Breaking a Pony To Drive - Introduction
Carriage driving is a hugely rewarding sport for so many reasons and there are several reasons why former riders turn to driving. Perhaps one of the most common reasons to break a pony to drive are when a beloved family pony has been outgrown by all the children in the household and needs a new career. In this way, the cherished family member can remain active, fit and healthy and give pleasure to the family for many years to come. A rider may also turn to driving following an accident which makes it difficult to ride yet the prospect of a life without horse interaction is inconceivable. Whatever the reason for embarking on this journey there are so many rewards.
Things to consider
Is the pony/horse suitable for breaking to drive? Well this depends a whole lot on who is doing the breaking of course. Breaking to drive can be a dangerous affair and the hazards can be increased when being undertaken by someone without enough knowledge or experience. For instance, someone who is completely new to driving should not be looking at starting their learning with a feisty 4 year old who hasn’t seen the world and is sharp and reactive. A far more suitable project would be the family pony who has been there, done that and is now looking for a change in career. There is no age limit for starting this training and there are many cases of ponies in their late teens and early twenties being broken to drive very successfully. As long as the pony is healthy and sound there is no reason why it can’t drive or be retrained to drive and in fact, driving is widely believed to be far less taxing on the body often resulting in much longer working lives.
One of our ponies broken to drive at 19 years old following a successful show jumping career
Next to consider is the physical capabilities of the pony you intend to break to drive. What will you be expecting the pony to pull and what job do you intend for it to do once it is broken? A rough rule of thumb is that the pony should be comfortably able to pull it’s own bodyweight, that is when you combine the weight of the carriage, passengers and harness this should be equal or less to the pony’s bodyweight.
For example: A 13hh welsh sec B weight approx. 300kg
A typical three phase driving trials carriage – 140kg
A typical set of harness – 8kgDriver and groom combined around 130kg
Approximately 20kg to spare
A driving trials pony in the dressage phase
This is a guide only as it also depends massively on the fitness of the pony and what it is being expected to do. Obviously a very fit and experienced pony can pull much more than this comfortably on a flat tarmac road whereas a novice or unfit pony expected to pull uphill on grass will perhaps struggle with it’s own bodyweight. Consideration should also be made to the comfort of the breastplate and how comfortable and broad the pulling surface is.
There are a number of things you can do with a driving pony. You may be happy just to drive out for pleasure and if you choose to join a society you can take the pony to organised drive outs which can be very sociable. The BDS is an excellent place to look for these sorts of drive outs and they are also the best source of information for show classes and private driving.
If you prefer something a bit more adrenaline filled then you may want to consider driving trials. In this case there are many local clubs where members will be very happy to help you. These clubs are affiliated to the governing body BC (British Carriage Driving). For a more detailed description of driving trials you might want to read our blog About Combined Driving - Horse Driving Trials
Once you have decided to go ahead and break your pony to drive you should first seek out a suitable trainer to work along side you when needed and to offer advice throughout the process. Many trainers will be happy to help you with lessons at each step then leave you to do your “homework”. It’s also an excellent idea to join your local club and then go along to various competitions, outings and clinics so that you can observe and learn. Drivers are notoriously friendly and willing to help new drivers.
Next you need to spend some time learning about the harness, how it works and how each part interacts. It’s important to learn the names of the parts of harness and carriage and really understand their purpose, from a safety point of view this is critical. You need to be able to communicate effectively with the person helping you at all stages so you both must know the names of the parts.
The basic harness parts
The Basic Shaft Parts and Styles
The Basic Carriage Parts shown on a Bellcrown Marathon Club
For more information on fitting the harness correctly see our blog – Fitting Carriage Driving Harness and we would also recommend the article Keeping yourself safe carriage driving and dealing with an emergency
Another consideration is who is going to help you. One thing about driving which is both appealing and an obstacle in equal measure is that you cannot do it on your own. You will need a competent person to help you throughout the breaking process. There are many steps you can work on but even the most experienced amongst us cannot complete the whole process safely on their own it just isn’t possible. Whoever you choose to help you should also spend time learning about the parts of the harness and carriage and how everything works together. You might want to check out our Information for New Grooms and Backsteppers
For The Next Step See Breaking a Pony To Drive - Part 1 (coming soon)
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