A year or so later, I taught Ganny to pull a cart. He was only four or five at that time, but he has always had a willing attitude and a great head on his shoulders. It took a little more work and a tad more skill than it had taken with Peach, but like her, he was already well started under saddle, and he was an accomplished high-country horse used to packing, riding, hobbling. He was naturally brave, trustworthy and "game."
On the final leg of the trip we carted around Squalicum Creek in Bellingham. He impressed a friend of mine who has driven for many more decades than I had. And he had a great time.
Think of it: when you're riding you have several things in your favor: you not only communicate to your horse with your voice and your reins, you can use your legs and body position. If all fails you can jump off your horse, and if you keep your wits about you, you can land on your feet holding the reins.
In driving, you have your voice and your reins. You do not have the ability to steer from any direction other than directly over the horse's back. If your horse is not well schooled before you set out and he has any difficulty understanding your instructions, he will very likely begin to melt down. (See images of Pippen above? Imagine that with the horse in harness.). Better yet, watch this:
The video below, "Greeley Rodeo 2010 - CRASH!" shows another wreck, but this team is well schooled and even though their wagon tipped over and their drivers were out of commission, the team responded appropriately to assistance from rodeo wranglers:
Today, when I teach a horse to drive, I work toward a skill set that I consider essential prerequisites to putting to cart. And I know that at any moment in time, my hard work and the trust of my horse can be shattered by a terrible event.
The next video, "Solo and the risks of using home-made carriages," shows a trainier whose work I admire more than any driving trainer I've every known or heard of. In this video he will tell you how important it is to have a cart you know is built to stand up to driving. I'll add another point. Make sure your equipment is in good repair, is well adjusted and fits your horse. Wrecks can happen in a heart beat, even with a well-schooled, solid horse, pony or mule.
The horses were shocked to see so many other equine in harness. "We thought we were the only horses that could do this!" they said!
"You're not the only ones, but not every horse can do this work," I assured them.
Ganny and Sierra held their breath. Inches before the team reached a point of no return, the teamster managed to get them to move forward at which point Ganny turned to Sierra:
"Did you see THAT?!" he whinnied.
"I certainly DID!" she whinnied back, eyes wide open and mouth agape.
"We're not going to do THAT to OUR wagon!" Ganny said.
"We certainly will not!" Sierra agreed.
Barefoot, blinkerless and bitless, they took on every challenge I asked of them. We completed the last five miles at an open gallop, not a horse in front of us save those of the Head Teamster.
Pictured here are Ganny and Sierra pulling the sickle bar mower.
Now, if driving is dangerous, operating farm equipment with horse power compounds synergistically like combining two toxins.
HELLO?! Nine stitches. Good grief.
Fortunately the team, Sierra and Ganny, came to a solid stop with the utterance of "whoa!" They waited for several minutes while I gathered the strength to stand up again. They remained calm and tractable while we unhitched them.
It takes hundreds of hours of hard work to create a good, broke carriage horse. And even with those hours, wrecks happen.
So, be careful out there.