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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!

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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I just want to share how my bike is working. I keep hearing that it is not possible to have weight at the horse end of the shaft without using wrap straps. I have achieved that while using the open shaft loops and driving with a loose over girth. I can get in and out of my bike without having it tip up or threaten to tip over backward and can trot and canter uphill or on the flat or over rough ground without any bouncing and with a little weight in the shaft loops OR I can have them float a bit.

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Mostly I can sit back in my seat. BUT I understand that I am driving in a two wheeled vehicle so I do my best to be an active driver that is watching the balance and doing my best to work with my horse and not against him. If I am going up a hill I lean forward (just as you would when riding) when we go down hill I lean back. When cantering I lean forward just a bit. When we go over rough ground depending on what kind of trail we are on I will lean forward or lean back. If there are large boulders and deep ruts then I am constantly moving to keep my bike balanced and floating so the shaft ends aren’t yanking my pony’s shoulders around.

In the video below I am showing how there is weight at the horse end of the shafts while we trot downhill, trot over level ground and then walk up a hill all with me leaning back in the seat and without wrap straps. It can be done with a little work at getting good balance.

The video below shows my friend Molly and her little mare Goldie. They are trotting and cantering along, up a hill, with open shaft loops, perfectly balanced. They drive this way in the mountains and on the road without any issues.

The bike is so lightweight and when things are all working as they should it is very well balanced. It’s amazing how much you can affect the balance at the horse end of the shafts with your body.

A few years I ago I was super excited to see that Cavallo was now making the most adorable little boot for miniature horses. I immediately ordered a pair (actually my mom bought them for me for my birthday!) and tried them out.

I was very happy when I opened the box and saw how cute and little they were. That excitement turned to trepidation when I realized just how small they were. Teeny tiny. The only mini I had at the time that they would fit was Sky. That was fine because she was the one I was driving anyway. But I was disappointed that they didn’t make the boots bigger.

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Sky and her CLB’s.

Sky wore the boots for about 10 miles when I discovered there was a hole in the sole. I emailed Cavallo and they said my horse’s didn’t have the right hoof shape for the boot but they would send me another pair to try. I thought that was strange. Her hoof measurement said the boots would fit. They DID fit, though they did rub here and there at the top, but the soles were basically plastic and just wore out on the gravel we drive on. I felt that had little do with the shape of her foot and more to do with the material they were using for the sole of the boot.

I received the other pair of boots and we tried those as well. After about another 10 miles there were holes in those as well. That pretty much ended our run on Cavallo boots.

I had also found that they were very slippery. The soles were a hard plastic with no traction and when Sky was worked on wet grass she would slip and even fell. When we walked on lots of gravel the boots would slide through the gravel making her feel unconfident with the boots on. At the time I also had the Mini Easy Boots so we just used those instead.

I have a blog that compares the different boots I’ve used over the years. You can find that here –> Boot Comparison.

I felt that a re-design was necessary for these boots. I sent Cavallo an email expressing my disappointment and that was that. Then about a month and a half ago I had an email from them saying they had re-designed their boots, making them bigger and wondered if I was interested. I said I was only interested if they also changed the sole material of the boot. They said they had and sent me two pairs to try.

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I was happy to see the soles were not that hard plastic any longer and have some traction. The boots are bigger so that part is great! However, after using the Equine Fusion boots I have to say the tops of the boots are not great. They don’t close very tight thereby allowing quite a few of the smaller stones from the road to work their way down inside the boot. Not something I like to have happen, especially on the longer drives!

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Below is a photo showing the Cavallo boot next to the Equine Fusion boot. These boots are meant to fit the same size hoof as well. I noticed that the Cavallos were a bit sloppy on Zorro when he walked…

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Cavallo boot on the left, Equine Fusion boot on the right.
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Cavallo boot on the left, Equine Fusion boot on the right.

There is something very strange about the toe area of the boot. They have this long piece that sticks forward, blocking the roll over. We work so hard to have a nice beveled toe so our ponies have a good break over, why would we want to block that with the boot? I really don’t understand what the thought process was with this design. They don’t have this on ANY of the big horse boots.

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Here is a photo showing the beveled toe of the Equine Fusion boots:

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Though minis are small they are might athletes and should be considered as such. It frustrates me to no end how some of these boots are designed. They do not help them do their job but instead hinder them.

This style of boot was making Zorro trip and the break over was stopping him from rolling all the way over onto his toe, which would make his knee give out. I tried to capture it on video (video is below) but was doing this by myself so it’s hard to see. But I think you get the idea. And I’m sure many of you can see the problem just by looking at the boot!

So. I took my hoof nippers and rasp to the front of these boots to make them work better.

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Here is a video I made showing Zorro walk before I trimmed the front and then after!

This is just my opinion on these boots. Of course you should do what you think is best for your pony!

For Memorial Weekend I took my pony and my friend Molly and her pony, and we ran away to the mountains. No cell service, no internet, completely unplugged. It was such a wonderful weekend, even if it rained every day and all night!

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Molly and I were the first to arrive at the camp ground and immediately started setting up our camp. We decided to high line our ponies this year as the pen worked last year- but just barely. (And the pen didn’t really work very well for Zorro at the barefoot hoof trimming clinic two weeks ago…) I had practiced with Zorro at home all last week and he did very well. Molly had been tying Goldie (so she can practice patience) so she was also prepared for the high line. She actually settled very well tied to it. Much better than when she is hard tied.

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Many of the club members high lined their horses. A few did that last year and Molly and I liked the simplicity of it. It’s so much easier to pack a long line, some tree savers and a few ties than to pack panels and posts and wire to build the pen! It’s much faster to set up and to take down as well.

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If you look closely at the photo below you will spot the Fjords laying in the bushes….

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Zorro even laid down to sleep at night.

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We were all quite happy with the high line!

Molly and I were busy getting everything unloaded, unpacking the horse stuff, putting the bikes together, making the bed in the back of the Tahoe, when it started to rain a bit harder, so we shut the Tahoe doors to keep our bed dry, only to find we had locked the keys in it. SIGH. (**Note above that I said we ran away to the mountains where there wasn’t any CELL SERVICE!!!)

I have a bad cold that has settled deep in my lungs which makes me have to take my inhaler very often. My inhaler was also locked in the Tahoe. Molly walked around the camp and found a spot where she had one bar and was able to receive a text from her hubby. So she tried sending him one. He got it!!

She sent him a text asking him to call my Handsome Hubby to have him call Triple A. We had to wait on pins and needles for quite some time because it would take several minutes for the text messages to send and then even longer for them to come in, but my Hubby was able to call and get someone on their way to unlock my car. We heard that news just minutes before we were prepared to break a window because my asthma was getting so bad!! (It was close to 3 hours from the time I locked the keys in the Tahoe to when the guy showed up.)

When the guy showed up to unlock the Tahoe he looked exactly like a knight in shining armor to me. And he had the best attitude. He was so happy to have the chance to drive up to Monture and see the horses and ponies on his Friday, late afternoon, before Memorial weekend. I was so grateful for him and his good attitude!

After that drama, we hitched up and took the ponies for a short little drive around. I was checking to see how Zorro felt and we were practicing giving Goldie a nice quiet, calm drive.

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mollysentouragesmallA couple of the other members also hitched up and did a little test drive that evening…claudiaandcobaltsmall

Claudia holding Cobalt for Nicole. Here they were preparing to unhitch after they got back from their drive.

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We had a nice time helping set up camp once everyone else got there. Of course we had a wonderful dinner and some great campfire talk. Then we all went off to get a good night sleep before our big drive on Saturday morning…

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It was a beautiful evening!

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We woke up to some overcast skies and a bit of a light misting rain. We had breakfast and then prepared the horses, ponies and mule, for our drive!

Saturday we drove 14 miles. We left the camp at 10:00 and got back at 3:30. It misted on us, then it rained pretty good, then the sun came out. We got back to camp just before a really good drenching rain started. Once that started it didn’t stop all night long.

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Sometimes things happen on the trail and we have to stop while they get sorted. We stopped here because a horse that was tied to the back of a wagon got loose and they had to catch her. It was lightly raining here and the forest looked so beautiful. After I took the above photo I realized what I was looking at:

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The place where Unicorns live!! Can you see that misty meadow through the trees? I just know it was full of grazing unicorns. Zorro kept gazing that way, when he wasn’t watching them try to catch the loose horse, and I know he was thinking about his friends in that magical meadow.

When we had to stop again Molly and Ryker took the chance to have a potty break…

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This photo is titled “GO POTTY” because that’s what Molly was telling Ryker. And instead of going potty he was gleefully rolling around in the grass. I was laughing so hard!

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The lake we drove past!

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We stopped and had lunch…

Then we went and played at a creek crossing. Zorro was thristy but when Goldie and Molly crossed the creek it was up to Goldie’s belly and nearly ended up in Molly’s lap so Zorro and I turned around and crossed the bridge. LOL!!

It was so nice to get back to the campsite, eat a good dinner and sit around the camp fire visiting.

Then on Sunday we were undecided about how long we should drive. It was drizzling all morning off and on. The club decided to head out and just do a short drive…that turned into a 15 mile drive!

I did NOT intend to do that either Zorro or Goldie, but when you are out in the mountains it can be hard to know if it’s shorter to turn around where you are or to push on. At one point we were battling ankle deep mud that was sticky and getting caught on the tires so we did NOT want to back track that section of the road. The poor ponies!

They did it like trooper, alternating walking, trotting and cantering. The last 4 miles were the longest 4 miles of my LIFE. I was exhausted and wet and cold and worried about my pony. But he kept such a perky outlook. He walked when he needed to, both ponies would stop if they needed a break and then continue when they were ready.

Of course the rain stopped as we got back to camp and when we drove away from the campsite with the truck and trailer to head home, the sun came out. Isn’t that always how it works!?

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Olive and Lee Ann prepared to head on out Sunday morning!
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Nicole in the wagon and Kenji on his horse ponying his other mare.

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Going up, up, up!

We were slogging through the deepest, stickiest mud. Then we would have to cross large deep mud puddles. The Equine Fusion boots never twisted or loosened. They stayed put the entire time! We were both SO HAPPY with these boots. The Easy Boot Minis we had last year were a total joke on this same weekend drive. And we didn’t even have to deal with the deep mud. We just had to cross lots of water and deal with the sand. The velcro on the Equine Fusion boots still looks like new!!

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Zorro was booted on all four for the weekend.

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Wet, muddy and getting tired! We were about 4 miles from the campground here.

This bull was standing all alone up at the corner of his pasture watching us all drive by. He looked like he was watching a parade. LOL!

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As we approached the bull Zorro didn’t know quite what to do. He was between a rock and a hard place!

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When we got back to camp we were covered in mud. My harness has mud caked on in every nook and cranny. The bike was covered in mud, the boots were caked in mud but there wasn’t any mud IN them. I have A LOT of clean up to do today!

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The ponies were glad to be back at camp, to eat some dry hay and have a little break before we loaded them up and headed home!

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There were moments on that last drive that I was so miserable I couldn’t even put my feelings into words. LOL. But I wouldn’t have wanted to be any place else but in Monture with my pony and my friend Molly.

I also want to say that Molly should get the “Best Conditioned Horse” award at these things. Goldie is 32″ tall and super refined. This mare is teeny tiny. It’s a wonder that we can even make a bridle to fit her head! And she can easily out do every single horse at these events. She never gives up and never seems to run out of energy. She is in amazing shape and has such a can do attitude. I just love her…

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This face means “Mindy, give-me-every-single-hay-pellet-in-your-pocket-and-then-go-and-get-me-all-my-treats-out-of-the-trailer” look.

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The world is full of opinions. The horse world is over flowing with them. And in many cases if you don’t agree with this opinion or that opinion then you are considered stupid.

I get called stupid on a regular basis. Mostly by people who don’t drive at all, drive very rarely or don’t even own horses. It’s amazing to me how everyone and their brother is a professional on Facebook.

I drive about 5 times a week. Our typical drive is 5 miles. Sometimes we go 4 miles and sometimes we go 8. Basically we drive a lot. I am not a professional, anymore, but I am using my equipment quite a bit. I am out exploring and pushing the boundaries…

I have A LOT of opinions about things. Harness. Carts. Boots. Ponies. Driving trails. But I realize that they are just that. Opinions. There are many ways to get to an end result. Though there are some hard and fast facts, they are few and far between. And people who say their way is the only way are fooling themselves and you. (This blog will be VERY unpopular but I am getting so tired of people making others feel wrong because they do things differently.)

Over time and with more practice I often change my opinion about things. I carefully watch my ponies when I’m driving and then make adjustments to make their job easier. I am always questioning things. Trying new things. Being flexible.

I was told that a saddle with a tree in it would be best for the type of driving I do. It would provide stability for my mini and make her job easier. But my mini is very wide. The tree is narrow. It caused pressure points and did not make her job easier because it blocked her shoulder. I spread it as wide as I could and got a wider and longer back pad to help. Then I turned to the treeless saddle (The MaraFUN harness) for my two geldings. I just recently ordered a treeless Comfy Fit saddle as well and can’t wait to give it a try! I think Sky will be happy with it.

I decided to try the SuperFlex collar, which is the same thing as a Euro Style collar. I have heard so much negative about these collars. Actually until I got my own I already decided I did NOT like them. It was going to be too hot. It covered too much on my pony. It was going to make pulling the cart even harder and wasn’t necessary.

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**This style of breast collar is absolutely NOT appropriate for a low line of draft. It is soft and pliable and not designed for logging, harrowing or any vehicle that has a low line of draft. BUT for my Hyperbike and my easy entry cart it is actually quite wonderful. Zorro loves it.

Does this mean you need to rush right out and buy it because it will change your horse’s life forever? NO! It just means that if something isn’t working and you are wondering about it, it’s worth it to try something different. Don’t disregard it just because someone else said it was a bad collar type. I’m so glad I decided to give it a try.

Same with Soybean meal. I have been 100% against anything with soy in it for so so many years that it was very hard for me to wrap my mind around feeding soybean meal. But now that I am and I’m seeing such positive changes in my ponies I am so glad I changed my mind. **Please don’t confuse soybean meal with anything with soybean hulls. These are not the same at all. You can go HERE to read more about the changes I have been making in my ponies diet.

Some people really frown on the Hyperbike and I get comments about that often as well. I’m so happy I don’t listen to them as I love my bike and so do Sky and Zorro. (Mikey isn’t quite sure about it yet! LOL!)

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I have always been a leather snob but I am so glad I saw the benefits of the Comfy Fit and the MaraFUN harnesses. I have zero plans to go back to leather… though I do use leather driving lines. Mine are padded at the hand end and so soft and comfortable. Plus they are beautiful! (I’ll add them to the website soon.)

So basically what I am saying is it’s fine to have opinions. It’s totally fine to share them! It’s fine to do things your way, if your way is working. If things aren’t working then it’s fine to try something different, new or even frowned upon! You may end up being pleasantly surprised.