This is the breastplate part of an 'Ideal' (clever name!) harness, here being measured by driving coach Rise Massey, who handily lives a mere hundred kilometres southwards (!).  When the horse really 'leans' into this, the breastplate ideally wants to be above the point of the shoulder (where Rise's index finger is pointing towards) yet below the windpipe for easy breathing.

This is the breastplate part of an ‘Ideal’ (clever name!) harness, here being measured by driving coach Rise Massey, who handily lives a mere hundred kilometres southwards (!). When the horse really ‘leans’ into this, the breastplate ideally wants to be above the point of the shoulder (where Rise’s index finger is pointing towards) yet below the windpipe for easy breathing.

Last Monday, unlike today, which is cold and dank and overcast and snowing – was a daisy of day – sunlit, dry driving conditions and two sweaters warm as the Apache and I slid southwards a mere hundred kms to Rise Massey, an avid combined driving competitor and coach operating near High River. In Alberta this is considered normal, handy, almost around-the-corner kind of thinking; from days researching backcountry trails and guidebooks, I was always conscious that every minute of travel equals roughly a minute of walking, balancing and re-balancing in even the best of air-ride trailers. The driver, lucky sod, sits immobile inside, knowing the destination and what’s on plan for the day. Horses don’t, at all, and these days I get more and more mindful of understanding their ways of thinking about what’s-up-today as we load up from home pastures.

 

Here, Rise is mimicking the load factor of a horse putting his weight into the breastplate (with work horses this was/can also be a 'collar'), so you can see how the balance subtly alters.  It's also a reference to the expression we all use, “putting your shoulder into it". I'm told there are over a hundred colloquial slang expressions we all use every day that come from days when horses were horsepower and part of everyday life.

Here, Rise is mimicking the load factor of a horse putting his weight into the breastplate (with work horses this was/can also be a ‘collar’), so you can see how the balance subtly alters. It’s also a reference to the expression we all use, “putting your shoulder into it”. I’m told there are over a hundred colloquial slang expressions we all use every day that come from days when horses were horsepower and part of everyday life.

And, this was IT – my first real time doing experiential stuff with my own horse, measuring up a possible harness up for sale second-hand, understanding those small little details of fitting – and how to do it properly, and safely. I like experts, very useful people. I like to load up on details, practise like crazy back at home until the deal flows, then come back again and learn some more. It saves, too, having to unlearn dreadful bad habits – useful too!

 

Rise Massey comes highly recommended, by many. And, as I’ve advised many over the years, watch an instructor teach, work their own horses, before you commit. Sometimes the fit is there, and comfortable and mutual – and sometimes, simply, it may not even with the best will in the world.

Binder twine, always useful!  Here we are tacking up the Apache, his first time ever with all the gear I'm trying out – although he's been extensively long lined and very used to ropes just everywhere too.  It's why the breeching (the bit around his butt in plain parlance!) is being attached with binder twine, easier to undo, looser this first time if he decides he and driving are-not-a-good-match.

Binder twine, always useful! Here we are tacking up the Apache, his first time ever with all the gear I’m trying out – although he’s been extensively long lined and very used to ropes just everywhere too. It’s why the breeching (the bit around his butt in plain parlance!) is being attached with binder twine, easier to undo, looser this first time if he decides he and driving are-not-a-good-match.

I took the Apache, not Mops, as I know the pinto boy is as near bombproof as can be with long-lines, ropes everywhere, regards Cowboy Challenge material as something to trot through before breakfast. It’s just the kind of mind he has, plus a whole ton of training ridden and at Liberty besides. He’s my ‘learning’ horse – one a bit more forgiving perhaps than a very tuned in wildie colt, who reads your mind and moves before you’ve even finished the sentence!

 

 

So, what I learn with Apache I’ll fiddle around with details like getting Mops to walk, trot and canter immediately – not just pretty close but straight off – on voice commands around me, the driving whip here, there and everywhere without fear and trepidation, backing up (which I don’t do very much with my own horses) and working more with long lines around his butt, on and above his backside too, to the side, thrown underneath whilst standing still forever (‘Stand’ means stand).

 

We're tacking up, taking our time, in a safe secure place with good footing (horses, in a sense, do 'think' with their feet and are very mindful of slippery ground underfoot).  This is the crupper that will wrap around his thick luxurious tail.  It's often filled apparently with tiny malleable linseed seeds wrapped around with supple soft leather, which ensures that, going downhill, the surcingle and wrap strap will not slide into the scapula (shoulder blade) - courtesy of the backstrap along his topline that connects the two pieces of equipment.  Rise has deliberately, this first time, left the crupper unfastened until we get into the arena and work the Apache around to see how he adjusts to all this different gear before attaching the crupper – and then immediately working him forward. As it turned out, he didn't mind at all.

We’re tacking up, taking our time, in a safe secure place with good footing (horses, in a sense, do ‘think’ with their feet and are very mindful of slippery ground underfoot). This is the crupper that will wrap around his thick luxurious tail. It’s often filled apparently with tiny malleable linseed seeds wrapped around with supple soft leather, which ensures that, going downhill, the surcingle and wrap strap will not slide into the scapula (shoulder blade) – courtesy of the backstrap along his topline that connects the two pieces of equipment. Rise has deliberately, this first time, left the crupper unfastened until we get into the arena and work the Apache around to see how he adjusts to all this different gear before attaching the crupper – and then immediately working him forward. As it turned out, he didn’t mind at all.

It’s going to mean Mops getting more accustomed too to the bridle (definitely an ‘open’ bridle to start with, can you imagine what he would think about blinkers, whatever humans think about them being useful?!), and a mullen snaffle (this discipline has very specific bits that can be used) and see how he gets on with that metal nonsense.

 

The photographs have explanations with them, so much information to remember; notebook definitely next time, to write down as soon as possible. After eight concussions (yep) over five decades, two downhill skiing, the worst a catastrophic whiplash on a sopping wet veterinary’s floor – and the rest bounced out of the saddle and all with helmets on, my very short-term memory isn’t that hot these days. As a journalist, if I’m introduced to eight people at speed, I’m in trouble unless I can work out an inner brain code to a colour, or piece of clothing. So yes, I’m going to need a notebook, others might use phones, whatever works!

Driving bridles are much stouter than your riding models.  We actually long-lined Apache with an 'open' bridle (no blinkers) but this was a fitting session to show me how the eye wants to be very centred to the middle of blinker and not interfere with any eyelashes or their 'feeling' hairs.  The browband comes actually quite a bit more forward and off the forehead, as it has to support the inner wired blinker adjusters that run from the crown of the bridle to the blinkers.  Blinkers, it seems, have very many opinions attached to them - more later another time on that subject!

Driving bridles are much stouter than your riding models. We actually long-lined Apache with an ‘open’ bridle (no blinkers) but this was a fitting session to show me how the eye wants to be very centred to the middle of blinker and not interfere with any eyelashes or their ‘feeling’ hairs. The browband comes actually quite a bit more forward and off the forehead, as it has to support the inner wired blinker adjusters that run from the crown of the bridle to the blinkers. Blinkers, it seems, have very many opinions attached to them – more later another time on that subject!

Now, off to practise with the Apache – and Mops – more photographs, ground driving too next time of writing – just think how fit agricultural workers must have been walking simply miles behind ploughs and the like!

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