The driving horse - By Christian de Langlade
(translation Richard James)
All horses drive but more
Almost all horse can be schooled to go in harness, but they vary in character and conformation and only good training will produce the good driving horse.
At the end of the Second World War, France was not interested for the most part in the breeding of harness horses only top breeds of race horses and show jumpers. Our Dutch, German and Central Europeans neighbours have however kept their harness horse breeds and have developed the breeding of horses suitable for driving. In the meantime the French heavy horses, light draft and half bloods are still in good heart but because of their cross breeding, for driving it is more difficult to put together a pair or team than with the KWPN from Holland, the Oldenburg, the Holstein, the Hanoverian, the Hessen and the Kladrube etc. Those who favour one breed profit by matching similar character, confirmation and going.
Even then that said one can have trouble from horses said to be suitable to drive and still have excellent results from those appear unsuitable.
The first thing is to buy the horse and its success still needs a little luck that it will come right. .
You come to look at a horse, you like it's face, he has an intelligent eye, his conformation seems to be right, it seems he will have power in his hind quarters, has a good front, is nicely coupled so should make a good driving horse, only training will tell.
Some suggestions for schooling to harness
You have had the good sense to buy a 4 or 5 years old horse which has not the chance to get learn bad habits. He is sensible and has a good attitude.
The first thing to do is to see if you have empathy with him. If you have then you have crossed the first hurdle.
For him the first lesson is to put him on long reins and then familiarise him wearing harness, blinkers and the traces and the collar. Then you can put him into a vehicle alongside a school master and go out for a couple of kms at a walk, following on by going a bit further and further and then at a gentle trot. Not forgetting to stop from time to time and give him a carrot to build his confidence in you and you with him.
He will do all you ask but never take things for granted.
The drawing of a heavy load, (a big tyres heavy sledge etc.) to find the limit of his power is not necessary at all.
You can measure his aptitude in this direction on your regular outings on slopes and heavy soil. Abusing his courage at his young age by asking him to pull heavy items will discourage him in the long term.
Once he is happy in his work and you may then have plans of taking part in a competition, a Concours de Tradition perhaps and he will take it in his stride!
What sort of training is required to prepare him for this outing?
The simpler is the best. A familiar route incorporating 15 mins of walking, 30mins of working trot, and 20 mins walking again all on macadam will build up the back and the tendons. Follow this with an outing a bit more testing with gentle hills and all types of going. If you drive 30kms or more, you are making an error at this stage, build up over two months and our horse will be on in good form.
If you get the idea of doing a cones course in the competitions, during your daily run cut your trotting time by 10 mins and replace by 15mins of figures of eight to develop your horse’s suppleness and the right bend. The increased pressure on your horse means the return to be made at a walk. If you do this two or three times a week steadily and calmly after about a month vary it by using cones.
To do this, you need to set up cone gates in the form of zig zags and circles, after doing this two or three times per week in the subsequent week you can make the variations part of your regular outings .Don’t be upset if you do an exercise which worries your horse. Don’t do more than usual before a competition rather to the contrary, every other day perhaps turning out to grass.
If you only have the chance to drive at weekends do 10kms on Saturday three quarters at a walk, and on Sunday 15 to 18 kms half trot half walk. During the week try and give him at least an hour of exercise every day (ridden perhaps) with and a couple of hours at grass. Work him as before if you have the time
The intelligence of a horse is built on habits and the routine of your work and will be easily assimilated. With a good routine you will not have a horse that stops suddenly, goes with its head against his chest, is nervous and wont stay in his place and is therefore dangerous.
Don’t forget that 99% of the time there is a reason if a horse does not go well. First the driver himself does anticipate a difficulty. Also there may be problems with the back or the teeth which are often the problem and can be treated, with a visit from the horse dentist from time to time such as unequal wear, wolf teeth which can also catch the bit and be the cause of problems. A horse with back troubles may have perhaps caught a vertebra in the stable, (rolling) which can correct itself rolling in the field! In the event of trouble call a specialist.
One last suggestion - use virtually everyday a straight bit, the most comfortable, the reins on middle bar and the curb chain not too tight.
For transport seek a vehicle with side opening as a rear opening can let exhaust fumes in or allow the kidneys to get cold.