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 🙂

 

Today. Was. AWESOME!!! I had a busy day, running to town, then walking the dogs (we walked 4 miles!) then working on Bonnie, oiling and massaging her, trying to help her manage the pain, then harnessing Sky and driving down the road!!! She was so ready for this. She has been wanting to just put her head down and trot from some time now. Both of us were so happy!

SO happy!!

I didn’t want to ask her to do something that was unfair at this early stage, so I didn’t drive her for very long and we stayed on the flat part of the road, driving back and forth in front of my house, past our driveway. She would trot very fast whenever we were turned towards our driveway so we have some barn sour stuff to work through. But I was thinking about it and I don’t think my mom ever drove her alone! I think we always drove together. So Sky is a bit unconfident when it’s just her out there. She definitely likes it more when Bonnie is with us. Hopefully Bonnie will heal up soon so she can join us!

We are going to work up to driving down to my neighbors house this week and next week. We will have to drive past some horses that Sky has only seen once and then down their driveway with 4 big dogs, 3 miniature horses and about 30 chickens, ducks, and geese! So I want her a bit more confident before we tackle THAT!!

My set up! Those tires are wonderful. We have some rough country with sage bushes and big rocks so I’m thrilled with the spokes and the big, wide tires. Big tires make the cart easier to pull! I am really looking forward to getting the sliding back band with a tree from Comfy fit harness as well.

I love love my curved shafts! I love how they help balance the cart. I love that they make the shaft loops sit at a certain spot making it so they don’t slide forward and back and the best part is when Sky turns her head to visit with me her rein doesn’t get hung up on the end of the shaft!! Also when turning the shaft ends do not interfere with her shoulder at all. When we are a bit smoother I will video that for you! I have a few adjustments to make with the shaft loops but everything seemed to work together very well today.

Sky is such a pretty, smart girl. We were both pretty proud of ourselves today!

Normally I wouldn’t move through step one so quickly, except this is more of a re-start, as Sky has been driven so much as a younger horse. We drove her in shows, in parades and many many miles on our back country roads. So this is just a refresher to check her foundation for holes and give her a chance to settle back into the harness. She is doing so great! And I’m proud to say that my step-by-step process for training a horse to drive is solid!! We used the very same process that I wrote about in my book to start Sky and here it is nearly 7 years later and she is sliding back into harness without any trouble. I’m so proud of her!

Today was the second day in the travois. Yesterday we made circles around our 10 acre field and took a short jaunt down the road. Today we went over 2 miles on the road, walking and trotting and Bonnie came along! I was happy to see that Bonnie wasn’t phased by the travois at all. She looked at it and paid attention, but when it would bounce off her feet or get between her legs a bit she didn’t mind at all! Sky had a big spook and spun around, lifting the travois in the air and swinging it around both Bonnie and I and Bonnie stood like a statue. (Sky came right back down when I did a one rein stop and was willing to listen to me. So that was good!)

Here they are just walking down the road together!

 

Today was a great day for some spring cleaning around here. The morning was pretty nice, just a bit breezy and quite warm. It got windier and colder as the afternoon came along, but I was on a roll! Seven hours later I had accomplished, a clean shed…

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TWO relatively clean dry lots…

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Two ponies with freshly trimmed hooves, two ponies groomed within an inch of their lives… AND we went for our first walk of the season!

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The girls both did so well on this walk. We have quite a few new horses on both sides of the road that were running and bucking and whinnying as we went by and though Sky got all worked up, Bonnie stayed steady and unfazed. You would never guess that Sky is 14 years old this year!!! She is soooo ready for the harness and the travois. And I’m so ready to have her pull me in the cart sometimes. She ran my BUTT off today!

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Sky on the right wearing her teeny, tiny Cavallo boots. Bonnie on the left wearing her Easyboot mini hoof boots. Both seemed quite happy in their footwear!

Bonnie still has her good days and her bad days since she foundered in December. I am feeding her 3-4 flakes of hay in a slow feed net once a day, 1/2 cup of Crypto Aero Whole Food once a day with a scoop of Remission, the only thing missing is exercise! So we are back to our daily walks. Bonnie didn’t take a lame step today. She wasn’t spooky at all on the walk, she would trot up when I asked her to and follow politely when I needed her to. She was totally and completely responsive for the entire walk. I could not be happier with these two girls! The wind was howling and it was COLD and they just walked and trotted right out!

I have been touching Bonnie when I feed her every day. I run my hand along her side, or place my hand on her back as we walk to where she eats. Then I’ll run my hand along her side and around her hind end. These are things I could not do last year and if the rope touched her side or hind end she would race away and turn and face. Today the rope could be along side her and when Sky would run around and end up behind her with the rope tight around Bonnie’s butt she just stood like a statue! Ready to wear a breeching? I think so!

When we got home they followed me everywhere looking for more attention. They were so happy to be out and about in the neighborhood! I was happy to have them out.

Tomorrow I’ll trim up the boys and give them a good grooming. They are muddy messes as boys seem to be!

 

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I wrote a book! Actually I wrote the first edition a few years ago in as an answer to all the questions I was getting from my clients about how exactly do I hitch my horse to the cart?  What is this part of the harness and what does it do?  What steps do you use to start a horse in cart? I made up a little booklet to share some of my ideas and insights.

Now it has evolved into the second edition of which I am VERY PROUD. My Handsome Hubby helped me lay it all out and played a huge part in helping make it look professional.  He was also the reins-man in the book, driving our little mare, Ellie, for all the pictures.  He learned how to drive while helping me with this book!

bookcollageThis is a tried and true method that has worked over and over with many different miniature horses, ponies, horses and even a few donkeys.  (I have even used this step-by-step procedure to help a gal start her pet buffalo in cart!! It was a bit different because when he didn’t want to play anymore he would just leave. He didn’t care if we didn’t want to go that way. He went anyway…)

I hope it goes out into the world and helps people understand the process a bit better. I hope it brings a sense of accomplishment to others that want to step into a cart behind their miniature horse, pony, big horse or donkey.

I hope you like it. CLICK to purchase.