Driving vs Riding Horses

I’m admittedly very ADD about my equestrian adventures. I’m game to try just about anything with a horse/pony/donkey and was lucky enough to have exposure to a huge variety of disciplines. I’d like to think it makes me more appreciative of all horse breeds and accepting of different equestrian perspectives. I’ve ridden eventers, hunters, light shod gaited horses, saddle seat, and a variety of western horses. Mounted archery and endurance are two things I would greatly like to try in the near future. Exposure to variety is both a blessing and a curse in the horse world. The more disciplines I dabble in, the harder it is for me to focus on any single one. The saying “jack of all trades, master of none” hits a little too close to home.

It was only a little over a year ago that I ventured into the world of driving. For the past thirty plus years I had always thought of driving as a dying novelty, something you did if you were Amish, had physical limitations that prevented you from riding, or if you were in the entertainment business (carriage rides, parades, etc). I’ve always appreciated the skill required to drive teams or multiples, but I never really saw driving as something I would enjoy. When Darling Husband brought home a miniature horse just weeks after we purchased our farm, all of that changed. I had no idea that in less than a year, I would love driving as much and occasionally more than riding.

My driving instructor…

Despite considerable knowledge and experience riding horses, the learning curve for self-taught driving was pretty steep. Harnesses are confusing, and since driving is a niche interest in an already small sporting community, resources were limited. Type “horse driving” or “carriage driving” into Amazon, and less than five actual how-to books pop up in the first five search pages. Of the books that do show up, most assume you already know how harness and hitching to the cart work. Being new to Texas, I wasn’t familiar with the area and horse community enough to find a coach to assist me. Some how I muddled through that first year, finally came across several great resources, and took this driving hobby to a level I never anticipated.

The first of four ponies trained in a year…

So why do I enjoy driving (and ponies) so much, that within a year I trained four ponies (three of my own and one for a friend) to drive, and have now decided that I need at least a team of four if not a six hitch? As 2019 is coming to a close, and I reflect on the year, I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot. I even tabled some of my riding goals this past year in order to reach driving ones.

Apple Jack my second driving pony…

My love for ponies is the easiest to explain. Ponies are small and everything is cuter in miniature. The smaller the equine, the larger proportionally their personality (even if it is demonic). Ponies don’t require as much space as a full size or draft horses, and they eat less. While I’d love to drive a six hitch of Percherons (the thought gives me chills), their feed bill alone is a major deterrent. Draft size harness is more expensive, and transporting a team of six plus wagon is a logistical challenge for a single person. Six ponies can easily be transported in my current stock trailer. With a little creative rigging on Darling Husband’s part, we could probably transport a carriage/wagon and six ponies with our current truck/trailer.

My love of driving is harder to describe, but I’ll try. Once your animals are trained, driving is less physically demanding than riding. During the training process, I racked up as many daily miles on foot as I did training for full marathons. On those days when life and Offspring have sucked the energy out of me, I can still hitch up a pony. Taking a drive is actually rejuvenating, working one of the riding horses not so much.

Miles and miles on foot before they are ready for a cart!

Tack is a huge difference between driving and riding horses. I never expected a miniature horse to cost me more in tack than a full size horse, but driving equipment is not cheap. I bargain shopped for my initial equipment since I didn’t expect driving ponies to be more than a passing phase. Even so, outfitting one miniature horse with a basic easy entry cart cost as much as the tack for a full size riding horse. As I got deeper into driving, my harness/cart set-up ended up costing more than all of my English and Western tack combined for a single hitch. The price tag will only go up as I begin to train a team, a second team, and hopefully a third for a full six hitch.

The most expensive set-up I’ve purchased to date.

There is something about a horse or pony in harness, an elegance, that I just love especially when paired with nice cart or carriage. The fancier and more polished the harness the better. Driving a horse or pony offers a better view of the animal(s) than when riding. This view, full top line from rump through the ears, I think is the main reason I fell in love with driving. You can see the entire animal moving, not just the shoulders and neck. Most harness covers less surface area than a rider with tack, and more of the animal’s natural beauty is on display. Horses carry themselves differently in harness. They must re-learn their balance to carry a rider. A bad rider will affect that balance. This isn’t as much of an issue under harness. I’m not saying a driver doesn’t influence the animal’s movements, but the animal isn’t struggling under a moving weight on its back.

So handsome in harness!

I’m not a complete driving convert though. Riding offers thrills that have no equal when driving. Driving can’t compete with the exhilaration of clearing a fence. The feeling of being totally one with your horse as it moves can’t be duplicated sitting in a cart or wagon seat. Even though I have a trail/racing type cart, it’s still very limited when compared with the terrain a riding horse can easily travel. A cart isn’t very useful for working cattle either, no matter how good the turning radius.

You just can’t get this thrill in a cart…

As with every discipline I’ve dabbled in, I’m very glad I gave driving a go. It is a discipline that many continue even when they are physically unable to ride horses. Offspring hasn’t shown much interest in riding astride yet, but loves to hop in the cart for a drive. Since ponies tend to live longer than their larger cousins, there is a good chance my current herd will outlive me. Once everyone is trained, I’ll probably be long past equine retirement before my ponies are put out to pasture.

2 Comments

  1. You forgot to say that if you are driving a pony in a parade with ‘regular’ horse and rider teams….. that they can forget hoping to win the spectators’ attention because all eyes will be on the cart & pony team!!

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  2. Last Fall at our Va. State Fair, my daughters and I happened across the pony/driving area. My eldest immediately fell in love with it! Who doesn’t love mini’s?! (well, my husband’s wallet, but other than that…) On the to do list!

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