Last week this time I was white-knuckling it over black ice (trucks in ditches everywhere) on the road up to Olds College where the Chinook Driving Club (a chapter of the Alberta Carriage Driving Association, links here and here.) had rented just-the-right-facilities for the first of a series of introductory workshops.
This particular one was for ‘Beginners,’ graduating to three subsequent workshops working upwards from there. I think there were about 15 or 16 participants and Becky Taylor – the club’s secretary, combined driving competitor and daughter of the Equine Canada driving coach, Barb Richard (who was instructing) – remarked, I think, that an equal amount had cancelled due to the atrocious conditions. Definitely, it would appear, this is a growing discipline in the equestrian world.
A real regret, I’m sure, so many had to make decisions not to risk slick roads (some areas were harder hit than others), as this was one informative workshop – gosh, I was glad I’d set those three alarm clocks to peer into ghastly pre-dawn darkness, haying the home herd first, gulp down a cup of tea and pried the eyes open pretty much in that order! Me and early mornings, despite years of trying, sadly have never been really good friends, ever.
Mind, the retro-thing, I was super pleased three clanging, chirping, beeping alarm clocks had done their work! This was a well-thought out affair with a ton of experiential work (you get to do it, not just read about it!) thrown in. Yes, there were power-point discussions about bits and saddlery to begin, yet soon these cranked into practical.
Two relieved equines (it was cold out there!) came into the farrier building to be tacked up, to get the two-leggeds to understand the importance of level traces (the piece of harness that attaches to the cart itself from the breast collar that horses lean into and pull from) and exactly where it’s best to adjust buckles from, how tight the girthing needs to be (surprisingly easy on the horse this one), and the point of a crupper (a generally linseed filled leather rounding around the tail) – which is, surprisingly again for the novice here, primarily to stop a rein that could slide under a tail getting clamped down on – and a potential for disaster!
Upstairs, another group was dividing into pairs, one as a ‘horse’ with fingers linked through a snaffle bit walking away as would a horse in front, with lines (reins) to the second human behind, to begin to understand about pressure, of that being constant. I’ve done this with long line students in the front fields at home, usually after a short brief stint with a horse they thought beautifully in control with in the corral’s safe enclosed spaces and who to date – 100% failure rate! – never get a straight line, ever, to start with out in open spaces. It’s an art form, a real definition of the word ‘feel.’
Then useful handouts of “Harness Selection and Care,” and – oh gosh! – a “Driving Checklist – Are you, your horse, and vehicle ready to drive?” with 21 deceptively simple questions lining up, and another helpful questionnaire of what state of play and repair is your driving vehicle (mine’s still mythical at the moment. We still need to really establish if Mops is going to be keen to lean into that breastcollar and trot on out front, the two absolutely key driving prerequisites apparently, before the chequebook comes out).
What became apparent during the day was that all four of the club’s members’ contributing thoughts (including Barb, Becky, their president Gord Fulton gently nudging in with advice in the practicals) were in absolute accord. Horsemanship, foundation work, was key – “without anxiety,” “quietly accept,” “wait patiently,” “walk confidently” cropped up in driving dialogues. If you think you can have a train wreck riding, imagine what can happen with a cart or vehicle hooked up behind an unschooled or inadequately prepared horse. This club has serious enthusiast combined driving members who obviously understand risk factors of coming in at speed to the marathon section’s obstacles, with a centimeter to spare sometimes. And, who realize this is too high-risk unless you work your horse systematically through sound training, be it for pleasure, recreational or otherwise.
There’s a series of workshops, the next one filling up on February 27th and 28th, ground lining your real live horse this time, and we’re signed up.