Equipment Question

So a little background info. I worked at a Combined Driving farm for about 8 months and took lessons and helped with some of the training of horses. My young horse was there and we got him ground driving before I moved to focus on riding. That was about 4ish years ago so I am rusty.

I recently bought a 5 year old mini/pony(38") and would like to eventually drive her. She has no background working at all when I got her she led, tied and trailered and that’s about it. I had the trainer who broke my young horse to get her to understand lunging and she’s been doing really well with that. She’s very smart and already starting to get bored. My next step is to get her ground driving and then work towards being able to pull a cart. I don’t have a cart for her yet.

For the next step I was looking at getting a bridle and surcingle since nothing I own is mini/pony sized. She is kind of inbetween sizes which makes it a bit tough. Most of what I was finding mini sized are the cheaper nylon ones. My original plan was just to get a plain bridle and surcingle and later invest in a nicer harness (based on one of the more recent threads here). Then I found the Two Horse Tack site which can make anything based on measurements. They do have a surcingle and bridle but for not much more I could get their ground driving/training harness… Would it be worth it to get one of those to get her used to Any suggestions on brands or what to buy would be really helpful. I’m just not liking the cheap nylon surcingles I’m finding in mini sizes.

Also any suggestions for trainers within driving distance of NOVA would be great. I have someone I could send her off too for a few months to really get her driving but I’d like to at least get the ground driving myself and start taking her places for exposure first. I’d love to find a place I can trailer her too for lessons.

Your budget is always key to what you buy for equipment. Many of us start with used things. Especially true if you “don’t really know much” about driving things. You haven’t handled many brands of harness or vehicles to have preferences yet. Seen many of styles, designs in harness fit that have been developed in even the last few years. Most harness makers will make custom sizes for the same price as their average shelf sizes.

At five, your mini is almost mature, but not “developed” yet in muscling with work. So she might start in one size harness, change enough in a year of work to need a different fitting harness. So buying a more expensive, name-brand harness should probably wait a while. Synthetics are easy care, well fitting in many cases. Nothing like the $79, bad fiting, nylon strap harness in catalogs.

I see LOTS of used mini harness on Facebook driving sites, in all styles and sizes, for relatively low costs. It is a good place to shop if you ask good questions of the sellers, look at good photos of the items. And you can post to ask for items, giving sizes, price you want to pay. Some maker names are great at fitting minis, others are not.

You need to get her measurements before shopping, head, girth, back length, rump, chest. Mouth width.

Has she ever seen a dentist? Minis can appear fine but have LOTS of problems with crooked teeth, too many teeth, because teeth don’t shrink along with the rest of their body! Teeth can stay horse size in the little skull, out of alignment, need removal, to make fitting a bit very difficult. Just bringing this up because bitting issues with minis are so common. Some never have any issues!! You won’t know until she is looked at. But teeth problems often cause other problems, so knowing what you are dealing with makes problem solving easier. At five, her mouth should be almost mature, no new teeth coming in.

At this point, getting her a bridle without blinkers and bit that fits comfortably is your lesson starting point. You will want a bridlepath trimmed in the mane so bridle sits snug against her skull and top of neck. This may need weekly trimming if she has the typical thick mane! You NEVER want a loose fitting bridle, too easy for it to come off. When hitched, that can cause a wreck!!

A surcingle really just needs to carry the long lines, so “cobbling” one up is not difficult. The professionally made ones have lots of rings, but most go unused. Things to avoid are small rings that reins can’t slide thru fast and easily. Even with a twist in it, rein needs to slide thru ring when pulled or released. Rings on her barrel sides will be most used, to keep her between the lines, not able to turn like when lines are along her spine. They can just turn in a heartbeat, tangle. Reins down along sides controls both ends of equine!

Comfy Fit harness does a lot of mini harness in synthetic material. I would look for a used surcingle or check their cost for a new one to order. Should get a crupper with it to keep things in place, help her get used to the feel before she wears a full harness. They also carry an assortment of mini size bits too.

Warm the crupper with your hands BEFORE putting it under her tail. Horses get upset, react poorly until that cold crupper warms up!! Not nice seeing a 16H+ horse try to sit down on you!! We learned warm crupper means a happier horse! Ha ha

Get a nice lightweight whip to carry during her lessons. Needs some length so you can reach her out on a circle or during ground driving. Witmer Coach Shop in PA, sells inexpensive, lightweight, driving whips in all lengths of stick. You can add some parachute cord to get long length you need. Lunge whips you find locally are too heavy, lash never reaches the horse when needed, hard to carry for the whole lesson. The lighter whips are much nicer to use, easier on your wrists!

My first thought with new drivers is to stay simple, not invest much until you see if your animal will drive. Most minis are very cooperative about driving, which can be tricky. Owners may not practice each step enough to have mini be solid, before moving to the next step. So mini does not understand well enough not to react badly when surprised later. The “Oh look! I trained him to drIve in 30 days. We are doing a parade next week.” Sometimes it works, usually there is a big problem when mini gets scared. You CANNOT muscle them into obedience, you are seldom as strong as a frightened mini.

Your driving groom experience has probably taught you a lot, not trying to talk down here. Just passing on what I see happen a lot with minis. They get underestimated with cuteness factor, not considered “real horses” to need full training time, because they are so accepting of new things.

Welcome to the Group! Please do share stories and photos with us as you progress in her training.

And there are a few minis who WON’T drive, not ever, safely. Don’t have the mind for it.


Everything @goodhors said :+1:

With an added caveat to avoid nylon harness At All Cost!
I went from inexpensive (but sufficiently well-made) leather to biothane.
My only experience with nylon was driving a friend’s mini in older nylon harness & things I noticed that made me decide I would never put it on my mini:
1-buckles were cheap metal & holes in the strapping were worn so badly I worried the attachment was less than secure
2-when mini was sweaty, the nylon seemed to rub more than glide over the haircoat. I can see this causing galls when hair is rubbed off. Biothane slides over a wet coat.
For the same reason I do not like the fleece pads so many harnesses use. They get crusty with sweat & unless kept clean can also cause rubs.
I use neoprene pads that not only slide on a sweaty coat, but are perforated to allow airflow.

Have fun with your little mare.
I went from a 17h WB (ridden) to a 52" Hackney Pony I only ground drove, to a 34" mini who has opened up a whole new chapter of enjoying horses :grin:
Me & my guy, doing what we like best:


Add me to the list of people who despise the nylon harnesses. It’s very easy to buy poor quality equipment, but very difficult to sell-on once you realize the fit/quality is terrible.

For a surcingle, I purchased one of Libby’s Lunging Training Rollers:

She’s based in the UK and makes them herself. She was wonderful enough to include a second girth when I expressed concern over sizing for my funky in-between mare. I still use this for ground driving and lungeing. It can slip it a little to the side if you’re running the off-side line over their back, but overall, it’s well-constructed and does the job. It’s quite soft and appears to be very easy to wash if needed. I bought this size (the mini, small pony, pony) and haven’t needed the extension she sent, as the original girth was more than long enough.

That will buy you some time to work out what harness to get. After buying (and being subsequently disappointed by) a cheap leather set on Etsy, I opted for a custom biothane harness from IVC and have been very pleased with it. It took about five rounds of measurements on different days over the course of a couple of weeks though as I was so anxious about measuring incorrectly :rofl: Be aware that there’s a 4+ week turnaround time on most custom harnesses right now depending upon where you buy from (I believe mine was 8 weeks).

And lessons are always a great idea.

Let us know how you do!

Thank you both so much for the advice! I appreciate it all.

For right now I am going to skip a harness or training harness. When I do look to buy a harness I do prefer biothane that was the one preference I came out of working with the driving trainer with. I will avoid nylon at all costs. I really like the surcingle that Bebe_Falcon1 posted. It has exactly the rings I need without extra’s that the lines can get hung up on. So once it stops snowing and I can pull the blanket off to measure I’ll get it ordered. She is actually 37ish inches and my vet says she looks more like a shetland so she’s inbetween sizes with some things.

I found a nice quality leather regular bridle on fb marketplace that I have bought and will be shipped this week. I do keep her mane cut down for her grazing muzzle. She was nervous about the clippers so we’re working up to that. I need to measure for the bit again she was a bit fussy and seems to be a 3 1/2 or 3 3/4. I found a leather bit online which I love for introducing a bit the first time and I’ll also get a simple driving bit for the move up from leather. I’ll also order a crupper in that order (and will warm it up :smile:). She’ll have to start just wearing the bit/bridle to get used to it and while I’m lunging etc before introducing actually ground driving her and clipping lines to the bit.

The dentist came out a few weeks ago. It it SO frustrating that people don’t treat mini’s like horses. Not a single mini I looked at was current on vaccines or coggins or had teeth done. She had been up to date on vaccines by her owners that had her as a baby but the people who bought her before me didn’t vaccinate. Anyways long story short it looks like she’s never had her teeth done my dentist was appalled. She does have a pretty big underbite. She had hooks as wide as his finger and ulceration on her cheeks. He got all of her back teeth really nicely rounded and she had one little wolf tooth that he was able to pop out. He adjusted the front lower teeth but didn’t want to take off too much so he’ll come back in 6 months to keep working on those. He didn’t see any long term issues and said she’s ready for a bit.

The driving whip is a really sore point. The trainer I worked with had a wonderful light whip that I absolutely loved. I have shoulder problems and driving can be hard on my shoulder plus the heavier whips made it excruciating. Anyways, when she went to a show that whip vendor was there so I gave her $$$ (it was not cheap) to buy me one and she says she did…but “couldn’t find it” when she got back. Never gave me the whip and never gave me my money back. I had already given notice I was leaving from similar practices with our work/lesson/training arrangement. Does Witmer Coach Shop in PA sell anything else I might be interested in? It is a pretty far drive for me but could be worth it for more than just the whip.

I’m well aware of mini’s being treated similar to small dogs which is with not much training at all. I was specifically looking for a mini/pony with no prior driving experience because I didn’t want to have a big hole in the training or a prior bad experience that I don’t know about. I am inexperienced but will be taking my time. She came to me dragging people around like a bulldozer but was very very sweet. The rope halter and training boot camp by the groundwork trainer has fixed that and she’s lunging really pretty nicely. When something is new/scary or she doesn’t want to work(5 yr old mare attitude) she will kick and bolt for a few strides. I will be very carefully working through each step until that isn’t a behavior she offers before moving to the next step.

I bought her because I got the word that I’ll be working from home forever. I miss social interaction and was a bit sad even though I love not having to commute. I board my riding horse but I live on 2 acres and have one acre with goats and I wanted a pony that could live with the goats and that I could pull out and work in short little sessions whenever I had a break or needed to walk away. She’s very smart and you have to be on your game or else she’ll try to get out of work or eat grass or whatever she thinks she can get away with but once she understands what you’re asking she really remembers it. The short sessions where I can stop the second she grasps something as her reward have helped her progress really well.

I’ll definitely keep you guys updated…here’s a picture of the little knucklehead.


What a cutie!

By the way, I had a leather harness for my Hackney pony and biothane for my much larger Welsh cross pony. I got very tired of cleaning the leather harness, but absolutely loved the biothane one.


We used to call that color Shetland grey! When I was a kid, most Shetlands were that color with the light color mane and tail. And they were SMART, often smarter than the kids using them! Think of the Thelwell drawings!! Ha ha

Witmer Coach Shop has almost anything you want that is driving related, owned by Amish folks. About any buggy part you need, as well as triangle signs, tack. You could ask for a catalog when you order. The whips I mentioned are black sticks with white tops and lashes. Used to run about $20 and they will ship them in a PVC pipe to prevent breaking. Our Driving Club sells them in our equipment we have on hand for new drivers. You will probably want to get a couple. A long stick for lunging and ground driving. You HAVE to be able to reach her with a flick, backing up your voice commands. This is why you add extra cord, so lash is long enough for that “touch” if needed. Husband says dragging lash in the dirt will make it go out better with the added (tiny) bit of weight. Then a couple shorter whips for driving. Length should have lash reaching her shoulder while you are seated in the vehicle. Two needed, one for daily driving, spare is clean for a show or just backup if the first one gets broken.

Something to know about these whips, is that you seldom hold them at the handle area!! You want a balanced whip, not top-heavy to pull your wrist down all the time. Finding the balance point means laying stick across your thumb web, moving hand up the stick until whip balances evenly. With short whips, that may only be a little way up. With the lunge whip height, extra lash weight, you may get way up the stick! In that case, you can take off the cap on the butt end, add a washer or two or three, for weighting the butt down to get a better, LOWER balance point across your thumb. Experiment with the weight, so top is not pulling down on you. You may be holding these whips for long times, need to be comfortable, not aching. Then glue washers and cap back in place.

The very ultralight whips are made by MCR, just not cheap. You should be able to Google her, I am not good at links with my tablet. You cry when you break an MCR one or those by Fleck! We have a lovely Fleck whip for showing only. I hand it to husband in the carriage, take it back away when he is finished, to safely stash it between uses. He is rather hard on whips if they are expensive. Funny how the cheap ones last for years!! Ha ha

Be sure when looking at harness to buy, that there is a tree in saddle, padding underneath, to keep shaft weight off pony spine. Especially important driving 2-wheel vehicles because they are shaft heavy. “Buggy harness” by Amish makers usually has no tree because buggies are 4-wheeled, shaft weight is minimal, so they leave out a tree. Carriage harness should have a tree, ask to make sure. And with your harness you should probably ask for a kicking strap to be included. You mentioned she kicks out at times, so use of the kicking strap over her hips, attached to the shafts of cart, can help prevent getting her rump up to kick. She SHOULD get discouraged trying to lift the weight of cart, driver, give up this habit. Better to use the strap and never need it, than let her learn to be bad or get hurt when frustrated or disobedient.


All of this!!! I was going to suggest a kicking strap too, but you covered that in your very thorough response :slight_smile:

If this is of any help to the OP, this is the harness I ended up settling on:

But I upgraded the breastcollar to a Mid-V so it would be more comfortable around the windpipe, and added a quick release shackle to the backstrap that connects the saddle to the breeching/crupper if I need to detach it quickly in case of an emergency. The saddle actually fits her back beautifully and clears her spine.

Anyway, your mare is adorable and your reasoning for getting her is sound! So glad to hear you’ve made her teeth and health a priority, I’m sure she appreciates your investment in her.

Not that you asked for any book recommendations or anything, but seeing as there’s been a LOT of self-directed learning these past two years (at least in my neck of the woods) my favourite two thus far have been Driving a Harness Horse by Sallie Walrond (lots of great colour photographs to reference what a harness should look like on a horse, which comes in really handy when you’re attempting to fit your own harness) and Heike Bean’s Carriage Driving (A Logical Approach) that focuses on the dressage basics as they relate to driving.

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I would definately second getting a V–shaped breastcollar with your harness. Maybe even the super deep cut V-shape. Equines lower heads and necks to pull, often going WAY down in deeper dirt or up hills with a load behind. They can’t breathe if breastcollar cuts into their windpipe with a low head.

Another consideration is how LITTLE space there is on minis, to comfortably fit a breastcollar in under her neck. 2Dogs may have some other suggestions for good fit with mini harness. Others here also drive minis and may volunteer their experiences with getting good fitting harness.

Hope you are making a shopping list for your harness options! Ha ha

Thank you thank you for the MCR whip name, I had forgotten it but that’s exactly the one that worked so well for me. I do know about the balance and where you hold it and I really need a light whip for comfort. I might also just do a road trip to PA to visit my friend and hit a few of the Amish driving stores around there she knows about at least one other one in addition to Witmer Coach Shop.

I am keeping a good list for the future harness thank you!

That’s funny about the coloring, she’s technically a chocolate because in summer she sheds out dark dark brown. She may be full Shetland no papers on her so who knows.

Thank you for the book recommendations I’m open to any books/videos that would be helpful. In person instruction will be important but the more background information I have the better.

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I sent you a PM with info on a barn in VA that has driving horses in training. We’ve got an odd lot of ponies - a big mini, a Hackney, an Amish pony- that drive.

Usually I like leather harness, but the leather mini harness scares me a bit. Some of the pieces are so thin because it’s so small. It’s the one case where I’d prefer biothane. That stuff is tough.

If you don’t get an MCR at the local shop, IVC sells them, and Myrna is familiar with VSEs so would give good advice on whip sizing (length and drop)

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For this harness, how would someone decide if they needed Mini or Shetland size? Is there a size chart I overlooked? Are the Mini and Shetland sizes for harnesses in general standardized in any way?

This is a custom harness, so you’ll select what you think is appropriate and then take all your horse’s measurements and send them in. If it helps, my mini mare borders on small pony and I was able to get away with a miniature sized harness. I think they’ll contact you if they feel that you’ve ordered the wrong size online relative to the measurements you emailed in.

Hope that helps!

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I was just about to recommend the MCR whips & saw the post. I’m in central Maryland and teach and train driving professionally. I also do a guided do-it-yourself format with lessons followed by homework! If you are ever looking for company heading up to Lancaster County I’m always up for a trip that direction! Just message me. Breast collar fit can be tricky with minis as so little verticle height between point of shoulder and base of windpipe. Yonnies is a great resource and will happily exchange if you need different parts.