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.