Practice @ Home

I spent the last year training my little mare to drive (after spending a year just thinking about it), and now the nicer weather is here – and my trailer has been both safetied and set up to haul my cart! – I can start attending clinics. Forward momentum at last! It feels good.

In the interim, does anyone have any suggestions on things to work on at home? My goal is to be able to compete in CDEs eventually. We have a dressage clinic coming up in a couple of weeks, so I’ve been focusing on how to introduce the other two elements … the cones and marathon.

We did some weaving in and out of cones this afternoon, but I’d love to hear suggestions on other exercises we could practice. Unfortunately there are no trails on property that will allow the passage of a cart, just an indoor arena and dirt parking lot to work with!

I’d stick with playing at Cones for now.
Is the parking lot footing decent & can you set up a course there?
I found a simple course online - 7 pairs of cones - to put in a friend’s flat & mown pasture for us to play with.
2 minis & Hackney Pony, so I set the pairs really wide - no reason to measure as it was all for fun.
Walked through with friends following as they had never done anything like it.
Then trotted together, then singly.
Finally, I cantered the course, as my mini & I have a single real CT (at Training) under our belts. :grin:

For Marathon, just find obstacles to practice the “idea” of gates, steering through things, going over anything bridgelike (that will hold your weight) & water < even a puddle counts.
Here we are On Course :wink: leading friends:

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Look for any “natural” things to drive around, trees, fences, big bales, big water puddles. We got in some great water practice with road edge puddles that were 30-40ft long. Did them from both directions, the entire length.

Do you have a field or paddock that you could put things up and leave for a few days, without getting in anyone’s way? Indiana is famous for their canvas panels that are easy to put up, change the pattern, then take down. You need an array of posts, probably could use t-posts and maybe PVC pipe over post, to tie tarp, sheets, as the panels. I would drive it’s slowly, gain control, change direction smoothly. You can ALWAYS add speed later. Precision is a better tool than wasted motion, tension of over-hyped pony.

Practicing your Dressage, getting circles round, at the speed you ask, is your best way to manage Cones and Hazards. You need to figure all your turns as part of that perfect circle, half circle, quarter circle, so you stay on the same bending line.

Usually trotting is your best speed for time as beginners, over cantering. Despite photos, cantering water is a big energy waster, plus horse only has one foot on the ground to stay upright with! Hitting deeper water with the carriage at speed is HARD WORK. Cantering turns, on hillsides, can be a recipe for disaster, you turn over. Cantering straight lines is much safer until you have gained experience and better skills.

Sorry, I have forgotten what kind of vehicle you drive. From my experience, the Easy Entry cart types, air filled tires, are VERY tippy and you cannot stop the tip once it starts and flips you out. This even in flat, level arenas, worse out on any slightly rough ground. So not the best vehicle to do your practices with.


Sadly the lot’s not big enough to do much in. I may commandeer an unused turnout field though (it’s easy to set up a compact course when you’ve got a such a wee pony!) … :thinking:

She was all over the place side-to-side when we began the cones the other day but by the end the lightbulb had gone off and she “got” it. Such a rewarding moment as her human counterpart!

Yes, definitely worth trying to set something up in a grassy area.

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My mini had the same OmiGod! approach to paired cones at first.
Now he’s Point & Shoot & I have to remind him we are doing Training, so No Cantering… Well, maybe a little cantering :grin:

Otherwise, I bow to @goodhors Expert advice.
She’s right on the money about the Easy Entry carts, but if that’s all you have, just be mindful.of turns. Sacrifice Speed for Safety.

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Great tips, thank you for taking the time to respond! Yes, it is an easy entry – and funny you should mention the tippiness because I already have some firsthand experience in this regard (and have a rather embarrassing photo to go along with the story).

I’ve got an eye out for a used Frey Rebel but as we all know… :pinching_hand:

My baseline cones set up is a 20m circle with 4 cones set up on it, a weave, an oxer and a single.

The 20m circle will reveal every hole in your training about the 3rd consecutive circle. As it turns out, that wheel of death is prevalent in more than just h/j, dressage… Sigh.

Oxers teach you patience, so it always makes sense to have them on course.

Weaves are standard, so driving them regularly helps, plus you should regularly drive just 1 and 3 or 2 and 4, especially if your horse automatically makes the move from 1 to 2. That is no bueno. I generally giver them an extra meter offset rather than truly lined up like they will be at a competition, although with a cart I would carefully introduce that since it is a big lateral move.

I’ll also set up a staircase since that is the hot new torture, sometimes even an oxer staircase.

For hazards I zip tie 4 pallets together (heavy duty 30" ties) and set it in the corner of them pasture so there’s a fence border, but a green horse does not need a 1m box to spin, that’s way too tight for a green horse (3x3 is more appropriate). Still, if you have a pasture corner and you are just using a few pallet hazards to create lanes, that’s a good exercise.

If you are serious about doing CDE, I would start saving for regulation cones, they do make a difference. They are also hideously expensive. I was lucky enough to have a vendor at the shows who has them, I came home from every event with a pair of cones, two more pairs and I’ll have 11 pair which is enough for the base set up. I have another 12 pairs of large traffic cones as dressage arena markers/letters that can be used as well, but they really throw my eye off once those cones started getting really narrow.


Are you saying that it’s faster to trot in a water obstacle, as opposed to cantering?

I am saying trotting is usually safer (2 feet on the ground every stride), uses less energy (steady forward, not lunging off one foot each stride) in deeper water. This is water up to or above the floorboard of vehicle, exerting a huge drag on carriage.

Even with open grid as flooring, dashboard, it still presents as a solid surface when it hits deeper water. Water has to seperate to flow thru the grid holes, which may happen slower than your horse is traveling.

Cantering is very flashy, makes great photo ops, but you don’t want to wear out your horse getting to the finish.

Hazard gates are about strategy, using your (and horse) strengths wisely. Each competitor’s horse is better at some things than other competitors’ horses. Small animals can turn sharply to get the next gate behind them, which bigger horse cannot do. No stopping and restarting the load. Bigger horses cover ground faster in many cases, so a slightly longer route works more smoothly for them. Driver may save energy in ways you can’t copy. Perhaps your “power steering” was not responsive for a certain turn, go to Plan B or even C! It happens. You are geeked, so is the horse! But as beginners, you need to keep things under control, stay smooth and steady as you and horse learn to work under pressure.

Watching some CDE video, often the best times are the quietest drivers. No hooting or hollering, no changes of speed until they leave. Just a smooth flow of travel thru gates at a steady pace, and gone!

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yep, smooth and steady wins the day in marathon. That said, I always try to enter the water hazard at full steam, because momentum rocks. However, depending on the depth of the water and/or the tightness of the turn there may be some trotting at some point. And once we start trotting, it’s far less likely that there will be cantering unless I have a really shallow section to pick it up again, because I don’t want to waste too much energy getting up just a little bit more speed. And my pony has some serious water hazard cred when he is on his game. He’s managed to have the fastest times in his division, beating out all horses and ponies, singles and pairs. His strength at the canter helps, but smooth helps more! It’s about “always be turning, and always be in draft”!


DMK speaks with the knowledge of an Advanced and EXPERIENCED driver, dealing with water hazards. She has done MANY water hazards with her very powerful horse, so she knows what works, for her.

Anyone interested in CDE competition will need to put in the time training, then competing, to learn what works well for you and YOUR horse. You may want to change horses as you gain driving skill, want to move up the levels. Some folks change horses often, looking for their best match who is capable of the needed movement to score well.

Just like any kind of horse showing, there is a mix of proper preparation, ability in both horse and driver, knowledge, with a bit of luck tossed in to be a winner. Lessons and clinics will help improve you. Then when you think you know how to play, they change things!! Emphasis goes from Marathon to Dressage or Cones get more technical. Ha ha

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