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I always see questions from people asking if the smaller minis can pull a 120 pound cart and a 200+ pound person. My general rule of thumb is, I don’t make my mini pull more than it’s own body weight. So if my own weight is nearly equal to my minis then I will need a VERY lightweight vehicle so together we don’t exceed my minis weight. (This is where a Hyperbike comes into play!!)

But a common answer I see is “My 30″ mini pulls me and my Bellcrown, or Frey or wooden meadow brook cart around just fine! He is a power house and runs everywhere. It’s hard to get him to walk!”

Hmmmm. The key words in that reply is “it’s hard to get him to walk.” People will also say their minis are very forward. I have been watching lots of different minis pull lots of different vehicles for a long time. I have also been a student of natural horsemanship for a long time. Something I am always thinking about is, is that mini calm and confident in it’s job? Certainly there are lots of small minis that ARE confident in their job. Usually these minis are fairly well matched in driver/vehicle weight to their own size and weight. These minis confidently canter out and tackle the courses. They easily come down to a walk and trot in a very relaxed way when asked.

BUT for the most part what I see are over faced small minis just trying to get the job done. They are racing around, heavy on the forehand, wanting to canter everywhere because the walk is just too hard. This exact thing happened with Sky. She had a hard time pulling the easy entry cart with me in it. So what did she start to do? She started to race everywhere. It’s very hard to get her to slow down and be calm when driving. She was starting to when pulling the Hyperbike, but she can NOT do it when pulling the easy entry cart. She just simply feels over faced with that cart. In her case it doesn’t matter that she is 37″ tall and the cart and myself weigh nearly equal to her weight. The simple facts are, it’s too heavy and hard for her to pull. Zorro and Mikey don’t have a problem pulling that cart at all! Both can walk and trot calmly when pulling it. There is no anxiety in them at all. But they are bigger ponies for sure!

Sometimes they are not confident because of other things. Even if they are well matched as far as vehicle weight + your weight, they can feel unconfident about their surroundings, what they are being asked to do in cart, other horses being around them – such as group drives- and this will come out as impulsiveness. They will want to rush around and not stand quietly. They will fidget, paw, sometimes back up uncontrollably, rear and generally be difficult to manage. This is all anxiety that is coming out in the only way they know how to show it. It doesn’t mean the mini is a jerk and it definitely doesn’t mean the mini is enjoying himself. I hear that a lot as well. “My mini really loves to go driving he does A, B and C (insert rearing, pawing and not standing still for the person to get in the cart).”

I think it’s interesting that some people see this behavior and see an excited mini that wants to go, when other people see the same behavior and read it as anxiety and dread.

There are many things you can do to help the mini feel more confident with driving, including taking a look at your harness, your cart and yourself. Are you sitting correctly when driving? Does your harness fit well? Is your cart balanced?

If your issues are more about the environment then taking a step back and doing some ground work with obstacles, taking them hiking and figuring out what helps them feel confident will translate to the harness as well.

Sometimes what we perceive as being excitement about hitting the trail is in fact anxiety. It really is all about perception and learning to read and understand our minis.

PLEASE REMEMBER!!! This is my blog full of my opinions. If you don’t like what I share you can simply click off the page 🙂 You do not have to keep reading nor do you have to take into consideration what I am sharing. You can simply move on!

How do these two things go together? It turns out they are a perfect match. Natural horsemanship is all about creating confidence and calmness. Two things that all driving horses should have in spades. But how often are driving horses calm and confident? Based on what I’ve seen over the years, not very often.

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Something I hear often is the horse just needs more time in harness. They need more experience and more desensitization. Which is often very true! BUT sometimes we just need to go back a step, or two or three and work on our relationship without the harness. It’s amazing how doing some ground work, in a consistent manner, with the entire goal to be calmness, can change how a horse goes in the harness.

 

Last weekend my friend Molly and I went over to the Bitterroot to have private lessons with my friends and instructors, Ethan Zimmerman and Lorri Roy of Foundation Horsemanship.We both had an idea of things we wanted to work on. Zorro has been feeling grumpy about working with me lately so relationship was #1 on my list. But he also has been struggling with finding relaxation with the bit in his mouth. Bitless is not an option, at this time, because he has such a sensitive face, putting pressure on his nose with a halter or bitless bridle just makes him lose it. So I asked Ethan if he would help me help Zorro find some peace with the bit in his mouth. And even though Ethan doesn’t agree with using bits he was extremely helpful with my issues!!

Molly wanted to work on confidence with both of her minis. They have separation anxiety issues and get anxious when in harness. (Zorro does sometimes as well and we also got to work on this at one point!)

The first day we spent the morning working through obstacles with our ponies just in a rope halter and lead line. They have a new obstacle course all set up and we had a blast!! There is a teeter totter, logs to jump, a big bridge to play on, several different styles of pedestals, two water obstacles – on big one and one water box- a car wash, a gate to open, the boulder field, cavalettis, and a narrow teeter totter. So for the morning we went around and just played with the obstacles with the goal of having a pony that was confident and calm when going over them. This meant that we had to repeat and repeat and repeat until we HAD a calm and confident pony. The ‘ask and wait’ was key in creating a calm pony.

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For instance, the water box. This is a hard obstacle because the bottom of it is a black stall mat and there is water in it. I’m sure to the pony it looks like a deep dark black hole. So for them to trust us enough to step into it is HUGE. We would ask them to approach and our first goal is to get their nose OVER the obstacle. Typically once you get their nose over it, then wait and let them think, they will lower their head and LOOK at the obstacle. Sometimes they are so scared they can’t even do that but typically they will at least look. If they look and then snort and try to leave you simply re-set them and ask for the nose over the obstacle again. When they can stand with their nose over the obstacle then you can ask for a step. This would be touch it with the foot. This step can take quite awhile and having good timing is key. If you push them too hard they can blow up. If you don’t ask at the right time you will miss the green light and won’t really progress with that obstacle. It was so fun watching all three of the ponies work through this and get so brave that they could walk up to it, lower their head to look and then just walk straight across it.

 

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The afternoon of the first day we did two rein driving. We could use a halter or a bridle, but because of our biting issues I opted for a bridle.

  • I learned about closing my fingers slowly on the lines and opening fast, without throwing my pony away.
  • I learned how to help Zorro with his extreme mouthiness when the bit was in his mouth. He will chomp and chomp and chomp when I pick up my lines. This is a result of me being too fast to close my hands and also being to snatchy at his face. I usually drive with a fairly loose line, which is ideal, BUT this also can cause me to snatch at my lines if he acts out.

 

 

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Everyone was so jealous and wanted to come play with us on the playground!

So I now have a few more tools in my tool kit to help him overcome his anxiety about me lifting the lines. I am so excited and motivated to take him out on my driving track and work on transitions, transitions, transitions. I can always count on Ethan and Lorri for  bringing up my self confidence, even as they help me bring up my pony’s confidence! They are excellent at inspiring me when I have been feeling stuck and frustrated.

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The second day we started with two line driving and repeated the transitions we had done the day before. I played around with the obstacles while driving a bit more and we did some trot/canter/whoa transitions as well. The ponies were doing an awesome job so we took a lunch break and then came back to drive them!

Both Molly and I had some anxiety things to work through in the cart and we learned A LOT about how to help our ponies.

At one point Molly went to switch ponies and Zorro got very emotional because she and Goldie left. My normally quiet pony turned into a whinnying, pooping mess! LOL! He couldn’t stand still so I didn’t try to make him. Instead I let him go out and trot or canter as small of a circle as we could then offer him the chance to stop. He couldn’t so we would do another small circle. We had to do many many circles, with me switching the direction of the circle sometimes until he started to walk the circles instead of needing to canter and trot them. And then he suddenly offered to just whoa. And since that was the goal we stopped and just thought about our life for awhile.

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Ethan drove Goldie and Lorri got to drive Zorro… you know that meme that went around Facebook?

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Well Ethan and Lorri are on our very short lists 🙂

I always love watching my ponies learn a new pattern and make some significant changes. Having someone coach you along is so valuable! I highly suggest getting a hold of Ethan and Lorri and participating in their obstacle clinics as well as taking some private lessons!

If you don’t live here in Montana then take a look at the natural horsemanship trainers in your area. You may be surprised how they can help you with your driving horses and ponies!

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My Handsome Hubby bought something from LaRue Precision Firearms and included in the box was a very cool pamphlet that has excerpts from a 1917 Calvary Officer’s Manual. I was very taken with the requirements of the Calvary officer and thought I would share some of the pamphlet here!

A most important duty of the cavalry officer is keeping his horses in such training and health as will enable them to do their work to the best advantage. The proper performance of this duty requires careful instruction of the men in the treatment, stabling, management, watering, feeding, grooming and exercising of the horses and such continuous supervision and inspection by officers as will insure that instructions are understood and are being carried out.

Calvary officers should make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the natural history and physiology of the horse and with the effects of different methods of treatment, changes of diet, etc., upon his system and power of endurance.

They should have a familiar knowledge of the symptoms and methods of treatment of the diseases that are common to horses, what do do in emergencies and a good knowledge of the effects of the medicines supplied to the squadron. They should also be practically familiar with the principles of horseshoeing.

Sore backs are, as a rule, the result of carelessness or neglect; the immediate cause may be faulty adjustment of the saddle or equipment or bad riding.

At each halt officers and noncommissioned officers should inspect the adjustment of saddles and equipment of their men and should at no time tolerate lounging in the saddle.

Horse when received in the regiment are assigned to squadrons according to color, under direction of the commanding officer. They are branded on the hoof of one fore foot with the letter of the squadron and the number of the regiment on the same line; as D 7. their purchase number is found tattooed on the inside of the upper lip.

Captains make permanent assignments of horses; after a horse is so assigned, his rider will not exchange him nor allow him to be used by any other person without permission.

I will continue to share here. I have found this pamphlet to be very interesting and reading it has caused me to do some reading about the different animals used in war through out the years. It’s amazing what animals will do for us!

Yesterday I spent most of the afternoon on my riding lawn mower making myself a marathon track with obstacles. I am so happy to have my riding lawn mower back… it didn’t run all last year and I really missed being able to make myself such fun obstacles!

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I mowed a nice track around the 10 acre field. I am going to put at least two more obstacles out there as well!

I put in a cones course, complete with a little bridge!

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I put in a tires course, which is just like running the barrels!

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I have a barrels course:

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And then there is the track:

I think we are going to have a lot of fun out there!

Zorro has been feeling grumpy lately. I think he needs a little break from the long drives and this is a way to mix things up for him.

I am going to take the Skid Steer out there tomorrow and fill in the holes and dips we encountered today to smooth things out a bit. We did trot and canter but it was a bit bouncy! LOL!

I am going to add two more obstacles out on the track, another cones course and ?? I’m not sure what the other will be but it will be FUN!

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This is how we REALLY feel about the first day of summer…

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because it snowed here yesterday. At our house it hailed and rained and got VERY cold last night. Today it rained most of the morning and then was windy and COLD when we were trying to take these photos.

Sometimes you have to make your own summer!

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