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56 December 18, 2014 by patricia demers /horsetrader columnist I

like to introduce the harness a few pieces at a time, in this order: saddle, back strap with crupper, then the breeching. T is just seems

to make sense to the horse and is less over- whelming to his senses. You want to introduce the harness piece-by-

piece, so they won’t get frightened. A few times around on the lunge or round pen for each piece is usually suffi cient. You simply want the equine to be relaxed and accepting without fear. When introducing the crupper (that’s the part that goes under the tail), it’s important to prepare your horse to relax its tail by gently stretching the tail upwards and letting the horse drop it down without resistance. Rub the underside of your horse’s tail with your hands to get him used to feeling something there. When the tail is in its normal position, the crupper is properly

More in the round pen: Introducing the harness DrAbout

even want to put a piece of sheepskin around it to cushion it. Next is the breeching. T e hip strap threads

through the slot in the back strap. T is buckles to and holds up the breeching strap (the wide piece with two rings). T is fi ts properly in the widest part of the equine’s butt—neither too high nor low—but in the center. You want to be able to get a hand’s width between the breech- ing and the butt, so don’t make it too tight. Your horse may scoot forward the fi rst time this touches him, so let him work it out for himself. Again, don’t punish—he’s got to get used to all kinds of straps touching him in unfamiliar plac- es. Next, put the breast collar or neck collar on. Secure them so they don’t fall forward while the horse works. T is may be done by either tying up the traces to the breeching (if they don’t unbuckle), or use a piece of cord.


use for this exercise. Some prefer to thread them through the saddle rein terrets, just like they would be when attached to a carriage. My preference is to put them through the shaft loops at about midline of the horse. I fi nd that this sets the horse’s head at a more relaxed and normal headset. Either way is OK. T is is where both the trainer/driver and the horse build their communication, mutual respect and con- fi dence in each other. T e trainer must develop soft and fl owing hands, and the equine must start to listen through the bit. Work with right (“gee”), left turns (“haa”), and “whoa” at the walk before working at the trot. Its best to start this in a controlled area, then work your way up to ground driving around the stable, and then down the trail or neighborhood to introduce your horse to things he’s going to encounter when hooked to a carriage. If the equine is working relaxed and is

accepting of everything, then it’s time to intro- duce the blinders. If you don’t have a driving bridle, your regular bridle and a racing hood is a good substitute. When introducing the blinders, do so in a controlled and familiar space. Your horse will be anxious for the fi rst few minutes while trying to fi gure out why he can’t see behind him. Go slowly in this stage and review everything you’ve done previously, but now do it with the blinders. TALK to your horse when he’s in blinders so that he knows where you are—you don’t want to startle him. As for bits, there must be a million to choose

fi tted when there are about one to two fi ngers of room between the underside of the tail and the roll of the crupper. It’s not to be fi tted too tight or too loose, which can cause the equine to clamp or swish his tail in discomfort or anx- iety. When introducing the crupper for the fi rst time BE CAREFUL, as your horse may clamp his tail, scoot forward , and possibly buck and kick! Do your homework before and desensi- tize them, and youëll have less resistance. You may want to do this the fi rst time in a stall. Don’t punish your horse if he objects—leave him alone to work it out and accept it. T e underside of the tail is very sensitive and easily rubbed, so make sure your crupper is clean, not cracked, and of the appropriate size. You might

While introducing each piece of harness,

continue to do your exercises: walk, trot, whoa, stand. Be sure to work both directions equally. I’m a fan of the “German training scale”:

relaxation, rhythm, contact, impulsion, straight- ness, collection. I want my horses RELAXED but attentive when I’m working on teaching them something. T ey also need to stay in RHYTHM 1-2, 1-2, swinging along at both the walk and trot. Horses accept training better when they are relaxed, not anxious or fearful. Next, we introduce the long lines. It’s best

not to use nylon, as you can get a bad rope burn. Two cotton lunge lines work well, or you can purchase cotton long lines through catalogues. Your harness driving lines will be too short to

from! You still can’t beat a simple snaffl e or mullen mouth to start with. T ere are special- ized driving bits, the Liverpool being one of the most popular because of its versatility of rein slots. T e best bit is the one your horse wants in its mouth. Your goals are to introduce each piece of

harness and blinders. Long line your equine in and out of the arena, with and without blinders, while maintaining relaxation and acceptance of each stage. Don’t forget to use your whip as you would your leg in riding.

Trish Patricia Demers is a trainer based in

Lancaster, Calif., who specializes in carriage driving. You can submit questions or reach Trish at

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