Horse Driving Hints

Here are some horse driving hints, for amateurs and others, provided by one of the most accomplished reinsmen in the land. Willard Saunders handled the sensational trotter Guy (who was so unlikely that the best horse drivers gave him up as incorrigible) and holds the best record for four-in-hand and tandem driving.

There are some people who should never be allowed to own a horse, for they have no sense. A great many wealthy folks go and buy horses and don’t know the first thing about them, and the natural consequence is that although they may have the best intentions, they ill use their horse so grossly that he becomes prematurely broken down. They may drive him to excess and, not knowing how to take care of him afterward, leave it to poorly trained or lazy grooms, who don’t care what becomes of the animal.

It is a great mistake for horsemen/women to drive out to the track, speed their horses, and let them stand under the shed after perhaps giving them a drink of cold water.

Never put cold water into a hot stomach. If you must give your horse a drink while he is warm, let him have some water that has been standing in the sun and that is tepid, but if you give it to him cold out of the pumps you stiffen him and make him sore all over.

Above all, don’t work your horse to excess. If you find she is doing well, leave well enough alone and don’t go trotting her off her legs.

By handling a horse in this way the horseman/woman I have mentioned developed and drove the mare Jessie in 2:19 1/2 without track work of any account.

There are many other good women and men drivers, among whom I might mention Ally Bonner and Mr. Work.

When you drive a horse you must not think that you can sit bolt upright in your road wagon and do him justice. Some people’s backs are bent the wrong way to drive a horse. You must adapt your hand to your horse’s mouth, and you can’t do this with your back as stiff as a ramrod.

Don’t hurt the horse’s mouth. Try and imagine that your arms are elastic and let them give and take, as it were with the reins, so that you do not irritate the horse by the constant strain of hard pulling against him.

If he should happen to break with you, don’t saw at his mouth; just take him back gently, and if he does not catch himself, which he generally will in a few jumps, just nip him to one side or the other, depending on which side he catches, for as you know, all horses do not catch on the same side.

I think that the majority of horse drivers mean well by their horses. At the same time they unwittingly neglect them. Take their feet for example (the most important point in the driving horse). Women and men drivers generally leave their horses’ feet to their groom or blacksmith, and never give it the slightest personal attention.

If you get a nice set of shoes, that just suit your horse, have them duplicated so that the next time you want him shod you know he will have just what suits him.

Above all, don’t let any blacksmith pare your horses' hoofs down too much. A horse’s foot should be handled with reference to the growth of it and according to his size and weight. I think the convex shoes are the best to use for gentle folk’s road driving, for they will not pick up stones or throw much dirt.

If you only handle your horses carefully you can drive them a good deal on the road and not injure them; but you must give them some of your personal attention. Now, as to handling your reins of course that depends altogether on the kind of a horse you are driving, and it is unnecessary for me to say anything about the matter when you use both hands, as most road drivers nowadays have handholds on their reins and it is only a simple question of slipping your hands into them.

But when one speaks of driving with one hand it alters the question materially and requires some thought.

A great many people drive with the reins passed through their fingers. It seems to be the most natural way for one to take hold of the reins. I can not say, however, that I think it is the best; for the simple reason that it gives one little or no leverage by which to control or guide your horse.

I have found the best method is to cross your reins through the palm of your hand, letting the rein which comes between your first finger and thumb pass over the thumb. In this way by simply turning your wrist you can guide and control your horse very easily. Remember, however, to always have your right hand free in case of an accident.

Be sure to get your horse bitted properly. You must get a bit that your horse likes. Some horses will almost pull your arms out with a severe bit, but will give no trouble at all if you put a leather or rubber bit in their mouths. Again, you may have your horse checked too high. I consider this hard and cruel on the horse that may have been on the road all afternoon, and it is sure to irritate him so that in many cases he will commence to act badly. Lengthen your check to a reasonable extent and you will find, in nine cases out of ten, it will benefit both the horse and yourself.

As to the use of the whip, I have noticed many amateur drivers who whip their horses for every little mistake, such as shying, etc. A whip is like a very potent drug that must be used seldom and in small quantities. If I said that under no circumstances should you whip a horse, I think I would not be far wrong, for it only adds fuel to the fire. If a horse should shy when driving, try and make him acquainted, in the most peaceable way you can, with the object he is afraid of. You must teach your horse to have confidence in you, and when he once has this he will learn to rely on you. If you have been kind to a little colt and something frightens it, it will run at once toward you. The horse can be taught to rely on people just as implicitly and more intelligently.

Some horses know more than the people who drive them, added Mr. Saunders, jocosely, as he ended his horse driving hints.