I am not sure what Diva will think of this, but I would love to break her to harness so we could compete in carriage driving classes at the shows and also join in fun drives.

The first step in my cunning plan was to have a driving lesson with Claire Bourne LHHI of Snail River Carriage Horses. Claire is fully qualified and does weddings, funerals, proms and lessons with her Friesians, Lippizaners and ponies. I am an experienced rider but I have never taken the reins of a carriage.

Riding horse carriage

The first thing that Claire taught me was how to hold the reins on a pulley system so you can see exactly what your hand movements are doing on the reins. Whilst it is acceptable to use two hands on the reins, as when riding, it is safer and more practical to use the traditional coaching style. This method enables the use of the whip whilst maintaining an even contact on the reins, allows signalling of other carriage drivers whilst driving in company and facilitates shortening of the reins, especially in an emergency situation. The reins are held primarily in the left hand, with the right hand being used as a support. Unlike when riding it is very important that the thumb of the left hand does not grip the reins (something I did keep doing as when riding the thumb is used!). The wrist is then rotated towards or away from the body to turn the pony.

People riding carriage

We moved on to how to harness up the pony. Storm, a lovely spotted pony, was the victim in having to put up with me. He stood like a rock whilst Claire went through how to position the harness correctly and what order to put things on. The bridle is always put on last.

It is important that the vehicle is the correct size for the pony and is also correctly balanced. Claire demonstrated the balance by asking me to hold the shafts of the carriage. They were quite heavy and I did think it was a lot of weight to be on the pony’s back. However, all this changed when Claire got into the carriage, and I suddenly had barely any weight in my hands at all.

Claire hitched up Storm and off we went. We practised several turns in the yard before we set off around the tracks and lanes. Michelle and Flora had come with me and so they walked along with us, which was lovely.

Storm was very forgiving of my ineptitude until I got the hang of the reins. Claire has recommended that I use coachman style when I begin to long rein Diva as it will then be second nature by the time she is in a carriage.

I thoroughly enjoyed my lesson and, armed with my printouts, feel confident in introducing the harness to Diva when long reining. I will, however, be having further lessons and eliciting help when the time comes to progress to the carriage.

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