Sometimes when a harness is adjusted incorrectly it can be a small adjustment that needs to happen. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious that things need to change! The horse will appreciate the smallest effort to make them more comfortable.

I will appreciate all your efforts to make things right!

This is one I see all. the. time. It still surprises me because of all the information out there about saddle fit. We know that a horse will be more comfortable and able to perform if the saddle isn’t interfering with the shoulder. And yet I see people putting the driving saddle on the pony’s withers often. If you move it back, you will see better results! I promise.

The breast collar is too high. The saddle is too far forward. The breeching is too low. Hip straps are too far back towards the tail.

Lots of things going on in this photo! One of the things I am asked about most often is how to adjust the breast collar. In the above photo the breast collar is too high. Being too high will interfere with the pony’s movement almost as much as it will if it’s too low.

In this photo the breast collar is a touch too low AND there isn’t a false martingale which means the breast collar will tip up in the front.

In the above photo the breast collar is a bit too low and without the false martingale, when they push into the breast collar, the top edge will dig into them. If you use a false martingale the breast collar will be able to lay flat and better help the pony pull.

The saddle is correctly placed here but the breeching is a touch high. This is my opinion because some people will drive with the breeching in this position and it will work just fine. But if I have it this high on some of our steeper hills it will want to work up and get under his tail.

And WALLA! Things are looking just right here. Even if Zorro is looking annoyed. LOL! It was so HOT when I took these. I was sweating buckets and he couldn’t believe I made him stand tied on the HOT black mat. I am so abusive!

–>Breast collar: GOOD!
–>Saddle: GOOD!
–>Breeching: GOOD!

All things adjusted as they should be. Now onto a different breast collar!

This is the Standard Curve breast collar. In this photo it is too low. I prefer my hip straps to be a little further forward towards the point of hip.

The Standard Curve breast collar has a little curve to it but is not as extreme as the Deluxe breast collar. I like this one as it doesn’t interfere with the shoulder at all!

In this photo the breast collar is adjusted correctly as are the hip straps. Everything looks pretty good here!

Now onto another breast collar option! The SuperFlex collar. This breast collar is really nice because it does make fitting a bit easier. It’s so soft it allows for some misadjusting. (I don’t think that’s word! LOL!)

In this photo the SuperFlex is adjusted to be too small. If this happens often using a longer collar cap (the black part at the top!) will allow the collar to sit down and fit properly.

Another thing is that I don’t have the ends of the collar tucked into the collar cap. I actually see this all the time! The collar cap has pockets in it for the padded ends of the collar to slide into:

The ends just slid under the collar cap.
The ends neatly tucked into the collar cap.
In this one the collar is adjusted to be too big.

It’s hard to tell but in the above photo the collar is too big. It’s sloppy and there is a gap under his neck. This would move around a lot if I drove him like this.

I would like to note: The SuperFlex collar is pretty forgiving even if you use one that is a bit too big. It will slide around a bit but the pony doesn’t seem to overly mind that because of how soft the collar is. I highly suggest measuring and getting the BEST fit you can but if your horse is obese when you order your collar and then loses some weight once driving, the collar will still work.

And TADA! The collar is adjusted correctly!

In the above photo things are looking really good! The saddle is back off the shoulders, the hip straps are adjusted correctly and the breeching is hanging where I like it to be.

I would like to note: I do NOT suggest using the neck connector strap with the SuperFlex collar but please do use a false martingale with it!

I actually see bridles adjusted like this all. the. time. Sigh.

Hmmmm. Things don’t look quite right here! The eye is too high in the blinders and the nose band is far too low. If my bridle wasn’t such a nicely fitting bridle this would look closer to what I usually see, which is winker stays that are too long and brow bands that are too short. It’s a weird juxtaposition!

This photo shows a correctly adjusted bridle.

Here Zorro’s eyes are in the middle of the blinders, the nose band is at the correct spot on the nose and the blinders are a good distance from the eye, not interfering with the eyelashes.

Now this is what I see the most often and it’s one of my pet peeves!! I can’t stand it when people drive with their back strap this loose:

Do you walk around with your bra all twisted up? One boob in and one boob out? Or your undies tucked neatly up your rear while one side covers your booty? I highly doubt it. So why would you drive with the back strap this loose, flopping around?

When you have the back strap this loose it will allow too much movement of the crupper under the tail which can cause sores. Not to mention how annoying it must be for the pony to have the harness so crooked. Note that the breeching is also crooked because of the back strap dragging off to the side.

Ahhhhh. Nice and neat!!

It not only looks better but I’m sure it must feel better to them as well!

Sometimes you can see right away that something needs to be adjusted. Other times it’s actually a bit hard to tell! If I’m not sure I’ll drive for a little while and see how things are working. It’s not unusual for me to stop and adjust my harness when I’m out on a drive. Even if it was working fine the drive before! Nothing is set in stone with harness fit and cart balance.

It’s all a balancing act 😉 Pun intended!

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Sky is 17 years old this year. We have had her since she was about 8 months old or so. We started her in cart when she was between 2 and 3 years old. She was always a rock steady driving horse. We drove her in parades, in group drives, early in mornings when my mom would accompany me on my training drives, and we showed her.

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Then she had about 7 years off. When she came to live with me here, I re-started her to drive. She did awesome. She took to everything so beautifully. Not much seemed to bother her when we were at home. But all that fell apart when I started taking her on the group drives with the big horses. I don’t know what happened but she became extremely unconfident and started racing everywhere. My famous saying is “I’m not sure if she is trying to save us or kill us.” But honestly it feels like we may die due to some of her decisions sometimes!

So for the last year she hasn’t driven. Once I got Zorro going I just focused on him. BUT she is getting super FAT. She needs to exercise. (We had to take the track down for a month or two and since she has been locked up on the small dry lot she has packed on the pounds. We are re-building the track this week!) So I decided I would just take my time, again, and focus all our attention on her being confident and calm during this second re-start. I don’t plan on taking her on the group drives, unless I feel she can be super confident and hold it together. If I don’t see that happening then she will just stay home and drive around our driving track!

Her first day went very well. She was nice and responsive to the bit and when she would start to get anxious I would stop her, back her and let her think for a minute. Then we would go on. Only time will tell if I have the skill to help her, but I sure hope I do!

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On Saturday Molly and I had a chance to swap ponies and bikes. It was a blast! I never get to see how Zorro looks when he is driving and Molly always wonders about her girls as well. This way we got to take a nice long look at our ponies. So. Much. Fun!

Me filming Molly who is filming me!

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Pony Swap Selfie!

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Molly did say that my bike feels so different from hers. It’s almost like it’s a complete different cart! LOL! It is HUGE. It sits up very tall and has longer and wider shafts. Plus Zorro is 40″ tall and Gracie is 35″ tall. That doesn’t seem like a big difference until you are driving them!

Zorro and I went on another camping trip with the Ten Mile Drivers this weekend. I made a pact with Hubby and said I would go up and camp Friday afternoon/night and come home Saturday evening. We have a TON of work to get done around here and he has the next week off so we can get going on it. He was chomping at the bit to get started and not too happy to have to postpone by a day, but agreed that I should go camping. And this trip was closer to home… we were camping at Cottonwood Campsite in the Gravelies! I love the Gravelies so was excited to take Zorro and enjoy the “weekend”.

Most of the road up there is a pretty decent gravel road, but the end was a bit rough. Made for a bit of a slower drive! When we got there I unloaded Zorro and put up the high line. I had to tie off to the Tahoe and a tree as there weren’t too many trees up there and I love to be close to him when he is high lined. Molly and I sleep in the back of the Tahoe on a blow up mattress and foam mattress toppers. It’s so comfy!

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There were a few members there but while we waited for more to show up, Zorro and I explored the creek.

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Molly wasn’t expecting to get up the camp site until late, but was making good time and got there with daylight to spare so we hitched up and went for a quick drive!

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Gracie looks so cute in her unicorn horn! We were out until after dark. The temperatures dropped quite a bit, making it a very chilly night sleeping in the Tahoe! My Hyperbike was covered in frost when I woke up. And the ponies were very hungry. I couldn’t wait for that first cup of coffee!

We had our breakfast and then everyone got hitched, or saddled up and off we went!

It’s so beautiful up there!

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It’s amazing how fast a day like today can change. Not far into our ride we had to go through a gate. There was a cattle guard across the road with a wire gate beside it. One of the guys that was riding in a wagon was manning the gate and as we all go through a gate we pull forward so the vehicle behind us can also get through the gate. Everyone stops and waits until the gate is shut and the gate opener is back on a vehicle. This way none of the horses get anxious about being left behind. It’s a safety precaution. We are always trying our best to keep everyone safe.

Today in just a few seconds all hell broke loose. The Fjord team had gone off the side of the road and up a little hill. When it was time to come back down to the road their marathon vehicle got jack knifed. And before we could blink the vehicle tipped over, spooked the Fjord team and they bolted.

They were running straight towards Molly, Gracie, Zorro and I but turned and took on the cattle guard instead. The bigger of the two leapt the cattle guard, dragging the smaller gelding across AND NEITHER OF THE HORSES WERE INJURED IN THE CATTLE GUARD!!

As they crossed it, they took a hard right, which righted the vehicle but also tossed the dog and the husband off the vehicle while the driver disappeared from sight. The dog leaped up and took off for the vehicle so I knew then, the driver was still with it.

The Fjords turned again and ran straight into a big juniper bush that was grown into a barbed wire fence. The fence stopped their flight and that was when everything started up again. One of the outriders tossed her reins to me, I hopped out off the bike, Molly dropped her bike off of Gracie and tossed me her lines and they ran to the horses. Another outrider was already heading the two horses and the men had leapt off the other vehicles and were busy trying to untangle the driver who was wrapped in her lines and under the front wheel of the vehicle.

–>All of the horses were quiet and calm during this entire thing. A few of the horses didn’t quite know what to do when the team was on the run but they all held it together. During the aftermath, the rushing around, cutting the fence, unhitching the team, and the hustle and bustle that goes with a wreck of this type, the horses stood calmly.

As the Fjords hit that bush I looked up in time to see a Forest Service truck come around the corner and pull up to us. I couldn’t believe it! We did NOT have any cell service and would have had to drive several miles to the nearest ranch to call 911. We hadn’t seen a Forest Service person anywhere and exactly when we needed him he appeared. He had a radio and training and jumped straight to it! He radioed for an ambulance and proceeded to check the driver over. She never lost consciousness and was talking, but they kept her still for fear of a head/neck injury.

The accident happened around 11:15 or so, about 2.5 miles into our drive. We were back at the campsite by 12:30. It was amazing how quickly both an ambulance and the Life Flight helicopter were on site. Both flew up from Idaho. We boogied all the driving horses, including the Fjord team who were ponied off the back of one of the wagons, out of there before the helicopter landed and headed back down the mountain. We did encounter the ambulance but all the horses (and mules!) did great. Two of the outrider horses were present when the helicopter landed and took off again and I hear they handled it very well.

The driver has a broken wrist, a broken rib and some gnarly road rash but SHE IS ALRIGHT! Her team had minor cuts and scratches but, THEY ARE ALRIGHT. Her husband was doing alright as well, though very banged up. The dog was fine as well, but very stressed.

I can’t believe how quickly this all happened. I can’t believe the timing of the Forest Service person. I can’t believe those Fjords were able to clear that cattle guard. And after looking at the surrounding area, I can’t believe how very lucky she is that they chose the path they did. They missed the piles of rock and sage bushes that were EVERYWHERE up there. The entire thing was a miracle.

I have to commend the Ten Mile Drivers as well. Everyone stayed 100% calm and competent. They sprang into instant action and everyone had a job they performed wonderfully.

The outriders are invaluable at times like these. All of these ladies were awesome. The training of the horses involved and the horses and mules watching was to be commended as well. Even after all of that, those Fjords were perfect gentleman and stood calmly, while tangled in barbed wire and stuck in a bush, harness and ropes digging into them, for the people to get them loose. They did not thrash or fidget or whinny. They were calm as can be.

The mules stood tied to trees during the entire rescue and never moved. The outrider horses were so mannerly while being held by myself and the other outrider. Our ponies were total rock stars. They never even tried to eat the grass but cocked a foot and took a nap.

I truly think that horses know when things have gone wrong. They will either make things worse, or their training will kick in and they will stay calm and take a nap. I was so pleased with all the horses involved today. This could have gone so so wrong in so many ways.

This is a good lesson for us to keep in mind. These things can happen even with the calmest and most well trained horses. Are you prepared if things go south? We had wire cutters, knives, first aid kits, water, extra jackets, halters and lead ropes. We were able to handle the situation – though were very grateful for the Forest Service guy’s radio!!

 

 

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It’s funny how different Sky and Zorro are, especially since Sky is Zorro’s mom.

In the mornings I halter them both and then go open the gate to go out into the yard. Then I ask them each to back through the gate. We walk to the other gate and I ask them to back to through that gate as well. I do this EVERY morning that they go out to graze.

Every morning Sky acts like she has NO idea what I’m asking her to do. She tries to barge through the gate and gets all antzy. She tosses her head and paws and roots her nose. When I turn her around to line her up for backing through the gate she moves her hiney back and forth and argues about lining up with the opening. EVERY MORNING.

Zorro stand quietly waiting for his turn to back, or if he goes first he will stand quietly on the other side of the gate while I convince Sky that she will be backing through there. When we approach the gate Zorro will wait until I ask him to line up, then he will basically line himself up and just back through the gate quietly. I barely have to lift the line as he knows, if he backs through the gate, he will go out to eat.

I think it’s so interesting that Sky just isn’t catching onto this! We have been doing it this way for 2 weeks, since Mikey left and every day is a new day for her. Zorro had the system down pat on day 2.

Does this mean that Zorro is smarter than Sky or simply that he is more trainable? And does more trainable mean smarter? We ask ourselves this with our dogs all the time as well! I really don’t know the answer. I just know that Sky will take many more repetitions  to understand something than Zorro will.

Something else I have noticed, Zorro is his old happy go lucky self since Mikey has been gone. I truly think he was being so bullied 24/7 that it was starting to effect him mentally.

He had started running when I went to catch him. As soon as he saw me he would take off and run and run and run. When I finally got him to stop he would pin his ears and keep them pinned while I harnessed him. Once harnessed he was reluctant to drive. I thought he was feeling burnt out so gave him some time off but his behavior got worse.

Then I took Mikey to his new home and in about 3 days Zorro was nickering and running to meet me at the gate. He was putting his halter on by himself and happy to go driving. He talks to me every time he sees me outside. So does Sky. They are both brighter and overall happier than when Mikey was here.

This got me thinking about what happens when bullying occurs. In people, bullying not only effects them physically but also mentally. When my youngest, Logan, was getting bullied in public school he became so unconfident in every area of his life that he started having night mares and was sleeping in our bed every night instead of his own. When we pulled our kids out of public school and started homeschooling he started sleeping in his own bed again. Within about a week of knowing he didn’t have to go back to public school. He too had been sullen and would cry at the drop of a hat. He didn’t like to go anywhere or see anyone from school. But when we started homeschooling, he liked having his friends over and became his happy, bright self again.

It’s so strange to think that horses would go through this as well, but it’s very clear to me now that Mikey was causing so much disruption in Zorro’s life that Zorro was choosing to just shut down. I think this is probably a far more common problem than people think. Horses are herd animals so they should always be together right? I’m thinking that some just can’t be with others for whatever reason and should be kept separate.

Poor Zorro. I am so sad to think I put him through that for a whole year! It took a person that doesn’t see my ponies every day to point out just how weird Mikey’s behavior was. And of course the day that Mikey grabbed Zorro by his neck and shook him like a rag doll was the day I separated them for good. But even having him here was putting a lot of pressure on Zorro.

I am amazed at the changes in my little herd of two. I think we will just stay with this number for awhile!

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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!