Dive Into The Hitch: How To Start Riding Horses

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Photo by Catherine Royle / Yellow Rose Photography, courtesy of Coachman’s Delight, Inc.

Learn from the experts what it takes to get started in the sport of driving.

The sight of a horse-drawn carriage evokes thoughts of power and elegance. It’s a nod to history for riders and non-equestrian alike. While the prospect of learning to drive may seem daunting to some, it shouldn’t be, according to driving instructor and judge Andy Marcoux of Coachman’s Delight, Inc. in Massachusetts.

Marcoux teaches students, trains horses and participates in combined driving competitions of the Advanced level and pleasure driving in solo, in pairs and in foursome.

“It’s really interesting in the team – there are a lot of people who come from team riding certainly, but there are also a lot of people who are new to horses,” says Marcoux.

Martha Custis Merry from Lebanon, Ohio, an amateur adult dressage rider who now also rides her 8 year old Percheron / Friesian / Dutch Harness gelding, Lancer, shares that the sport is something that can be enjoyed as a fun pilot or competition pilot. . She enjoys the team aspect of working with her husband, Dave, who serves as her Combined Driving Navigator. Together, the Merry’s successfully completed their first training-level Combined Driving Event (CDE) last fall, and they look forward to doing more.

Where to start

Marcoux and Merry both advise finding a local driving club as a very important first step, as well as looking at the resources available through the American Driving Society (ADS), Carriage Association of America (CAA ) and the Equestrian Federation of the United States (USEF). There are carriage driving clubs in almost every part of the country; club listings are available on the ADS and CAA websites.

Combined driving
Martha Merry and her Percheron-Friesian-Dutch Harness gelding training cones with her husband Dave serving as navigator in the back of the wagon. Photo by Eri Burton-Journey Sports Photography, courtesy of Martha Merry

These are great resources for finding local instructors, learning safe practices, getting advice on choosing equipment, getting help with training or purchasing a horse, and for hiring experienced riders. to lend a hand to beginners.

Those interested in driving will find a very welcoming group, according to Merry.

“The driver community is filled with wonderfully generous people. Most driving clubs encourage knowledge sharing and invite potential drivers to sign up for a free trial period and get in their cars.

Introduction to the team of horses
Andy Marcoux teaches student Marcia Bozeman on National Drive 2015 at Kentucky Horse Park. Photo from Picsofyou.com

Marcoux offers this logical progression in learning to drive:

■ Gain experience and confidence by driving with a driving instructor and
other experienced pilots, with the aim of eventually taking the reins while having them by your side to guide you as co-pilot. After you’ve been doing this for a while, they’ll let you know when it’s time to go solo.
■ Use an experienced horse to learn to ride. After learning with a seasoned horse, the person can work on training their own horse for driving with the help of experts.
■ Learn the harness and vehicle parts (cart, cart, cart, sled, etc.). Marcoux says the harness can often look like a “bucket of squid” to beginners, but it’s really no different than learning the parts of a saddle.
■ Learn how to safely hitch a horse and hitch it to a vehicle.
■ Learn to drive on the ground and the long line.
■ Learn by volunteering and watching, help out at shows and meetings, and follow experienced drivers.

Merry adds these tips:
■ Do your homework by reading and watching videos. Study the rule books. To ask questions.
■ Spend a lot of time doing basic horse work to develop relationship and communication before getting in the car.

Introduction to the team of horses
Andy Marcoux teaches at a club clinic on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Catherine Royle / Yellow Rose Photography, courtesy of Coachman’s Delight, Inc.

Drive versus drive

The sight between the ears of a riding horse is pretty much the same when riding, but from a slightly different angle and with communication thanks to a few new aids.

“I used to feel and influence my horse with the legs, seat, hands and balance,” Merry explains. “Driving takes this communication to a whole new level. I still had to accomplish the same type of tasks, but now using voice, reins, whip and brakes where appropriate [not all horse-drawn vehicles have brakes]. “

Your riding horse could also make an excellent driving horse, although it needs to be removed from riding in some cases.

“Driving can be a fabulous second career for a horse because it has very little impact compared to riding,” says Marcoux. “When you get horses that have conditions like kissing the spine or navicular – conditions that don’t make them suitable for ridden work – they can still be fantastic horses for riding if they have a head. decent on their shoulders. “

Try to drive now

Marcoux encourages those who are interested not to wait to try driving.

Combined driving
Martha Merry drives Lancer with her husband Dave serving as navigator. This was their first full combination driving event, where they competed at the training level. Photo by Patti Custis, courtesy of Martha Merry

“The most important thing I see is that most of the time people tend to wait too long before trying the sport,” he says. “They think it sounds fun and maybe they will when they get older and can’t ride anymore. So you know what’s going on? They feel like they made a mistake once they start driving. They say, ‘Wow, I absolutely shouldn’t have waited!’ “

This article on how to start riding horses appeared in the July 2020 issue of Illustrated horse magazine. Click here to subscribe !

Driving activities

There are many opportunities to have fun and work with team horses. In
In addition to the combined driving and fun driving competition, drivers can
participate in antique coaching sessions, roadster lessons, draft horse team shows
and plowing days, parades and shows, road and track driving, and historical reenactments, as well as driving lessons in breed-specific exhibitions.

Both ADS and CAA have trail listings that can accommodate team horses. The National Drive is an annual non-competitive event that brings together drivers from across North America and offers social and educational activities.

Further reading

■ The good stuff: how to choose a carriage horse
■ Scurry Driving: your new favorite equestrian sport
■ Driving mini horses
■ Driving lessons in the ring


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