the horse largely depends on its outlook and conformation

When looking at conformation of the carriage horse “the wider the better” but it is not a rule of thumb. Horses with width do have more power and will find pulling a carriage easier the narrower ones are however capable too. A wider horse just looks better. When selecting a carriage horse on conformation, one would be looking more towards your cob types; a strong sturdy levelheaded horse is best.

Well once you have the horse it would need training. Because driving and particularly competitive driving is a strenuous sport, being hard on a horses back it is advisable to only start the training of a carriage horse once it has reached the age of five.

It is also good practice to have the horse backed and going under saddle for at least a year prior to training it for carriage. That way the horse will be used to hearing ones’ voice from behind it as well as receiving commands from the reins and behind it.

The initial stage of training a horse to harness is that of long lining and then training the horse to drag an object behind it, good indications that the horse is ready for advanced work is when it pushes forward with its chest prior to walking off, and is nor alarmed by the sound of the object dragging behind it.

At this stage the horse should be teamed up with a more experienced horse and attached to a light carriage with a handler walking next to the horse. Ensure that the fastening of the horse to the carriage (for the first few times) allows for the handler to quickly untie the horse should it be needed, once the horse is comfortable without the handler it should be driven with a partner for at least a month, two to three times a week, allowing for the horse to build up confidence and to get use to bracing against the carriage when slowing down. Once completed the horse can then start to work alone.

Training a carriage horse this way will minimize the possibility of accidents or injuries sustained to either horse or handler. It will also allow Schräglagentraining for the horse to gain the required experience and confidence in his work before needing to “go it alone”.

Please do not try to train your horse yourself if you do not have the experience, many serious and sometimes fatal accidents can occur were a horse to bolt with a carriage. It is best to get help from someone who knows and can lend a guiding hand and horse.

Driver Training:
In Europe you are actually required to pass a driving test should you wish to use a horse and carriage on the roads. But initially you would learn to drive a single horse, then work your way up to two (known as pairs or tandem) then three (known as a unicorn or fan) and four (known as four in hand) very seldom today do we see teams of more than four, and even then it is done mostly for display.

What Equipment Would you Need

-To start off you will require a single harness consisting of a Bridle complete with blinkers, a bit (the most commonly used is the Liverpool bit, or a four ring snaffle) and reins measuring up to 7.5M. A breastplate, or collar depending on the design. A saddle (no not your riding saddle) that houses the Terrets (loops the reins pass through) the bearing rein hook and crupper attachment. And then the part known as the breeching (The part that goes round and over the quarters, this assists with preventing the carriage bumping into the horse whilst stopping or slowing down.)
-The trace lines (which attach the horse to the carriage)
-A light single horse drawn carriage sporting a double shaft in between which the horse is harnessed
-A light driving whip almost resembles a lunging whip

Driving Sports

Competitive driving has been steadily on the increase the last few years, with driving marathons increasing in both competitors and supporters. However for the lighter minded there is:
-pleasure driving (showing)
-dressage driving (yes you do a test)
-obstacle courses for the more sporting and accurate drivers, obstacle courses are laid out using highway marker cones and tennis balls.

And then there is marathon driving with a team of humans usually consisting of but not limited to the driver and groom who assists with counterbalancing the carriage around sharp turns (requires loads of guts, and a few under the belt at times). The best way to describe a marathon is and obstacle course navigated at almost breakneck speeds in the countryside against the clock (hence the break neck speed).

Could Your Horse be Used for any Sport Other than Driving

Driving horses are not just used for driving, a well schooled horse can combine driving with other equestrian sports, however most owners of driving horses tend to use them as hacks. A driving horse would be capable of competing in most lower levels of equestrian sports with the exception of dressage, as driving tends encourage the horse to lean forward onto the forehand, something very unsuited to the dressage horse.