breaking to harness... my plan, what do you think? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 30 Old 04-13-2012, 11:33 AM Thread Starter
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breaking to harness... my plan, what do you think?

My filly is 16 months old in a week. That means it's 8 months until I start breaking her to harness, because I've pretty much always planned to break her to harness at 2 so I can enjoy her for a year and get a real good mouth established before I get on her back. I figure most horses' knees are closed by the time they're 2.5 so if I make sure she's only in very light harness work at a walk until then, she'll be right.

My plan starts with getting a roller and longlining with me walking the appropriate distance behind, using a PNH stick as a driving whip (it's what I have, because I use some methods to train her that depend greatly on timing and anything flexible throws out that timing). It's something I always planned on to get her mouth really great before I get on her back, so it's simple enough.

Next step is to find her a harness, one with enough adjustment that I will have a decent amount of time with her in it before I have to get a new one, and ground drive her with a tire on a quick release in case she freaks out. From there, something heavier that I can sit on, and from there, shafts.

From shafts, a light jog-cart, which I should be able to find easily enough as we are in an area with a lot of harness racers. From a light jog-cart, I have a lovely two-wheeled buggy that got smashed up a few years ago that I can repair, and that will be her final cart.

She's pretty sensible most of the time. I'm not going to be able to drive her in pairs because she's a nasty little witch to other horses when she's in season (mares!) and she's not much a fan of cars, but I can put a sign on the back of us advising drivers to please slow down... we don't really have anywhere much to drive a buggy that's not busy public road or pacing training track, and I'm not paying for membership to the track so that I can work with my baby as she will be too tall to be a pony trotter and not a Standardbred so won't be a pacer, so I'm not sure how I'm going to swing that one. Get her more used to cars, I guess, and go from there. Need to do it anyway as the roads are really the only place to ride around here.

One important caveat here - I am not an experienced driver by any stretch of the imagination! I think I've been at the reins once, with a dead broke and experienced QH between the shafts. What I'm thinking I'll do is get my mother to help with the harness side of things, so that my girl is properly educated. Yes, we do have a proper driving bit, no I will not be using it (it is a liverpool, so way too harsh if I mouth her correctly) - instead I am thinking of getting a half spoon for her. She will have to go in the softest driving bit possible, as she is intended to be a dressage horse and eventer when she's old enough.

AAAnywayy. That's my plan, explained in a very long and convoluted manner. Good, bad? What could I do better? What have I got planned out right? Is there anything in my plan I should absolutely not ever do?

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post #2 of 30 Old 04-13-2012, 11:57 AM
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post #3 of 30 Old 04-13-2012, 01:55 PM
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I'd get this book. It's great for beginners. It not only teaches you how to break to harness but gives you the reasons for why you are doing things and how the horses body works when pulling. A great resource.

Riding: The art of keeping a horse between you and the ground. ~Author Unknown
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post #4 of 30 Old 04-13-2012, 02:09 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you, sounds like a great resource. I haven't looked much into the link as I have absolutely no spare money at the moment (just spent it all on a new saddle) but hey, I have another 8 months.

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post #5 of 30 Old 04-13-2012, 05:40 PM
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I would do it a bit differently,but its whatever works for you and your horse.We dont always have to follow what someone else does to train a good horse.I wish you the best.
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post #6 of 30 Old 04-14-2012, 06:50 AM Thread Starter
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Do tell, what would you do differently? I'm trying to learn as much as I possibly can before I actually get onto the task of harness training her, so that I can pick what works best for my girl from a bunch of different methods.

Something I forgot to ask in my OP is - what is actually the softest driving bit? I know a fair bit about riding bits but I've never sat down and learned about driving bits and their actions and purposes. I really would like to know, so that I can make the most informed decisions possible about my kit and training methods.

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post #7 of 30 Old 04-14-2012, 08:50 AM
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You have the right idea but I caution you about taking this and that and what fits into your training to teach your young mare to drive. Do it right the first time, read up on how to properly train a cart horse, my words of wisdom to you is GROUND WORK must be taught and taught till the horse can literally do it in her sleep. She should know that when you say the word "Whoa" you mean whoa and it is to be done now. If you have an arena to teach her and to use, please, use it. Driving a long a road with a green driving horse is an accident waiting to happen, people are stupid when it comes to horses, they honk, they gawk, they speed up on you, all sorts of things that a green horse is not equip to handle and if your green too, neither are you. I say this only out of experience and from having endured a bad wreck.

As for driving bits, I have driven in a snaffle, and don't let people tell you that it is for riding, poppycock! They are a driving bit as well. And just remember, any bit can be harsh, it is the hands that are at the end that will make it soft or harsh. I went from a buxton bit, which is for a wheel team in a larger hitch, so I changed them for a military snaffle. When your in a crowd or are doing something that you need a good "stop" on the horse, you want a bit that you can, again if necessary, you can drop your lines down a notch to get your point across or give you a little bit more insurance that your animal will stop or will listen when it is nervous. I have had to drop my lines down a time or two when my team was nervous, but, when you have two 1800lb mares at the end of those lines and your in a large show, I would rather have their attention on me than the thought of them spooking and bolting. At the end of the day, they are horses and they do stupid things, no matter how well trained they are. One thing too, most harness has an over check on it...I use ours but we don't jack the head back like many do, I want my mares to be able to use their head for balance but not drop their head to try to eat grass or fit faddle around. Many people here use a liverpool bit with great success and they aren't considered a harsh bit.

I just cannot stress safety enough and caution. As for her being a witch and you never driving in pairs, don't make excuses for your mare. If you harness her to something, again, she should listen and she should do what you tell her to do. My big Percheron mare, Trixie has a habit of nipping and flipping her ears at Smoke or trying to take a nip out of her. I too made excuses for her, oh she had a bad abscess on her chest and remembers that, oh she may be sore, oh she probably has something pinching, etc...nope. She was being a bitch, plain and simple and a good friend and mentor had to wake me up that she was doing what I was allowing her to get away with. Now, when she acts the fool she gets corrected immediately, be it a sharp word or her name, a jerk on her lead or if it warrants, as she has tried to nip the back of my husbands back, a slap on the neck and/or chest. We do a lot of public education and drives so having our team pay attention is priority. I am fortunate that they are an older team, they both have worked on a professional carriage service and work well together, as they now work mostly off of voice instead of lines.

Most of all, other than safety, have fun.
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post #8 of 30 Old 04-14-2012, 09:38 AM Thread Starter
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But there are so many different ways to properly train a horse for anything, and no one way works for every horse! That's why I want to learn as much as I can about the different ways to train them to harness.. even though I'll most likely get my mother to break her for me, and hopefully drive her for the first few times she takes to the road. I'm doing the saddle breaking, because I know my way around riding

My girl is absolutely 100% respectful towards me, she is just a bitch to other mares, and when she's in season, she's a bitch to geldings too. She can bitchface with the best... she's not afraid to let fly at bigger horses either. She's just starting to find her dominance so I'm sure she'll settle but I don't want to risk her kicking out and injuring a driving partner, or herself. As much control and respect as you may have over your horse you can't always guarantee that they won't kick, and when you already know the horse is a bitchy dominant mare and won't tolerate another horse so close when she's in season, why take the risk? I also don't have a partner for her and wouldn't have a clue how to drive two in hand anyway.

I guess with the liverpool I can always use it on the big ring and not the notches, and then move the rein to the notches if I'm anticipating bad behaviour.

I have some decent sized pastures and a REALLY long driveway that I can practice on until she's figured out what the buggy is all about, I just also would like to be able to take her out. She just needs more time and miles walking in hand, she's much less reactive about cars than she was. It's only big semitrailers, buses, and idiots in powerful cars that bother her now.

I think we'll hit a sticky patch with her respect soon, like I said she is a very dominant bitchy mare and it's never all smooth sailing! She was pretty hot yesterday when I walked her, and reared a few times, but I got right on her case for that. Hopefully that little misbehaviour has been nipped in the bud.

Groundwork, by the way, is all I ever do with her! I'm being careful not to over-handle her but she's already great to lunge, and I can move her shoulder and her hindquarter without touching her. Backing up at liberty will get there, I can move her sideways over cones, and I've got her halfway mouthed, just need her to accept the bit and halt/backup without crossing her jaw. I'm just about going mad waiting to start doing more with her.

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post #9 of 30 Old 04-14-2012, 09:44 AM
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You should be starting her now. What I mean by this is teaching her to stand still while you walk around her. A good harness horse as well as riding horse is one that stands still while being handled and worked on. Teach her patience to stand while you toss a lead over her back down her neck over her rump. Do this lightly. She should stand while you go to her back. Its not going to hurt her for her to get used to harness. By this I mean placing the saddle (harness piece) over back making her stand placing breast plate on making her stand. The key is to have her learn to stand while being harnessed and used to parts to the harness. Then in 8 months shes already 1 step ahead of the training. My horses are ready to longe in harness by age 2 ( unless they are my drafts ) drafts grow at a much slower rate then lighter breed.
Good luck have fun be patient and love your horses.
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post #10 of 30 Old 04-14-2012, 10:06 AM Thread Starter
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She already stands still for me to walk around her and do things, I routinely play games with her that involve her job being to stand still and not be fussed by what I'm doing. But I haven't actually harnessed her as I don't have one. We did, left over from Mum's old QH, but it got destroyed in the same incident as the buggy was smashed up. The difference is the harness is beyond repair, the buggy just needs a new axel and some new wood.

She has been saddled with a pony pad and didn't bat an eyelid, she has had a lead around her rump and didn't even react when I started tightening it except to calmly turn herself around so it wasn't around her rump any more (one of the games we play with our horses).

I only want to take her very very slowly and not be actually doing any pulling work until 2.5 at the earliest, she has Arabian blood and almost certainly some draft so she'll be slow to mature. I have attached a pic of her sire to demonstrate, he is around 6 or 7 if I remember right and still growing into himself and filling out. Him now (in the photo) and him when I was researching my filly's breeding before I bought her, are two completely different horses!

I can't afford a harness now anyway, I've just bought a new saddle for my riding horse. But I can start on longlining her in a roller (just have to borrow one), and once she's got that figured out it's actually safer for me to be outside of kicking distance behind her than by her side if she has a moment about a car.

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