How should the first few drives go?

This is a general question as every horse is different, which we all know!

Basically, what should the first few drives look like and are there any “red flags” in driving that tell the driver to stop and take the horse back to basics?

This is a wide question that applies to all kinds of training. It’s just that the stakes are higher for the handler driving

You need to be able to read your horse for signs of tension including shutting down which can look like calmness.

For me:
Lack of a solid Whoa.
I want that word to produce Instant Halt.
If it doesn’t, we go back to working with a header at walk.


I want the first few drives to be very boring and unremarkable for anyone watching. My help when I first hook up is my non-horse experienced husband so it’s extremely important to me that I’ve done and re-done all the steps to reduce any chance of a problem. I’ve actually had people say I “waste” to much time before the first hooking but no one ever complains about how easygoing the horses I produce are so this is a topic I have thought about a lot.

Some green horses (particularly smaller ones) may do some wiggling as they learn to push into the collar when first starting to move. I’ve seen a few get discouraged there by having to heavy a vehicle so it’s important to have someone encouraging them at their head and the appropriate vehicle and ideally easy footing to pull on.

Generally my first several drives I’m in a large flat fenced area I want to do several walk/stop/walk transitions with my groundsperson having them on a lead. That should be nice and relaxed - anything other then the getting started wiggle makes me take them back to ground driving and pulling a drag/false shafts for a few more days. Halt and stand is reinforced right away with the help of cookies and praise for standing quietly. I make very large figure 8’s for steering and other then minor falling in/out on turns they should be smooth. I’ll finish with one or two trots (off lead because my groundsperson isn’t able to run). I’ll drive only about 15 minutes because I don’t want any soreness or tiredness to make the horse think it’s at all a bad experience. Anything that isn’t quietly accepted (other then something like a understandable spook) means I go back to work through whatever the problem was not hooked.

After that I start refining aids and steering that naturally adds time to the drive for more fitness I like to have a lot of things like cones, plastic barrels that I can “accidentally” hit with my whip for a odd noise etc so horses learn to accept that stuff happens in a environment they are comfortable in.

For the first few weeks before I hook (exactly how long depends on the horse I’ll ground drive for a few minutes part to make sure they are mentally ready for the new job and part because I think the routine helps them understand.

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Great, thank you. This is wonderful and exactly what my first few drives with this horse have looked like, aside from one big spook (total fluke that a reckless kid came on our property) where he was extremely nervous, but stopped and STOOD at my command. And we drove afterwards and unhitched.

We are moving on to desensitizing next, but this reassures me we are on the right track.

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I’m a big believer in underfacing the horses for the first month or so (depending on how often you work them)
Make it simple and fun so they keep the positive attitude

Also please do not desensitize them to the whip, I’ve had clients who work very hard to get their horse to ignore the whip and then I come along asking them to ask for a bend by “brushing” the hair on the horses side. Which the horse dutifully ignores - they absolutely need to be 100% comfortable and confident with the whip but not ignore it

Yes, exactly! We are using a bit of positive reinforcement as well.

And no he is not desensitized to the whip- just working on things like traffic, children, dogs, working in the bush (as we will be in the bush this summer), tarps, noises, etc.

Undertaking is a good idea. We are planning on doing that plus a fair amount of desensitization so that he gains his confidence, before taking him out with the sleigh. The first few times out will also be in places he’s been ridden or ground driven before.

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