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   Last Updated: 11/20/11


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Driving Tips

Tips for Newcomers to the Sport of Driving and Training a Driving Horse

There are no "shortcuts" in training a driving horse. The old saying that "the slowest way is the fastest" is very true in training a horse for driving. Driving is as safe as any other sport if you know how to drive in a safe manor. All young horses should have two handlers in the early training, especially if the humans are new to the sport. You can apply any ground work that is taught by Parelli, or Lyons or Anderson, or any other popular horse trainer. It usually takes more training for the human than for the horse.


When looking for a horse to train to drive, the key word is QUIET. When looking at body languate, we want the horse to be saying "I'm relaxed" not "I'm asleep."

  • EARS
    • pinned back = mad
    • pricked forward = interest
    • going back and forth = interest in what's ahead and listeing to the human or looking for a place to escape.
    • flopping = relaxed
  • EYES
    • half closed = relaxed
    • wide = terror
    • squinted or looking down his nose = I'm coming over the top of you.
  • TAIL
    • tucked = nervous or fear
    • swishing = "that's not nice"
    • slight arc away from rump = all is O.K.
    • centered = O.K. or happy
    • high = distress
    • way off to the side = I'm worried about what's back there.
    • licking or smacking of the lips = "I understand or I accept the current challenge.
      • try the same thing one more time slowly.
      • not to be confused with chewing the bit = nervous energo or build-up of energy.
  • All horses show the above signs
    • Some have less expressive ways (draft breeds).
    • Some show relaxed signs when really sleeping (not accepting input) - this can lead to surprises and explosions.


The horse must learn to understand basic commands, such as:

  • Whoa = stop moving
  • Relax = calm down
  • Stand = stand
  • Quiet = be good
  • Quit it = BE GOOD!
  • Step = take one step forward
  • Walk = walk forward
  • Back = back one step
  • Back-up = keep backing

Use tone of voice to reinforce the meanng of the command.

  • Praise him for good behavior
  • Scold him for bad behavior

From this point on, anytime you say "whoa" it means to stop moving. It does not mean to stand still. It does not mean to relax. If your horse has stopped, and you want him to move, give him a command to move - "walk," "step," trot."

  • To teach a horse to stand, we must be more strong-willed and patient than the horse - not meaner or more explosive.
  • If the horse moves, correct him - do not punish him.
  • Make sure to put the horse right back where he started, so he learns.
    • He did a lot of work to get nowhere.
    • You had a specific spot in mind when you said "stand."
    • When he stays ther, he does not hear the scolding voice.
  • Watch for the horse to start to shift his weight (this always comes before he moves).
  • Command the horse to "stand" while he is shifting weight, and not after.


Keep this lesson stort (5 to 10 minutes) if you can. You MUST end with success.

  • Untie the horse from the wall and snap in your 12' long roap.
  • Lead to a comfortable spot and command "whoa."
    • When the horse stops - praise - then command him to be still.
        • Use some command other than "whoa."
        • Use "stand" or "park" or "amen" etc.
  • Turn to face the horse
    • If the horse moves, correct him and put him right back in the place where you said "stnad" and command "whoa."
    • Command him to "stand."
  • Turn to face the horse.
  • Back away one step.
    • If he moves, correct him and put him back in his original stand position.
    • Command to whoa
    • Command to stand
  • Back away as many steps as you can.
    • If you back up three or four steps, go back to the horse and congratulate him.
    • When you get to the end of the rope, praise him from there.
      • Softly tug on the rope and command "step."
      • Keep hands centered between your shoulders, reel in the rope as he comes toward you.
      • Command him to whoa - praise, pet and relax.
  • Turn to face the same direction as your horse and command "walk" or "step."

The more times the above steps are completed, the better (5 to 10 times would be outstanding). Horses learn by repetition.

Make sure the horse understands the "Grade School Standing" lesson before moving on.


High School level standing will take about 45 minutes for the average horse. Don't start unless you have time.

The horse Body has three acceptance zones

  • Zone 1 - nose to withers including front legs
  • Zone 2 - withers to the top of the tail
  • Zone 3 - top of the tail to the bottom of the hind hoof

Start with Zone 1

  • Facing your horse with a 12' roap in hand (snapped to the halter) command "stand" and back away until you are at the end of your rope.
  • Stand still for a few seconds.
    • Watch for weight shift.
    • Watch ears and eyes.
  • Raise hand, palm toward the horse, and command "stand."
  • Holding your hand up, take one step sideways to your right.
    • Watch for weight shift.
    • Watch ears and eyes.
  • Take a second step
    • Watch for weight shift .
    • Watch ears and eyes.
    • If yo see weight shift, step back to first position.
    • Put ythe horse back in his original "stand" position, if necessary.
  • If you get two steps without the horse moving.
    • Take two steps back o your left.
      • Drop your hand, turn palm toward you and command "step."
      • Keeping hands centered between your sh oulders, reel in the rope as he comes toward you.
      • Command "whoa", praise and pet, and relax.
      • Turn to face the same direction as your horse, and command "walk" or "step."
  • Now, repeat entire High School lesson to the opposite side.
  • When the horse stands for you to take two steps each direction from center, repeat the entre high school sequence, except take tour steps each way.
    • This usually takes awhile.
      • You are probably going beyond the 45 degree line off the front shoulder.
      • This means you are leaving Zone 1 and entering Zone 1.
  • If the horse stands for four steps each side fo center, repeat entire high school sequence, except to take as many steps each way as it takes to gt back to a line 90 degrees off your hip (stay in Zone 2).

Work the entire stand routine in Zones 1 and 2.


  • With the helper out in front, and a lead rope attached to the halter, take your 12' rope (also snapped to the halter) and back away to the end of the rope.
  • Command to stand and walk to the back of Zone 2.
  • Stand still and let the horse completely relax.
    • Maintain his attention, b ut make him stand.
    • The helper can also help with this.
  • Continue to walk into zone 3 and read body language constantly.
    • Talk to the horse constantly "relax, stand, good boy" in an affirming tone of voice.
  • When nearly directly behind the horse, stop ande stand still for a few seconds.
  • Then walk back to the front of the horse.
  • Congratulate him for standing still.
    • Your helper steps aside, anturns to face the same way as the horse.
  • Ask the horse to step and come to you .
    • Helper walks along with the horse.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Do three times on each side.

Now for the last, but very important step

  • With your helper in front, go to the end of the rope, acircle to the back of Zone 3.
  • Stop and relax.
  • Continue around the back of the horse while laying the rope on the horse's thigh (gaskin).
  • Then around to the withers (Zone 1) on the opposite side, stop and relax.
  • Gently tighten the rope (watch body language).
  • Tighten the rope until the horse's head turns.
  • Command "come around," slowly reel in the rope,aand the helper moves to follow your tracka around the back of the horse.
    • This makes the horse rotate and give to your pressure, keeping contact with the gaskin.
    • The helper and horse rotate around and end up at your spot.
      • Everybody is happy, including the horse. Praise and pet!
  • Do three times each way.

This is where you should end the lesson.


If you have two people working with the horse, the person doing the safety roope job should be the person that the horse has the ost confidence in.

  • Lead your horse to an open area.
  • With lead rope, step away about five feet.
  • Face the direction of the horse.
    • Cammand "step" - "walk"
  • Walk in a large circle.
    • Try to keep the horse five feet from you
  • To stop the horse:
    • Pivot toward him
    • Raise your left hand
    • Command "whoa"
    • Approach the horse from the front
    • Reel in the rope while looking the horse in the eye
      • Don't glance off to the side.
      • Look directly to the middle of his eyeball.
  • You are the person giving the horse confidence that all is well.
  • When you sense the horse is relaxed, begin to back away.
    • Maintain eye contact
    • Notice the ear position
    • If the horse stays relaxed, it is OK to look away
    • If not, get in close to the horse


Learn what the lines (driving reins) do for communicating to the horse.

  • Lines are the tool for over 3/4 of the communication to the horse.
    • You must always maintain contact (definition of contact varies widely).
    • Hold lines by passing between the index and middle finger with elbows bent.
    • Keep a straight line from the elow to the horses mouth.
    • Begin holding the whip in your right hand.
    • The horse only feels forward and backward movement of your hand - moving hands sideways tells the horse nothing.
  • Be the driver (note how hard it is to keep the "horses" moving forward).
  • Be the horse ( Note how hard it is to decide what the "driver" wants you to do.
  • Reaching forward to gather up the lines.
    • Always adjust behind your hands.
    • Never combine both lines in one hand unles the lines are split around your fist.


  • On a driving harness
    • Buckles away from the horse.
    • From the bit through shaft loops.
    • Driver has responsibility to keep lines off the ground and away from feet.
      • That means NO loops
      • Maintain contact
  • On a draft harness
    • Buckles away from the hors.e
    • From bit through top rings on hames.
    • Driver has responsibility to keep lines off the ground and away from feet .
      • That means NO loops
      • Maintain contact
  • Note the position of the lines compared to the rope in the "come around" position.
    • If the horse gets turned around to face you, tighten lines against his outside thigh and command "come around."
  • Ground Driving
    • Driver is off to the side of and behind the horse.
    • With the helper in place (facing the horse) with the 12 ft. lead.
    • Helper extends left hand (with rope) and commands "step."
      • Driver is careful to avoid letting the horse bump the bit as he walks off - use elbows as a shock absorber.
    • As horse walks past, the helper rotates and leads the horse forward.
    • Driver commands "walk" and as the horse steps into the bit, slowly makes contact with the horse's mouth.
      • Helper watches for distress..
      • Helper commands "whoa" of he sees distress occuring.
    • If no distress, walk forward as far as you can without turning.
    • Before a turn, the helper pivots toward the horse and commands "whoa."
      • Driver tightens up on the bit, just enought to let the horse know you are there.
        • Driver commands "whoa" then "stand" when the horse is stopped.
        • Note reaction of the horse when commands are coming from behind.
    • Point the horse toward an open area (no turns) and repeat the whole sequence.
    • When it is time for a turn, the first turn is toward the helper.
    • Only make two turns toward the helper before turning away from the helper.
      • When turning away, the helper really has to hustle to stay visible to the horse.
      • If you can't see his eye, get to the spot where you can.
  • During the second day of ground driving.
    • The helper chooes a straightaway to "dispappear behind the blinds.
      • Talk encouragingly to the horse.
      • Watch the body language
        • Ears tipping forward and back
        • If head raises as the ears flick - get back out in front of the blinds!!
        • It is the drivers's job to keep the horse going forward
        • If relaxed horse stays relaxed, it is OK to look away
        • If not, get back in close to the horse


  • When the student is comfortable, it is time to hook the student to the stoneboat - a stone boat should be used for several weeks before the student is hitched to any vehicle.
    • Helper remains in front facing the horse, reading body language.
    • Hook to the far tug furst, then to the near tug.
    • Start the horse by going through the one step- three step- five step routine.
      • Use the one step three step five step routine every time you hook to a new vehicle for the rest of your driving days.
    • Helper starts a turn long before the straight away ends.
    • Helper stays visible in front of the blinds.
  • As the horse is comfortable pulling and turning both ways.
    • The helper picks a straightaway to dispappear behind the blinds .
      • Get the horse comfortable turning both ways.
      • Work on "Whoa" and "Stand."
        • The helper goes back out in front f the horse if the horse is not standing.
      • Work on starting by drivers voice.
      • Helper stays visible in front of the blinds.
      • Work on "Whoa" and "Stand"
        • The helper goes back out in front f the horse if the horse is not standing.
      • Work on starting by drivers voice.
    • Add a load to the stoneboat.
      • Bale of hay
      • Bag of feed
      • A standing human
  • Watch for signs of boredom
  • Be ready for third time out syndrom


  • Helper stays in front for the whole portion.
    • Drag the shafts around in front for the horse to see.
    • Pull up next to the horse and "bump" the ribs.
    • Drive the horse and pull shafts along side bumping and turning - both sides and both directions around the arena.
  • When the horse is calm, stop and hitch to the shafts.
    • Lift shafts above horse's back
    • Bring dwn to the horse's ribs
    • Do the rib bump routine
    • Put shafts in loops
    • Hook holdback straps
    • Hook tugs
  • Do the one step, three step, five step routine.
  • If calm at 5 steps, you may keep going.
  • If not, then stop and do the 1,3,5 routine until the horse is calm.
  • Drive in the arena for awhile, both directions.


  • The helper stays out in front where the horse can see him.
  • The driver holds te lines in his hands or over tthe rook of his arm.
    • With the horse parked, lift the shafts up over the horse's back.
    • Pull the vehicle forward.
    • Drop the shafts to the center of the ribs and bump the rib several times.
    • Push the shafts through the loops until the ends of the shafts are beyond the front of the point of the shoulder, by 2-3 inches.
    • If the hore is very calm, the helper can step in to help put the shafts throught he loops, then immediately gt back in front.
    • Hook the holdback straps from the breeching rings to the shaft "hook."
      • These are your breaks - DO NOT FORGET IT!
    • Hook tugs to the singletree.
      • The length of the tugs is determined by the size of the horse.
      • When hooked there should be about 4 inches of cart movement from the tugs tight to breeching tight.
    • Hook the shaft hold down strap.
      • This prevents the stafts from flying up when you lean back in the cart.
      • Wrap on one shaft-under the belly-wrap on the other shaft.
      • When hooked, tere should be about 4 inches of vertical shaft movement from shaft hold down tight to hanging in the shaft loop.
  • Driver gets into driver's seat.
  • Do the one step, three step, five step routine.
  • If calm at 5 steps, ou may keep going. If not, then stop and do the 1,3,5 step routine until the horse is calm.


  • Helper stays out in front where the horses can see him.
  • Driver holds the lnes in his hands or over the crook of his arm.
  • The team should be harnessed and the lines of the horses hooked to the bits.
  • Driver drives the horses up to the tongue almost at a right angles to the tongue.
  • Helper crosses the tongue before the horse.
  • Driver turns the team just before the near horse crosses the tongue.
  • Stop with one horse on each side of the tongue.
  • Hook the end ring of the neckyoke to the snaps at the front of each horse. -- Hook the young horse first.
  • Hook the tug nearest the tongue first. -- DO NOT TRAP YOURSELF IN FRONT OF A HALF-HOOKED SINGLETREE!!!!
  • Hook tugs on opposite horse.
  • DO NOT step over the tongue in front of the vehicle -- NO MATTER WHAT!!!
  • Either climb over the wagon, or walk behind the wagon while holding the lines, or set the lines over the other side and go in front of the team to the other side.
  • Pick up the lines and straighten them so you know which is the right and left line.
  • Hook the tug nearest the tongue first - DO NOT TRAP YOURSELF IN FRONT OF A HALF-HOOKED SINGLETREE!!!!
  • Hook the outside tug to the singletree.
  • Driver gets set in the seat of the vehicle.
  • Do the 1-step, 3-step, 5-step routine.
  • If calm at 5-steps, you may keep going.
  • If not, stop and do the 1,3,5 routine until the hores are calm.