How soon can I start driving my pony?
I am completely new to the driving world, however I do have a Shetland-type pony mare that I would like to drive in the future. I intend to have a friend who is more experienced than I teach/train both her and me (and/or seek out a professional trainer)...but my main question is, how young can you start driving smaller ponies? She is about 10 hands, and will be 3 yrs old in April. Obviously I don't want to hurt her. My family has always waited til 3 1/2 or 4 or even 5 to start our young horses under saddle...I wasn't sure if it was the same with driving.
Generally yes, its about the same as riding, though the horse will be using different muscles. I started ground driving my mare at two and a half (only because of handling problems, she was untouched when I got her. You could start ground driving today if you wanted to!), had her dragging shafts but no cart at just-turned three, and at about three and a half I very lightly started her to cart. We only walked, often when me behind the vehicle and not in it. When she was almost four I started asking for a more powerful walk and some light trotting. From 3-4 I tried to keep sessions below 30 or 40 minutes. Now she's four and a half, and I'm asking a lot more of her. She's just come off of a long break but we're already working a lot on correct carriage, collection, stronger trotting, and a bit of light hill work. We go anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. I won't be attempting to canter her until she is 5 though, and only then very, very lightly. I try not to ask for more than 10-15 minutes of straight trotting at once either, and won't until she's 5 or 6 because her spine will not close up until then. That is merely personal preference though.
By the way, I LOVE your mare's bridle in your avatar! Classy and elegant looking, but fun.
You can pretty much start training from the day they are born. Get them used to ropes, pressure, and even noises behind them. Lessons in their early years should be untaxing and not asking for much forward movement for long periods. Ground driving starting at age two, then you have a year to perfect it before lightly starting them at three. If you get them in cart at three I would say only pull light vehicles or small branches/tires. Most horses should be plenty mature by age four to start being worked more for longer sessions. It is important to build your filly's trust in you and confidence before expecting her to walk out in front of you. Some horses take a while to understand the concept of walking in front of a person, or just lack the confidence to lead. As long as you do not ask too much too soon, you should be fine. If your filly is unsure or isn't confident then there is no reason you cannot continue practicing until she gets better before moving on. If she seems bored, just go over it briefly to make sure she understands then move on.
I very much agree with "foundation before specialization". Perfecting her manners with ground work is very important, and if you leave gaps in that initial training, they will come back to haunt you. Also, age doesn't matter as much as what they are mentally able to do. Some horses, even if worked from early on, may not be ready for the vehicle until years down the road. [No pun intended. ;)]
Good luck, training a horse is always a learning experience, and very worthwhile. c:
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