From Behind

For those that don’t know, I started my horse adventures with Standardbreds as a teenager.  It’s a long story, not terribly interesting, but that’s where it began.  I will carry a deep fondness for the breed for all eternity; they treated me well.  I still own one that I bred, raised, trained and competed.  Half blind now, he’s living the pasture ornament’s life.

I’ve got tens of thousands of driving miles behind me; many more than riding miles, and thusly I always feel more at home behind a horse than on a horse.   Both offer a different perspective of equal importance and so I encourage all to drive your horses, if not for the pleasure of it, then for the information you can garner.

Being positioned behind the butt of a horse isn’t necessarily a glamorous place to be.  Indeed, you can be pooped on.  But that kind of a view affords a window to your horse’s gaits that you otherwise never get to see.  Most people watch horses move from the side.  A vet or farrier will occasionally watch a horse from the front or back when doing diagnostics, but mostly it’s that side view that people watch.  Not so when you drive a horse.

Take a look at this helmet cam view. 

The tail sometimes makes it tough to see, but I assure you, when you’re sitting there, you can see the legs and feet.  You can see the flight and footfalls.  You can see the timing of the gait.  (This is a pacer, but it applies to walking and trotting just as well).  You can see if a horse is travelling with the haunch to one side, if one foot wings while the other one paddles.  You can get a sense of how the stifle points ‘out’ so that when the leg comes forward it can clear the ribcage.  You can see the hocks articulating, if they twist.  You can see if a foot lands flat or if it twists.  You can see if each hind foot is stepping equally forward because you can immediately see the hoof prints below you.  You can see if a horse will interefere, when and where, as well, how important timing of the footfalls are to avoid interference.  And if you look higher, you can see how the haunch muscles work, if they are even, if one hip is higher than the other.  In the lines there’s a very clear feeling of the mouth, if the horse carries the bit equally or if he grabs one side of the bit harder than the other.  You can see and feel if the horse carries their shoulders straight, their neck, and their head.  Sure, some of these things you can see and feel when upon the horse, but sometimes feeling them from a different perspective helps.  

The time on that race was 1:52.1 for the mile.  That’s real decent.  Man, I miss my Standardbreds right in this moment.


25 thoughts on “From Behind

  1. So true. I don’t drive, but I have been behind my horse on the long reins, and it’s a whole different perspective.

  2. I don’t drive, so I haven’t seen my mare from behind, but my stable has mirrors at the end of each long side of the arena so you can clearly see a front view of your horse as you ride that side (heck, if you wanted to simply turn yourself around, you could see the rear view). It’s taught me a lot about her gait that I wouldn’t have known from a side-view. Like she paddles a little bit when she trots in the front end.

  3. I would love to learn how to drive. I don’t want to race I just want a nice pleasure mount I can take out for a spin in a cart or sleigh. I’m definitely going to look into getting some lessons this summer.

  4. My first mare rode and drove. The barn where I bought and boarded her had a half-mile track and Standardbreds coming and going from the local tracks (Connaught, Rideau-Carleton…). I was allowed to use a harness and an old wooden jog cart that belonged to the B.O. The Standardbred grooms taught me how to harness my mare and gave me pointers on driving her. My Dad bought a McLaughlin cutter and a harness from the B.O. for Christmas and I took the family for rides. This was back in the ’70’s. Definitely a useful perspective and a worthwhile skill (even though I am relatively sure I likely did not do it well, technically. I was 13 and just starting out and would not know.) I do know it struck me at the time how different the feel of the reins/bit was from riding. I always intended to take it up properly some time.

    To this day, I spend a good bit of time daily watching my horses in their turnout as they move away from me and come toward me – generally as I am either turning them out for the day or calling them in. You can get a lot of useful information about what is up with them, just watching how they move from all angles.

  5. I drove before I was ever more than a ‘sit and have a ride’ passenger on horseback. Between my mother and I we trained our mini to drive.

    I personally think I will always prefer riding to Driving, I like the full contact feel I get in a saddle or bareback. At the same time I think, should I ever own a horse of my own, they will learn to pull as well. It is a nice different sort of exercise, builds up differences and is a different type of communication.

    I do not know how many miles I have driven over the last 10 years or so with him. I do not drive much, mainly because I dislike going alone and we either drive in the early part of the day or late due to the weather, but I imagine just like riding the perfectly trained horse for yourself, driving a horse that is perfectly responsive is just as an enjoyable experience.

  6. I am like you, Mercerdes. Started with Standardbreds. Trained them for years before I turned to saddle horses. But I still just have to have one Standardbred in the barn. I currently have a lovely old gent that I adopted from New Vocations. Raced until he was 15 and retired sound. Made over $950,000 lifetime. He’s 20 now and still loves a brisk jog 3 to 4 times a week. And he is just as happy to have me throw a saddle on an go trail riding too!

    • I converted a few of my Stbds to riding after their race careers. VERY easy to do. We did sometimes ride the racehorses around the backstretch when I was a groom and of course Stbds used to (and still do ocassionally) race under saddle.

  7. you are getting so good at this blog business. One of my favourite entries. Glad you are an internet type friend lol .

  8. I did a lot of driving in my late teens, early 20’s. I had the most fun with a team of shetlands pulling a spring wagon, plodding around the center of town. It’s a very sentimental memory, we made the paper and the newspaper plate sits out for display. One collar is on my fireplace hearth. Yea, hanging onto those days with an iron fist.

    I occasionally drive by Lindy Farms, they have quite the spread of white fencing and hundreds of Standardbreds. I watched their horse Crazed take second in the Hambletonian a few years ago supporting the local talent. Their horses live the life of luxury but the breed could use a touch more color! Brown, brown everywhere.

    • Yes, but a lot of our breeds are a specific color. And I am not referring to our american paints and appaloosas. These two breeds took a color and made a breed. I’m thinking more along the lines of Frisian, Fjord and Lipizzan. I thought Andalusians were supposed to be black bay or grey until they became so popular. To me the prettiest color is a fit, nicely groomed horse. Browns and dark bays can really shine when properly groomed.

        • All I know is that starting a few years ago, all andalusian breeders around here started breeding colored horses. What the pre standards are, I don’t know. I’m sure you are right, but in my neck of the woods, they are advertised heavily.

          • They aren’t pure ‘Spanish’ breds then. They may still advertise them as Andalusians, but to get those other colors they have to have crossed them at some point with a Lusitano (Portugese). That crossing does happen a lot and those horses are generally referred to as simply Andalusians. But a pure ‘Spanish’ Andalusian…coming from just Spanish lines will only ever be; grey (85%ish), bay (10%ish) or black (5%).

            Now, a lot of people don’t distinguish between the two breeds and often refer to them as the same breed. They look a lot alike, but if you study them enough, you can usually tell the difference between the two…besides by color.

          • Originally the Andalusian and the Lusitano were the same horse. Then Spain and Portugal had a fight and split their stock, went their separate ways and started their own Studbooks. The Portugese remained very traditional in their breeding of their Lusitanos keeping them smaller, compact, and using them for traditional activities like bullfighting and ranch work, while the Spanish developed a more modern type…taller, leaner, leggier…you’ve seen that story played out in history with other breeds and developed a carriage type, and a sporthorsy type, blah, blah, blah.

            A lot of Lusitanos still possess a convex profile…you won’t see that on an Andalusian, whom will have a straight profile. They tend to be shorter…like 15-15.3h, whereas you’ll see Andalusians more commonly in the 16h+ range. Very rarely will you see a Lusitano without a good amount of brio, but it’s quite common to see an Andalusian with a minimum amount of it.

            There are only a fraction of Lusitanos to Andalusians. The last population figures I had were 4,000 worldwide for Lusis and 25,000 worldwide for Andis. The figure for Andis is likely higher now, but it’s still hard to find a Lusitano.

            That’s your history and breed lesson for the day. 🙂

          • A bit off topic, but I’ll continue this. Around here pre has expanded to include chestnut, buckskin, palomino, grulla, etc. What spain does, I don’t know. But the money these horses were generating prompted the breeding of “rare” colors. Breeding stallions of color are advertised as pre.

          • I’m not sure what the current requirements are for PRE designation. They may only require 1 or 2 generations of Spanish blood to be labelled PRE. It may be working much like how the Warmbloods are working nowadays where you can have a horse registered as a Hanovarian and the horse possesses more Westphalian blood than it does Hano blood. Or the Dutch Warmblood who’s dam was a Holsteiner etc…

            But the ‘rare color’ comes from the Lusitano, not the Andalusian. I’m of the school it’s a marketing ploy and that they are flinging PRE around like they do Sporthorse for every Draft cross horse.

        • I thought PRE will now accept Chestnut? Lord alone knows what colours are lurking under the Grey, but I am pretty sure Pinto is not there…..

      • I agree, my favorite equine color is a nice dark, lightly dappled bay (like my mare when she gets her summer coat in!). Of course the best color is a well-maintained horse 😉 Nice bay is always better than a crappy grulla.

    • LOL! Yes, lots of dark bays and browns. Funny story…there was a High Ideal stallion stabled at the track where I worked and every fall when the yearlings would show up, the owner/trainer would deliberately take him out to jog when the babies went out. You’ve never seen so many horses ‘scatter’ then when he jogged that BRIGHT WHITE horse on the track. None of the hundreds and hundreds of long yearlings had ever seen such a colored horse. We used to curse him every season as we’d find ourselves flying across the middle of the track or down ditches.

      • My trainer had the same ‘sense of humor’….he’d find his best jokes when I was on a baby for the first time (tossing pebbles, opening umbrellas…). Looking back I think part of his game was attempting to thicken my skin. It didn’t look like that then!

  9. I’ve also done a bit of driving and aside from getting a different perspective, you can really appreciate the power and strength when you’re sitting behind a horse cantering in harness.

  10. Most of us Morgan people still train the long yearlings to drive first and then move them over to saddle at the Fall of their 3 year old year. Saddlebreds too. You can do so much with them in harness before they have developed the strength to carry a rider. Many show saddle horses are jogged in the cart several days a week as part of their show prep.
    It is just plain fun, too, but you can have some spectacular wrecks and it can be dangerous.

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