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 feel like I should repost this as a blog post. It can be found at the bottom of each post, but some may not be seeing it.

The thoughts and ideas shared on this blog are mine and mine only. It is opinion-based and these opinions do not reflect the ideas, ideologies, or points of view of any organization I link to here. Some of the links that I share I am an affiliate with, which means I make a small amount of money if you purchase after clicking on my shared link. The information on my blog is authentic to the best of my knowledge, and as such, is prone to errors and absence of some key information. In all cases I do my best to research thoroughly before I post but I may miss things sometimes. My blog is generated for entertainment and informative purposes, but not to be perceived as professional advice in regards to health or finances, or any other field. I will edit and add that my advice should not be perceived as professional advice when it comes to horse training or feeding or hoof trimming. I share what is working (and what is not working) for my horses in my situation here in Montana. Where you are things may be different.

When I share a blog I am sharing my OPINION. And when I share my opinion I am never trying to say anyone else is wrong if they choose not to do what I share. There are many different ways to achieve the same end result. I am only responsible for MY end result. If I find ways to get there than may make it easier for you or your horse then I will feel compelled to share that here.

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If you decided to get a different harness or use different harness pieces that is up to you. I will not judge you or try to make you feel bad about that. If you ever feel that I have done that, know that I would never do that on purpose and in fact it wasn’t even a thought in my head when I was sharing or talking with you. I share what I have learned over the years and that is all! In fact I go out and about in my community and help make the harnesses they have work for their situation. Now if things are down right dangerous then I will say so. We will often only have to swap out a part or two to make things work just fine for what they are doing!

IMG_0182I read all the time. I watch videos and take online courses when I can afford them. I have NEVER taken a driving lesson or even been able to attend a driving clinic, unless I was teaching it… So take what I have to share with a grain of salt! (I have worked with two professional miniature horse handlers, but let me tell you that show driving in the ring is VERY different than any other type of driving.) I am pretty much self taught through trial and error. My horses and ponies have been my greatest teachers.

Now that I have a job I am hoping that I will be able to head out and take some lessons. I have two very good instructors fairly close to me, in the same state at least, and I hope to be able to reach out and take some lessons. I would like to take Mikey and Zorro so that will have to happen next year or the year after. But it’s on my to-do list for sure! One is the Fraser School of Driving and the other is Doc Hammill.

My husband and kids have absolutely nothing to do with my horses. They don’t like to help or be involved in any way. The money I spend on my horses is considered lost money. I often have to fight tooth and nail to have some of the opportunities that I have had. When I leave and have to be gone for any length of time I either have to set up my horses for self care or ask my rancher neighbor to come over and take care of them. My family just isn’t interested! The horses have caused some pretty major husband and wife fights over the years. In fact I just got in trouble a few days ago and am still not thrilled with my husband today.

So this is a little background… please don’t take this as bragging. I just wanted to clear a few things up. And still know, I am not judging anyone or trying to make anyone feel wrong.

One of my favorite sayings is

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~Maya Angelou

As I learn to do better I share what I’ve learned. That’s just the way I’m programmed. If it helps you, then great! If it doesn’t help you, then great!

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Today I finally had time to sit down and do a boot comparison! I now have 5 different pairs of miniature horse boots with one more pair on the way for Mikey.

I made a very long video that I will share below, but I’ll go ahead and type up my findings here as well.

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I’ll start with the Easyboot Mini because I have the most experience with that boot! Together, Sky, Bonnie and I have put quite a few miles on several pairs of Easyboot minis. I’ve had to purchase 4 pairs over the last two years. The bottoms don’t wear out but the tops do. The velcro gives out and sometimes rips off completely. One boot had the top part ripped off of the bottom half. That proved impossible for me to fix. I still use those boots for horses that are tender footed on the track. I just tape them shut with duct tape or athletic tape. LOTS of tape!

The Easyboot Mini’s worked very well for all of our hiking, ground driving and light driving. I found that the sole of the boots is a bit thin, so I did put pretty thick pads in them for driving. The pads helped with protection and cushioning.

When I started putting on more miles, crossing water and getting the boots really dirty they just didn’t hold up at all. Once the velcro gets wet/dirty it stops sticking, then the boots fly off. That is so annoying!

Also they don’t have any way to drain the water out when you do lots of water crossings. This caused the boots to rub both of the ponies that were wearing them. And we wrapped their hooves in vet wrap to help the boots stick better and help alleviate the rubbing. (Often the smaller bits of gravel and sand work their way into the top of the boot and rub Sky around her coronet band so I started wrapping her hooves with the vet wrap and that really helped!) Because the water can’t drain out they slosh along as they move down the road. This was a problem on our drive because we were with a large group and couldn’t stop and empty the boots for a few miles. That was frustrating and hard on the ponies.

That long drive made me come home and start looking for a better boot for long distance. That search brought me to the Equine Jogging Shoes. I’ve looked at these several times over the years, but they are VERY pricey so I held off. In the last month I’ve bought 3 pairs! I’m pretty excited about these boots.

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This pair of boots is the Active model. They are the newest model and there are just a few minis using them right now! I’m so excited to give them a try. I really like how they close, the amount of velcro and that little tab along the side of the boots. They act as a back-up to the velcro! Just what I needed on that long drive. They have very aggressive tread and a nice break over in the toe. That break over is SO important in a driving boot! This could be the difference between strained tendons and sore shoulders. Break over is IMPORTANT.

There is quite a bit of material in the sole of these boots, more than in the Easyboot Minis, providing more protection to the horse’s sole. I have small dampening pads in these boots to help them fit Sky a bit better, but don’t need them for cushioning!

I really like the top of these boots and how they completely wrap around the top of the horse’s hoof. It will be very hard for little gravel bits to get in there.

I am so amazed at how light these boots are! They are about the same as the Easyboot Minis, with more great stuff going on!

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I bought Zorro the 24/7 glue on boots because he is having a hard time growing heel. He is such a mover and a shaker that he just needs a bit of protection while his hooves try to grow. Time will tell how well they hold up!

I love the aggressive sole of this shoe and the leather uppers. They are so lightweight!!

Gluing them on was a bit stressful… I’m going to write a blog about doing that next!

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The next boot will be the SoftRide Boots. These boots were completely priceless with Bonnie’s founder and laminitis. There were many months that Bonnie would not have been able to walk without them. These boots have the laminitis gel pad in them. That pad is built up more in the heel and less in the toe to provide some relief for the laminitic horse.

These boots are strictly therapy boots. They are not for hiking, going for walks or driving. They are very HEAVY. I’ll show that below! There isn’t a break over in the front of the boot at all which is fine for limping around the dry lot or trailering, but not for walking long distances, hiking or driving. I can’t stress this enough… these are therapy boots.

The tops of these boots are soft and never caused any rubbing with Bonnie and she would wear them for many days 24/7. The velcro is still going strong as well!

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The last boot I’ll talk about here is the CLB by Cavallo. There is very little I have to say about this boot that is good.

The soles are made of plastic. There is no tread at all on them. They are so slippery. Every time Sky wore these and had to work in the grass she fell down. NOT a safe option for a driving horse. They are very slippery on the gravel and we drive on a lot of gravel roads. They are very slick on the pavement. Zorro wore them in the parade last month. He was a very good boy and it’s a good thing because they were very slippery. Sigh. Just not a good option!

The tops of these boots have rubbed every single mini I’ve had them on. (That’s only 4, but still!) Because the soles of the boots are so hard and plastic I always put a 6 mm pad in them. Otherwise the horses are still a bit ouchy. Oh! And we have worn holes in the soles of two pairs of these. The plastic is not holding up at all. When I contacted Cavallo about the holes they said no one else was having that problem and my horses must have hooves that don’t work in these boots. Hmmmm. I wasn’t sure what to say about that! We put about 10 miles on the boots when they developed the holes.

These are the lightest of the boots, probably because of the plastic soles. They do have water holes for drainage, but because they are so slippery I would never use them in water. They have several different velcros closing them and I like that as I think they would stay shut even when wet and dirty. I hope they take a look at these boots and take miniature horses a little bit more seriously. Minis are major athletes and the things we ask them to do are quite challenging. They need a good boot that can hold up to that!

Here is a collage of the boots and how much they each weigh. This was fun to do! I have been so curious as to how much the SoftRide boots weigh. And I was wondering if there was a big difference between the Equine Jogging Shoes and the EasyBoot Minis. There isn’t too much of a difference! The lightest are the CLB boots, but they sacrifice traction for weight. I would rather have a bit heavier boot and lots of traction!

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Far left: EasyBoot Minis, second from left: Equine Jogging Shoes, second right: SoftRide Boots and far right: CLB by Cavallo

As an aside these are the boots I’m getting Mikey:

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The Equine Jogging Shoe – Ultimate Model. They were on sale because they are phasing them out so I went with these ones. I had to save a little money after buying the other two boots for Sky and Zorro! I will let you know more about these boots once they arrive.

Here is the video I made. Warning… it’s a long one!

 

Last weekend Sky and I participated in a group drive with a local driving club. It was her first time driving in a group in about 8 years or so. Mine too actually!

The club, Ten Mile Drivers, have Percherons, Percheron Crosses, Fjords, Haflingers, a black and white team, mules and quite a few people that ride along on their horses. It was the prefect opportunity to get Sky back out there! There was a lot to see and lots of commotion. The big horses all took the minis in stride. Sky was a bit of a basket case for the first two miles. She did NOT like having a big horse behind her and in front of her. Not much choice there! LOL The minis were third in line. We were behind the black and white team who were pulling a nice four seater carriage. I stuck Sky’s nose in the back of that carriage and let it help me keep her in check. She was a bit like driving a freight train in miniature.

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Photo by Molly!

The loop was going to be about 11.7 miles but I hadn’t trained Sky for a drive of that length, so I asked if it was alright if we turned around earlier to keep the drive within her fitness level. They said that was fine! My friend, Molly and her mini Goldie joined us as well and decided to turn around with Sky and I. Goldie is a 5 year old mini who is in really good shape, but she hadn’t driven over 11 miles yet this year either! We wanted our minis to have a good experience and over doing it wouldn’t result in them being very happy.

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Photo by Molly! The girls after our 8 mile drive.
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Sky after driving 8 miles!

Now how did I go about preparing Sky for this drive? I drove her as many times a week as I could fit into my schedule and as the weather would allow. We drove at night a few times. Then I got a flat tire on my cart, so I had to go back to ground driving her. I brought Zorro along which pushed Sky to go faster. We worked out way up to 4 mile ground drives and when I got my tire fixed we drove 4 miles as often as we could leading up to the big weekend.

  1. To start I drove Sky in my yard doing lots of circles and figure of eights. This helped to calm her down and prepare her for longer drives.
  2. We moved out into our pasture and did some driving on the large track I made last year.
  3. When she was calm enough we moved out to the road and went up and down the road enough times that we were driving a mile or a mile and a half. I have an app on my phone called MapMyWalk that I use when I drive her.
  4. Then I simply worked up our road drives to 2 and then 3 miles.
  5. When we were ground driving I pushed up to 4 miles a few times a week and because Zorro was with us Sky would trot most of the time. This worked not only her little butt but mine as well!
  6. Then I was able to have her pull the cart 4 miles and up the steep hill that is part of my walk.

This all took about a month and a half. Once I got serious and stopped making excuses Sky started to slim down and build stamina!

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Photo by Molly!

Molly and I stayed in touch during the entire “training” period. She was able to get in more drives that I did and her mare showed that on the day of the drive. Sky was a sweaty mess (some of that emotional sweat!) and Goldie handled the entire 8 mile drive like a rock star. She didn’t even get sweaty! I was so proud of our mighty little minis. They made a great impression on the group and showed that minis are more than just little pets. They can actually DO something!

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Photo by Molly! Goldie is all ready to go…

 

Sky has been showing me that she was unhappy with her bit. She was chewing it excessively, gaping her mouth, putting her tongue OVER the bit and pushing into it most of the time. So I thought maybe she would like some tongue relief. I did some research and came up with the Arch Mouth Butterfly Bit. It came a yesterday and today I had a chance to try it out!

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It’s a very pretty bit. I got the German Silver mouth piece and she seemed to like it just fine. When I first offered it to her she grabbed it right up. Then I had to adjust the bridle a bit because her mane is so big and floofy right now, so I had her drop the bit. When I offered it to her again she reached right out and grabbed it. I think she thought it was an interesting taste! The curb chain is too big, but I don’t think I’ll need it, so I just took it off.

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I took her around and ground drove her a bit. She isn’t a horse that likes change so I wanted to check it out without the cart attached for the first time. She was super responsive and soft in it. She mouthed it lightly but mostly had a nice quiet mouth. When she got anxious she did put her tongue over it, but only one time and immediately put her tongue back under it. I think that is because the bit itself doesn’t press on her tongue at all and she found comfort in that!

 

I plan on keeping Sky home for a few months this spring, meaning that I’m not going to drive her out on the road, but am going to be practicing some exercises I’ve learned from Andy Marcoux over at Coachman’s Delight. I’m thinking this will help her start to be less anxious when driving. I’m also going to be building lots of confidence building obstacles to practice with. Anything to help her feel more calm and connected when driving. Plus all this will help prepare Zorro too!

Miniature horses have some of the biggest hearts of the equine world… especially pound for pound. They will throw their entire body, heart and soul into working for someone they love and have a connection with – contrary to popular belief that all ponies and minis are a$$holes! (Believe me I’ve heard that over and over in all the years I’ve been driving ponies and minis!!)

With that in mind what can we do to help make their job easier and more enjoyable? There are many little things that add up to a happy horse and happy driver!

First of all – posture. Posture is very important when riding, though I feel it’s often overlooked when driving. After all, we are sitting in a cart not on the horse – so how could our body position effect the horse? The answer is A LOT! I see so many people driving their horses like this:

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Arms straight out, back rounded, leaning forward in the cart. Surprisingly I see many people driving like this in the show ring! The posture in the above photo isn’t even as bad as I’ve seen. Typically when someone is driving like this they are putting pressure on the saddle of the harness which is putting weight and pressure directly on the horse. If you find yourself driving like this… lengthen your reins!! Typically people are doing this when they feel a bit out of control and are shortening their reins too much. A rule of thumb –  don’t put pressure on BOTH reins at the same time as that just causes the horse to push into the pressure more. Hold lightly with one rein and put a little bit of pressure on the other. Not turning pressure but “talking” pressure.

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In this photo you can see that the cart is tipping slightly forward, messing with the carefully managed balance of the cart.

Just as when riding, you want a bend in your elbow when holding the reins. There should not a straight line from the horse’s mouth through to your shoulder, but a straight line from the horse’s mouth to your elbow…

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This is Sky’s power extended trot. She is such an amazing mare! This trot is the most awesome thing to sit behind! Notice how the cart is now balanced correctly. The shafts are literally floating the shaft loops. Here’s a video of that as well:

 

 

 

Something that I notice is often missing is the single tree. This is actually a very important thing for every single cart to have. If your cart doesn’t have one, buy one and put it on! The single tree helps the horse pull the weight of your vehicle by allowing the swinging motion of the horses shoulders. If you don’t have a single tree your horse will become sore in both the shoulders and the neck. Also please, please do not wrap your traces around your shafts before hooking them to the single tree. If your traces are so long then get shorter ones.

Here is a video of the single tree in action:

 

 

 

How you sit in the cart will directly effect how well your horse can do it’s job – give you an enjoyable ride. You are not sitting in a recliner so don’t kick back and be lazy. If you are driving an easy entry cart, have one foot forward to prevent you from bouncing forward onto your mini if you hit a big bump or your mini stops suddenly or spooks.

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Contrary to popular belief there is a weight limit per mini. As a rule of thumb I do not expect my mini to pull more than her own weight for long periods of time. If that means I have to lose some weight then so be it! I have lost over 30 pounds since February in order to make Sky’s load more equal to her weight, including the cart. For shorter periods of time and with a properly fitting harness and well balanced cart a mini horse can pull 1 1/2 times their own weight. With a properly fitting harness and a well built four wheeled vehicle a mini can pull twice their body weight on flat, smooth ground for short periods of time. Typically my mini pulled this much weight when we were in parades with my wooden buggy, pulling me and my two little boys plus, our combined weight plus the wagon weight. You will hear many different opinions about how much a mini can pull, most of them are wrong. To make a small, fine boned mini pull more than their own weight is unfair and will ensure your mini does not have a good time when driving.

I always pay attention to how my mini feels about me catching her (or him!). If they meet me when I’m carrying the halter or even meet me at the gate then I know I’m doing a good job of keeping them comfortable and they are having a good time. This does not mean you can’t make your mini work! Sky pulls me up some pretty steep inclines, we bounce across fields and through ditches, she walks, trots and canters in cart and we explore all over our area. She comes home sweating but she is always happy to have me halter her and most of the time her ears are forward and happy when we are out and about! If she walks away from me when I go out to catch her I know that the last drive was a bit much. So I’ll make sure to take it a little easier on her this time and see if that changes how she feels about being caught. It always does!

Now onto the harness! Please, please make sure your harness fits your horse well. A too small or a too large harness will make their job more difficult and less comfortable. A harness that is not adjusted well will make their job more difficult and uncomfortable. Your harness should be adjusted the same on both sides. If your girth is on the second hole on the right side, then it needs to be on the second hole on the left side.

**The girth on a harness NEVER needs to be tight. Don’t tighten it down like you would if you were riding. It’s just not necessary.

Make sure your saddle and back strap are in the middle of your horses back…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sky was resting a foot in this photo, but you can see how everything is properly centered. And note that her crupper is on the first hole on the left and the right! I have seen horses get some pretty bad sores from a crupper that isn’t balanced on both sides. That leads me to having the back strap adjusted correctly. It should NOT be loose. The crupper should have just enough space for one finger to slide under it when your finger is flat to their body. This is mostly adjusted by the back strap.

Next is the breeching. This must be about half way down the horse’s butt. I often see it far too low which could result in sweeping the horse’s legs right out from under it as you go down a hill. I’ve actually witnessed this happen to someone else’s horse and it wasn’t pretty! The breeching should be adjusted in such a way that when it engages on a hill it doesn’t tighten with a slap! My rule of thumb is I should be able to just fit three fingers between my horse’s butt and the inside of the breeching. This allows the breeching to engage without “grabbing” my horse…

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My breeching loop on my cart is too far back. I have adjusted my wrapping to make up for this but I suggest having a new loop welded onto your shafts a bit further forward. Screwing something to your shafts isn’t a good idea because drilling holes in the shafts will create a weak spot.

As for the bridle I don’t like to have that too tight. The old rule of thumb was to have 3 wrinkles at the corners of the horse’s mouth. I had an old cowboy friend have me pull my lips tight and see how that felt after a few seconds. It did not feel good! He always let his horse hold the bit. You have to adjust it a little bit so it doesn’t drop down and hit the horse’s teeth, but I like just one wrinkle, leaving some room for them to hold the bit without it being jammed into their mouth…

 

 

 

 

 

 

This bit is from Chimacum tack. It’s the 4″ bit. She had a smaller 3 1/2″ bit earlier in the year and it fit exactly to the corners of her mouth. But when I switched her to this bit she was much happier, less chewing of the bit and less dramatic turning. I like to have a little space on each side of the bit once it’s in the horse’s mouth. There is no need to have everything jammed up as tight as it can be, nor hanging down flapping around as loose as it can be. There is a happy medium!

The horse’s eye should be in the center of the blinders. And a bridle that doesn’t have the wire holding the blinders is not worth having! Without that wire the blinders will often sit right on the horse’s eyes. The blinders should not touch the horse’s eyelashes!

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If there is rubbing from the buckles on the girth and the shaft loop straps you can get a girth cover to help pad that area. You can also cut the foot off a pair of socks and use the tube part to pad the girth! I’ve done that so many times! This is a big black fleece I found on Amazon. Another thing I discovered is if you get a longer girth, so the buckles come up a bit higher, you will not get ANY pinching or rubbing in the girth area.

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I need to make a few adjustments to it. It’s a bit too wide so I’ll cut it and resew it to a better width.

There are many ways you can make your horse’s job easier when pulling a vehicle. This information plus much more can be found in my book, Step-By-Step Guide to Training a Miniature Horse to Drive.

Now it’s time to get out there and enjoy your horse! I wish you many happy trails 🙂