Coming back from an Accident

This past weekend, I hooked up to drive inside the barn. (That was a mistake, I feel like an idiot.) I went to hand walk my horse out of the barn and the cart got caught on something, he spooked and took off around the farm, flipping the cart and running until it hit a fence, at which point the breeching and singletree snapped and he was disconnected. Thankfully, we are both without injury but my steal of an easy-entry cart is trashed and my horse’s confidence (and my own) is understandably crushed. I feel so bad for breaking his trust and ruining our two years of training.

So, for those who have been in accidents, how did you come back? I plan to do loads of general desensitizing and R+ around the cart (once I find a new one). Any specific exercises or tips? Definitely not hooking up anywhere but a decent-sized space with fencing next time.

For starters, once hooked (anyplace) you get in and drive from there. If you do not feel safe driving out of the barn, make a hitching location to attach the vehicle at safely. Hand walking or leading a horse attached to a vehicle is DANGEROUS! This includes leading with a line or by reins, just a NO!

As you found, vehicle can snag on things too close, unseen on his off side. FEW people can lead a horse in a straight line!! They may start straight, but then wibble-wobble as they go further along. Vehicle attached will ALSO wobble during the walk, could poke person with shaft or shaft tip of unforgiving hardness, HURT you. Horse being led forward may not walk straight, stay even with your shoulder, gets into your space, hurries ahead, adding to crooked travel problem.

As for coming back from such a fright, it depends. Some never will. The least thing can set them off, their brain checks out. Can’t hear you over being reactive.

Some will drive again, but be hyper alert all the time, highly reactive, but may listen to you if you keep a firm feel in their mouth so they “know they are not alone” when frightened again.

I think this might be something you should take to a professional Trainer to deal with. They need to be fully informed of the accident and how it happened, to be prepared for any horse reactions. I do not think you can fix it yourself. You don’t know what you don’t know! Can’t prepare for the unexpected reactions.

Sorry to hear this happened and not able to be real encouraging about fixing it.


Agree, it’s a job for a professional and I wouldn’t expect too much. It is a discipline that is very unforgiving…

I did have one come back from a wreck, but it was just one of those stupid pipe carts (it was the 80s) and the shaft bolts sheared so the cart was still attached, but the basket ran up his hind legs every time you tried to slow him down. Fortunately he was literally bulldogged down by an experienced driver before he got too far or too scared. I gave him the winter off and restarted him in the spring (ahh, the resilience and stupidity of youth) and he came back fine… But I credit that to the fact he was only a tiny bit terrorized in the incident.

1 Like

Oh yes we will definitely be getting professional help.

1 Like

I’m in total agreement with getting an experienced Driving trainer’s help.
Until then, go right back to Step One, Ground Zero, as if just starting one who has never been harnessed.
That will help you find out what - if any - triggers your horse has developed re: being harnessed, put to or driven.

And Now my own Lived Through the Stoopid:
(grab a beverage, this is a long story)
I harnessed mini & put him to my wire Easy Entry inside my drylot. This opens to pastures on either side & my other 2 - horse & pony - are loose in the area 24/7.
I had planned on driving a bit in the drylot as it was one of my (if not the) first drives that season.
But then - here’s where the Stoopid began - I decided to take him out the 12’ gate from the drylot, and drive on my property.
Gate opens in or out, I pick out & lead mini & cart out…
When from seemingly nowhere ( “nowhere” when Dumb Me is inattentive) horse comes trotting up, pushes past me, goes out the gate & onto the road headed away from us.
Mini spooks, breaks away from me & goes trotting after horse.
I manage to close the gate before #3 can join the parade.
My mind is going 1 zillion mph & I recall roadwork has closed off the end of the road horse, mini & cart are headed. So, TG, traffic can only come from the other direction.
But there are houses, farms, fields on each side of the road.
I’m calling them both - “helpful” neighbor kids joining in :expressionless:
Miraculously, horse heads back & in the gate, which I close after him.
Mini is nowhere in sight, so - still hollering his name - I climb the 4’ ditch (no shoulders on the road) & start walking towards where he could be.
Praying flimsy Road Closed barriers will stop him…
No mini in sight on the road.
Then I see him, in a field to my left.
Another miracle - he’s facing me, so was headed back. And standing, not moving.
3rd & last miracle: he tried coming through a thorny bush, that plus lines tangled in a wheel have stopped him.
I claw my way to him, getting the crap scratched out of my arms & face.
He’s unharmed, barely breathing hard & not a mark anywhere :hushed:
I get him untangled, cart has a flat tire but seems undamaged otherwise. Harness is intact.
I led him up the ditch & onto the road.
Dumb Finale: I decide to get in the cart.
My Guardian Angel is now submitting a resignation…
Best.Mini.EVER! drives us home like it’s just another day. :sweat:
Best of all, my stupidity was forgiven, he’s never acted like driving is not a Good Thing for us both since that day.

May your horse & you come out as unscathed :pray:



Im going to add here instead of start a new thread as its in the same vein. I am just starting to drive, my horse is broke for it and had a good few months of regular driving before he came to me as a 3YO, but I am new to it. I will be taking lessons (not with my horse, the training barn isn’t super close so more flexibility with just me getting there).

Can anyone share a Driving for Dummies basic safety things to keep in mind?

I had the unfortunate experience of having to literally jump out of a galloping runaway carriage in Dublin Ireland when the driver got out of the carriage first (learned that is a no-no), the horse spooked and took off. We were on one of the main drags in downtown Dublin on a Saturday night that intersecting streets the horse could have turned down, and the end of the road spit out onto the main drag with all the double decker busses and traffic, then to the river.

It was a quick decision after thinking of at least half a dozen ways I was doing to die or be seriously injured, because they were also working on the facades and scaffolding was coming up quickly that would have impeded said jump. THANKFULLY no one was hurt bailing out. I do think some part of the drivers foot or leg got run over by the carriage as we felt a big bump, but the horse got the carriage wheels stuck on a big post and a Volkswagen RIGHT at the stoplight to the busy street. I was terrified I was going to see that horse hit by something. My spidey sense went off the second I stepped into that cart.

Needless to say, I have a HEALTHY respect from that and want to make sure Im not overlooking obvious safety things as I start out.

Check your harness before getting in. Make sure all attachments are secure. Then recheck.
I call this my Pre-Flight Check.

If at all possible have a Header.
This person stands at your horse’s head - not necessarily touching (in fact, ADS Rule prohibits a Header touching the horse) but available “just in case”.
That said, I live alone & never have a Header available when I want to drive on my property.
At Club drives, I try to get ready myself, as I find it distracting if anyone is talking to me while I’m harnessing.
Last drive I nearly drove off with a shaftwrap hanging loose when 2 friends stopped to “help”.
Yes, mini was doing the hula to avoid the shafts, but I’ve outwaited him before & it broke my concentration.
Completely my Bad (see First :slightly_frowning_face:)

Harness with horse facing something solid he can’t walk off into.
Wall, gate, hitch rail, trailer - all good.
Friend taught me this invaluable trick.
Not only does it prevent horse bolting forward when you get in, but his first step is backing, more controllable.

Always be mindful of things around you.
Other Drivers, traffic, any potential distraction for you or that could startle your horse when first seen from blinkers.
Music from a radio/phone, while pleasant on a drive, can be distracting for you.
Prime Example of Don’t:
Former Club member driving down a public road wearing earbuds :dizzy_face:

When done driving, vehicle comes off horse first. Always.
Club friends who plan on going for a second drive have the scary (to me) habit of leaving horse attached to vehicle.
Bridle & lines come off last.
While unharnessing - after vehicle has been removed - I wrap traces over the back, passed through the waterhook, so they can’t get trod on.
Breastcollar comes off first, then crupper undone & saddle comes off.
I use a halter around the neck to attach a lead that ties horse to trailer or hitch rail while I unhitch.
There are thin halters designed to be worn with the bridle on & neckropes with lead attached that also work.

That’s all I can think of for now.
I’m sure others will add things I missed.


Thank you!! This is exactly what I was hoping for. The lesson I had with my horse last fall pretty much covered everything you have said, and I think I remembered most of it when we hitched up the first time this past weekend. Except the backing to get started! I will be sure to do that once we are all set and ready to go.

SO has been the header for me so far, but he won’t always be available. I feel decently confident it should go well with just me. My gelding has been super laid back about everything and acts like it is JOB. When I had him tied with the harness waiting for the cart to arrive, he didn’t move a bit and he was probably tacked and waiting for 20-30 minutes. As soon as we were all un-carted and untacked…he was rummaging around in my grooming bag, trying to steal my tea and in general being himself. Not with the harness on though even though he had the same access!

1 Like

I’ve had a few that have been in wrecks. All of them been driven again, but with different degrees of happiness. The big mare who had a bad wreck tended to do airs above the ground after she was restarted. She had issues besides the cart wreck. Eventually she was unloaded as a brood mare/trail horse.

The pony was on the road when the buggy got hit. The buggy took most of the hit (top separated from the running gear!). She was visibly ok, but had some issues afterward, took some chiropractor work to put her back together. Took a while before she drove again. First time she wore harness after the wreck, it scared her to death.

Last one is a show horse that had a bike flip over behind him. Driver error :grimacing:, he clipped the inside of the barn arena & bounced of the walls. That horse came back fine and is our park harness horse.

Definitely have a trainer restart your horse and plan on 3-6 months of trainer time. It can take a while.

You don’t want any advice from me otherwise; my trainer & I are often a walking disaster. We’ve screwed up just about anything you could imagine. It all works out. One gal refers to us as “Safety Third”. We get the job done, might not be pretty, but no one’s actually been hurt. Seems like the ones who worry about getting hurt are the ones who actually do get hurt.

1 Like

Invest in a driving halter (nose buckle) if you don’t already have one, leave it on over the headstall for the foreseeable future, this is another level of control when you hitch and unhitch, also if for any reason you need to unhitch on the fly, you can lead the horse more safely.

This means you should also have a lead rope safely snapped in and tied out of the way on the carriage. If you don’t want to get a $pare$ kit, check out bike bags since they usually have stuff that can attach to a driving vehicle (if you want something waterproof, yeti makes a great bag that is easy access and bass fishing suppliers generally have stuff that fits the bill).

Put a good knife/utility tool in that bag. May we never have to cut our harness… May we always have a knife handy if the need arises <-- driver’s prayer

Always have your phone securely on your person and make sure it is secured, they tend to fall out of jean pockets. One of our club members had a flip over accident on the road to some trails, the gator was unconscious, the driver was ok, but had to head the scared horse. The phone was safely attached to… the carriage.

Routinely practice long halts in various places, especially when you first start off. This is helpful if you get distracted while hitching up and forget something (sigh… It happens). You want your pony to think it is no big deal that we went 30 feet, mom cursed and then we stopped while she finagled with the harness. (Like I said, it happens lol). My hitching routine is to count hitching steps. For me it’s 3/3/3… 3 attachments on each side, 3 at the head (lines to bit, false martingale at girth D). At some point it becomes habit but I spent 2 years counting every time and I still count at competitions! I’ve NEVER missed anything when I count. I plead the 5th on other occasions.

ETA - I don’t know anyone who removes the headstall and lines last, but I’m not sure I’ve paid a ton of attention to lots of people, but still I’ve shared the aisles with plenty… Lines are generally the first thing off after the vehicle is unhitched and the horse is clear (easier with independent shafts). My routine is to unhitch from the shafts, undo traces from vehicle from the same side (Quick release shackles so this is easy). Driving halter on, nose unbuckled. Lines removed from bit, laid over the back. Headstall removed, halter buckled on nose, take lines/headstall to their spot. Breastplate/traces removed, then breeching and saddle. I’m my case I don’t unhook the breeching. I can see where it might be possible to put a collar over a headstall on a vse, but it’s less easy on a large pony/horse without bonking them in the blinkers.


Thank you!!


IVC just happens to have the halters in teal, I would be remiss to not get matching reins!

It would probably be criminal not to!

1 Like

We practiced walking and trotting through cones today as well as the random stopping and hanging out. This was the reaction I got with the stopping :joy:. He did great with everything.


ADS Rule.
A friend was nearly DQ’d at Villa Louis by the TD for doing this.

My breastcollar has buckle-in traces, but being lazy, I don’t unbuckle.
So when traces come off the swingletree & go over the back, breastcollar has enough slack to go over the head < with some finagling, unclipping/reclipping of the leadline attached to halter around his neck that’s attaching him to trailer or fence or rail. Halter is not put on, just buckled around the neck, serving like a neckrope.
Point taken that with anything over 13h, this would be a different issue.
Friend who drives a 16h+ Friesian has a breastcollar that clips together in front, making over-the-head a non-issue.
Then bc w/traces get set aside (read: tossed into the cart) while I remove the rest of the harness.
Lines come off the bridle before that comes off.

1 Like

Yet another reason I’ll never be seen in a turnout/pleasure show!

So you unhook your lines from the bit, remove them from both rein terrets and reattach them to the headstall, then try to untangle your harness from (in my case) 14 feet of lines? Nope nope nope I’m sticking with my method. Not that my Fjord is likely to do anything but I’m pretty sure I’d break my neck with that method. :rofl::rofl::rofl:

AAannddd I see I’m contradicting myself from last post.
It happens :persevere:

{2Dogs shiftyeyes}
Um no, I leave lines attached & pull all 10’+(?) through the terrets, loop around one arm (probably breaking some other Rule :roll_eyes:) then unclip lines from bit & remove bridle.
Halter then goes on w/lead still tied to immovable object.
For a brief moment, mini is nekkid & unattached to anything :expressionless:

When I put harness in the bag - lines go in first, then come out last when I’m harnessing.

For me, it’s mostly a matter of training myself to do things in the approved manner so I don’t forget when I do the few&farbetween Pleasure show :sunglasses:
Got one coming up in July :grin:

You do You :wink:
& Drive on!

This is all so fascinating to me. I went to a “sporting day of traditional driving” last weekend to watch. Being a spectator was so helpful since I have never really watched driving with an eye to do it myself someday. Yesterday I was solo hitching and driving, and it all came together but I had several, “whoops, need to go back and re-do that” moments.

I have my first riding lesson the 6th with the woman that I took Mr Fjord to last fall. Due to the location, I am just going myself sans fjord. It’s an hour+ drive through downtown at rush hour time after work, so I don’t want to be rushed, and I don’t want to worry about the traffic crazies with horse/trailer. Her schedule slows down in the fall/winter so I am hoping she can come up to us on occasion.

I am sure I will be learning a lot! She is a member of USEF, ADS, and the CAA, where she is a Level 2 Instructor (not that I know what that means). She also is currently part of the USEF Developing Athlete Program for Combined Driving. I was hoping to find someone more local, but she by far has the best resume and sounds like it will be worth the drive and the lesson price.


She sounds like a great resource.
My closest trainer with any cred is a good 3h drive.
I try to get a lesson in at the Ntl Drive each October.
Last year I was lucky to get one with Joanna Wilburn :grin:

I am over my shock around the ratio of driving trainers to under saddle trainers now :joy:. I was sure there HAD to me someone closer, but I’ll gladly take an hour drive to someone with that level of experience who does specifically do driving lessons as part of their business model.