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For the past few years Zorro has done things like go for long walks with me and the dogs, sometimes with me and his mama, Sky, but those aren’t as fun because Sky has to go everywhere as fast as she can and Zorro is slow. He has gone hiking, crossed bridges and climbed mountains. He has been in a parade and I took him to one of our driving group get togethers so he had to haul in the trailer by himself and then be handled by multiple people at the clinic. He has been the buddy at the vet and has been there a few times, once for his gelding and several times to have his teeth worked on and for check ups…

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He has been ground driven a TON. Both in just his halter and then in an open bridle and then in his harness. He loves his harness and when I would take it out to use on Mikey Zorro would have a little melt down at the gate. If I brought out Sky’s harness to use on Mikey Zorro didn’t care at all. LOL! So he definitely KNOWS which one is his. Now that he is almost 4 years old it’s time for him to DRIVE!!

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I’m so darn excited for this part. It’s so satisfying to train a horse that you’ve raised. One that has the benefit of all the hard work you’ve put into becoming a more knowledgeable horsewoman over the years. Zorro is not afraid of the things that happen when we are out and about. He isn’t worried when the dogs race around like maniacs. He doesn’t care about cars. He doesn’t spook when deer pop up and race across the road in front of us. He doesn’t care when I raise my hands or move quick, kick the rocks or scuff my feet. He knows that I will not hurt him and I will not be unfair to him. Mostly because he has had so much time with me moving around him, feeding, scooping poo, and handling him daily since he was about 8 months old, but I have always been CONSISTENT with him.

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I’m not saying that Sky was EVER abused because she was not. But she is a more anxious horse and more reactive. To be honest when Zorro was a baby I thought he was going to be like that as an adult, but the constant, consistent handling he has had here has helped him overcome some of those innate traits. He has become braver and braver and had so much support that now he just blooms!

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I say this in one of the videos, but I wish that everyone would have a chance to have a pony like Zorro. He is my unicorn.

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So here are two videos from today. In this first one I do some talking… so if you don’t want to hear that, then skip to the second one where I keep my mouth shut! LOL!

 

Ensuring a good harness fit really does rely on good measurements. I spent some time today making videos and taking photos of me measuring for different things, a harness, hoof boots and good halter measurements. These videos are for purchasing a harness or a halter from Chimacum Tack and the hoof measurements are for Equine Jogging boots, but I think you will get a pretty good idea regardless of where you decide to purchase your equipment from!

First of all I just recently received the COOLEST measuring stick for measuring horses for a collar and hames style collar. It’s called the EZ Horse Neck Measure!

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It makes measuring for a neck collar or a SuperFlex collar so much easier than the two squares. I plan on loaning mine out to those that would like to borrow it. Though they will be for sale over on Chimacum Tack as well!

 

Zorro above and Mikey below. So even though Mikey is a bigger pony than Zorro is he measures for a smaller collar than Zorro. I have a 14″ collar and hames and they fit Zorro very well but are too big for Mikey. When I used them for our Christmas pictures I had to use a lot of padding to make it work for Mikey.

 

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Mikey’s neck ties in much higher than Zorro’s does which is what effects the collar measurement:

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How to Measure for a Harness:

How to Measure for a Halter:

And finally How to Measure for Hoof Boots:

Something else I found interesting was how much Zorro has grown and changed since I took his measurements in April. These changes aren’t just hair and chubbiness because some of them are actually just plain bigger, like his nose band. But I knew that one had changed because around the middle of summer I quit being able to use the nose band on his MaraFUN bridle.

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This is part of the reason we like your harness to fit on the middle holes when it is adjusted and on your horse. This will give you some adjustments for when they grow a little bit or get chubby or hairy. Zorro turned three in May and apparently had a growth spurt over the summer!

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Some of these measurements are very different. I hope he doesn’t grow much more or he will out grow his MaraFUN harness all together! Though I am sure some of you wouldn’t mind that as it would mean I would have to sell it 😉

So to sum up. Good measurements are very important for a good harness fit. And sometimes those young horses will outgrow your harness even if you have good measurements! LOL!

Harness Measuring Guide PDF

Whew! This is going to be a meaty blog post and one that has taken me quite a while to think about and start. It is A LOT to gather together in one post, but I decided to do it this way because I have a hard time carving out time for blogging lately so I want to get it all in one place. We will start with breast collars and collar and hames style collars.

When do you use a Breast Collar?

When your vehicle has a straight line of draft then you use a Breast Collar.

What is a straight/horizontal line of draft?

It’s when the single tree is place higher up on the front of the cart making the line from the breast collar to the single tree straight or slightly down hill from the breast collar. Another way to say this is when there is an uninterrupted line from the collar to the singletree. My rule of thumb is a straight/horizontal line of draft is when the line is ABOVE the horse’s hocks.

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Mikey is a 41 1/2″ pony. He is wearing my Comfy Fit Harness and is hitched to my Kingston Saddlery Cart with the Curved shafts and the Motorcycle wheels.
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Sky is 37″ tall (at the withers!) and is wearing the same harness as Mikey above, and is pulling the Kingston Saddlery Cart with the Curved shafts and motorcycle wheels.

You can see that when the horse is a few inches shorter the line of draft becomes a bit more horizontal. Mikey is a few inches taller than Sky which makes the line of draft a bit steeper. The single tree is still above his hocks and his balance of draft looks good, so I am comfortable using the breast collar.

The more I lower the shaft loops the more horizontal that line of draft becomes, when we are talking about the bigger pony, but it’s important to also be sure you aren’t putting excessive weight (anything over 5 pounds) on the pony’s back. We don’t want them to have to carry the weight of the person and vehicle as well as pull it. That’s the quickest way to souring a pony for driving. The second quickest way it so expect them to pull too much of an unbalanced load for too long.

Here is a lovely photo of a team driving with a breast collar and straight/horizontal line of draft.

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Here is Sky in the Hyperbike:

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I wasn’t entirely sure that the line of draft was appropriate for the breast collar but sent a photo out to some people for their opinion and the consensus was the breast collar was fine. One of the reasons for that is the weight of the Hyperbike and how easy it is to pull. The bike only weighs 30 pounds (compared to my easy entry which weighs 110 pounds!) and the large wheels make it very very easy to pull. Once it starts rolling it mostly just rolls on it’s own!

I haven’t hitched Mikey to the bike yet, but will soon! The nice thing about the bike is that the wheels are adjustable. So I can raise them (which actually means I will lower the wheels, but that will raise the seat and single tree) if I need to when hitching to Mikey which will help with the line of draft. I can’t wait to see what that looks like. I also prefer driving with the Hyperbike anyway.

When do you use a Collar and Hames?

When the line of draft is a low one you use a collar and hames.

What is a low line of draft?

My rule of thumb, which is mine and mine alone, is when the single tree is located at the horse’s hock height or below it, then it’s a low line of draft. Of course line of draft is also dictated by balance of draft… which I’ll touch on below!

When Sky is hitched to my sled the line of draft is low… below her hocks.

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A couple of years ago I made a video that shows Sky pulling the sled filled with tires without snow using both the Deluxe breast collar and a collar and hames.

A few things to note in this video. When pulling with the breast collar, Sky’s head is UP, she is pulling with the muscles along her topline more so than her tummy muscles. The breast collar is not putting pressure in the correct spot on her shoulder, but is instead blocking it. The neck strap is pressing down onto the top of her neck while the V part of the collar is folding up and pressing into her windpipe. AND the back of the collar, where the traces attach, is pressing into the back of her shoulder. THIS is why the breast collar does that. When you have a more horizontal line of draft with this style of collar you will NEVER have the back of the breast collar pressing into the shoulder. Here is a video where Andy Marcoux is talking about placement of the buckle.

BUT actually, you will see that the line of draft is a low one in the video. THIS is why the back of that collar is pressing into the back of her shoulder, effectively blocking forward movement and the horse’s shoulder. This is also why you will often see professional drivers use a collar and hames for the dressage part of the Combined driving tests. Because when hitched to a low line of draft the collar and hames will OPEN that shoulder and allow freer movement and a prettier top line. My video above shows that pretty clearly.

This photo shows a horse working hard to pull a marathon style vehicle with two people in it through deep dirt. The horse’s head is UP and you can see the front of the collar lifting up and pressing on the windpipe, actually folding up from the bottom. This is a squeezing type pressure since the bottom of the collar lifts up while there can be quite a bit of weight on the neck strap. The line of draft is in green.

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The other thing that is going on in this photo is related to the hip straps. When you run the hold back straps straight down to the shafts as these are (line in blue) you can create quite a lot of pressure on the TOP of the horse’s hip. So when it stops that heavy load (if the driver doesn’t help with the brake) much of the vehicle + the people weight will end up on those hip straps. This will also cause quite a bit of rubbing. Here is the same photo without the lines so you can see!

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You would want to run those hold back straps straight from the breeching to the shafts like this:

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Here is a photo showing a low line of draft with a collar and hames.

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This photo shows a much happier, freer moving horse.

What is Balance of Draft?

This was a little harder for me to grasp when I started studying breast collars versus collar and hames and line of draft. But as I started experimenting  with Sky and line of draft I could clearly see what was happening when things weren’t balanced.

I have been reading and studying a book called “Understanding Harness; Balanced Draft-Breast Collars-Neck Collars” by Barb Lee.” It is a fascinating book absolutely stuffed with valuable information. If you haven’t already bought it I HIGHLY recommend it. She can explain these things so much better than I can. I do have her permission to refer to it however!

In the book she shows where the Center of Draft is on a horse. It looks like this:

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Where the lines intersect is where your shaft loops and the traces should intersect when the horse is hitched and in draft. If the line is too high then the horse will have a hard time pulling the load because the weight of the load will end up too low on the collar, inhibiting the free movement of the shoulder. This would happen if you used a collar and hames with a straight line of draft. When hitched you want there to be nearly a 90* angle where the collar and traces come together:

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When there is a nearly 90* angle then you have a better chance of your balance of draft being correct:

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You can also achieve center of draft when using a breast collar and a horizontal line of draft:

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Barb’s book sums this up perfectly when it says,

“When we can stand to the side and see that with traces taut between collar and carriage, they pass directly over this intersection, we will know we have achieved Balanced Draft.”

“We have done as well as we can to put him in harmony with his equipment so that it will interfere with his confidence and free forward gaits as little as possible.”

Why is low line of draft better?

I’m going to finish up with a little bit about the vehicles. When the single tree is attached lower on the vehicle this is very helpful when driving over rough ground. This is because when the horse is in draft, pushing into the collar and hames, it is also giving a bit of lift to the front of the vehicle making it smoother when traveling over rough ground. This is also why the collar and hames makes this easier for your horse. There is just going to be a certain amount of lift and they have to carry that load. The stiffness of the collar and hames allows this to be done in a comfortable way for the horse.

When your single tree is attached higher to the front of the vehicle it will have less lift when traveling over rough ground. That bouncing and banging of the cart will travel up the traces and be on the neck strap a bit. If your balance of draft is correct then the amount of banging around is lessened on the neck strap. Also if you have things hitched correctly, such as the overgirth holding the shafts DOWN then the side-to-side motion that can occur when traveling over rough ground is lessened as well. I have found Shaft Guards to be VERY helpful with this. They take up a bit of room between the horse’s sides and the shafts and lessen the amount of motion their shoulders end up taking.

Basically there is a lot to think about when driving your horse. The line of draft is so so important when considering what type of vehicle to purchase for your horse, pony or mini. They type of driving you want to do, your weight + your vehicles weight should always be taken into account. There seems to be a vehicle for every kind of driving out there so you will have your pick!

Besides ensuring your horse is comfortable when driving, it should be top priority to do everything we can to help them enjoy it as much as we do.

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Of course it is up to you to decide what is best for your own horse. This blog post is my opinion (and that of quite a few others!) but ultimately you are in charge of your own horse!

 

For further reading:

A Teamster’s View More and Different by Steve Bowers

Driving Horse: How to Harness, Align and Hitch your Horse for Work or Play by Steve Bowers & Marlen Steward

Bits and Bridles, Draught and Harness by Frances Dwyer

Article: The Angle and Length of the Trace- Excerpted from the above book by Driving Digest Magazine, Jan/Feb 1983

I brought Mikey home at the end of June. It took just over a month to get him healthy enough to start re-training him.

At the beginning of August, or so, I started taking him for walks, then moved onto ground driving him; first with just the halter and then with the bridle as shown in this video:

 

Next I started putting the harness on him, (that’s a process in itself because I don’t want my horses fidgeting when being harnessed. I like them to be cooperative to the process, including accepting the bit, and not being stressed when having the crupper put on, etc.) then ground driving with the harness and FINALLY hitching to the travois. He has been pulling the travois for a few weeks now.

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The last two times he had a little temper tantrum about half way through so today’s drive was a test. I have been feeling that he is getting bored and ready for the next step, which is the cart, and today just solidified that. He did an awesome job, always listening to me and steady as a rock, even when he got nervous. So the next time we go out he will be hitched to the cart!

This little video shows him being harnessed, to show how quiet I like my ponies to be when being harnessed. He has been quite flinchy when being touched or brushed due to having ulcers when he came. I made this video to show how fine he is with being harnessed. He doesn’t mind at all!

 

 

 

We did a few videos today. I like my horses to be SOLID in the travois before I ever bring the cart out. Mikey is just that.

 

 

So the next step is hitching to the cart. Stay tuned!

 

I hauled Sky down to the river, about 30 minutes from our place, for a lovely morning drive today. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we had a great time! We’ve never driven there before so this was a first for us.

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We saw fisher people on the river:

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We enjoyed just looking at the river:

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It’s 2 miles to the trail head from where I parked the Tahoe and trailer. The trail is for walking only, no bikes, so we didn’t drive the Hyperbike down it. We walked a little ways down it though!

We stopped at the trail head and had a snack:

 

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And cooled off in the river!

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Sky had her Equine Jogging boots on and they were awesome in the water! The velcro worked even when it got dirty and they emptied of water as soon as she got out of the river. I LOVE them!!!

We walked down the trail a little ways:

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And then headed back to the trailer. Along the way back we saw a rattle snake in the road. It was stretched out but as we came towards it it coiled and went into striking position. I had two cameras on me but didn’t think to turn one on because all I could think was, they can jump as far as they are long… and it was a big rattle snake!! So no footage of THAT!

THEN we saw a black bear! To see that (what you can of it anyway) you’ll have to watch this video:

 

Sky is wearing her Comfy Fit Harness, her Driving/Grooming Collar and I had the 10′ long orange yacht rope. I love it for hiking because it’s so easy to see and lightweight. She has her Equine Jogging boots on and she wears the Active model. And of course we were driving the Hyperbike!!

I took my bike and Sky to my friends house for a play day and when I posted about it I had lots of people asking how I knew Sky loved the bike. And did I like it? So I wrote this on Facebook and thought I should share it here too!

Sky has been becoming more and more reluctant to be hitched to the cart. She will come meet me when I have the halter, she puts her nose in eagerly and will stand tied perfectly. When I harness her she is fine and engaged, but then when I would start to take her to the easy entry cart she would get sullen, argumentative and reluctant. I would barely be able to get her to stand in a way that I could get the cart on her. She would stand for the hitching, once I had the shafts in the shaft loops, but getting that far was a bit of a wrestling match.

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Then once she was hitched she would stand quietly until I asked her to move and then she was all fidgety and fast. She wouldn’t walk, but would trot and canter everywhere the entire time she was hitched. She was heavy on the bit and would shake and toss her head. I can’t really remember a drive were we weren’t trotting and cantering the entire time. A nice quiet country drive just wasn’t in the cards for us. I concluded that she no longer liked driving.

Then the Hyperbike came. The first couple of drives with it were interesting because the shafts weren’t quite right and the balance wasn’t good. Sky didn’t like the shaft ends bouncing up and down in the shaft loops and I didn’t like having to sit forward in the seat. But she was improving on each drive. So much so that I was able to take the baby that I babysit on a drive! I never thought I would be able to do that with Sky! I figured I would have to wait for Mikey or Zorro to safely take the baby.

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Then I got my C shafts and everything just clicked perfectly into place. The balance is perfect. The ride is perfect. Sky is perfect. I mean she will WALK for an ENTIRE drive! We drove over 3 miles the other day here at home and she walked the entire time except for when I asked her to trot. I was AMAZED!!

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When we went to Molly’s yesterday to drive, Sky was trotting and walking and trotting and walking but doing so with her ears up and a positive outlook on the entire thing. Even Molly noticed. Sky didn’t have the anxiety that she has had for nearly every drive this year. It is noticeable.

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So that is why I think Sky likes the Hyperbike the most. My guess is that it is because it’s so lightweight and well balanced. I have worked hard to get my easy entry well balanced but I am always worried that it is putting a bit too much weight on her back. The suspension kit I got from Patty’s Pony Place was a total game changer and is probably the ONLY reason Sky could deal with the easy entry at all. I have a feeling that Mikey will do very well with the easy entry. It won’t be too heavy for him and will fit him much better. Though I won’t be surprised if he too prefers the Hyperbike.

The easy entry cart weighs about 120 pounds all by itself. I am not a lightweight so when you add myself and the cart up it’s a heavy load. I think it just caused all kinds of anxiety in Sky. It has got me wondering if the minis that go go go go go like little energizer bunnies are actually kind of stressed out about something. The weight of the vehicle, is the balance right? Is the harness fitting well and actually HELPING them with the load? So many things to consider when we are driving these little horses. They have SO MUCH HEART and will go and go no matter what. So it’s really up to us to be certain we are helping them all we can. I am just trying to be mindful and pay attention to what my horse is telling me. (I want to add that I’ve seen many videos of a cart that is not well balanced and is putting too much weight on the mini’s back. In those videos the minis are often reluctant to trot at all because they are so weighed down on their backs while at the same time trying to pull all the weight behind them. This is a balancing act. And listening to ones horse is an individual thing. Some horses will work hard no matter what and never complain. But if we learn to really watch them and notice any rubs or mussed hair when we are done we can pinpoint any issues they may be having.)

A question I get a lot is is the Hyperbike comfortable for ME? And the answer is a resounding YES! The seat is so comfy, I am very comfortable with my feet up. I leave my stirrups a bit long for my knee that hurts. My back never gets sore and I’m so relaxed in the Hyperbike. When the going is rough and bouncy I am totally comfortable and NEVER feel like I will fall out of the bike. So I am happier in the Hyperbike and Sky is happier in the Hyperbike.

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I still like my easy entry cart and it is going to be great for training both Mikey and Zorro to drive. It’s great for parades and such. But for the long drives, the hard drives, the trail driving and when I want to go somewhere else and drive, the Hyperbike will be my go to vehicle.

This is my personal opinion. I am not trying to make anyone else wrong. Whatever vehicle you have is fine I’m sure. You decide what is best for your horse. I am only sharing what I have noticed with mine. So again this is my personal opinion and I’m not trying to make anyone feel wrong. I am also not saying the Hyperbike is the ONLY vehicle for minis. Please, use your own mind to decide what would be best for you and your mini.