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 ­čśë

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┬á 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 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.

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!

 

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 –┬á 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 ­čÖé