I’d like to introduce you to Merlin (Triavon Myrddin), a registered Welsh Section D stallion. Merlin is just four-years-old and I think has the makings of a very versatile driving cob with the potential to excel in the show ring as well as at driving trials.
I was on the look out for a youngster to bring on as my two driving ponies are now well into their teens and it would take a few years to get another horse established up to national level.
There are demands made on a horse competing at open level. Collected trot is harder in a carriage when a horse needs to use forward momentum to push into the collar and pull the weight of the four-wheeled carriage with two people up. There are also more steps of rein back requiring the horse to push the four-wheeler back in a straight line by sitting into the breeching strap around its back end.
At open level you must also drive eight obstacles at national and regional events so I would look for a powerful mover with the conformation to turn easily without losing momentum and yet also with a ground covering stride.
I noticed Merlin on a Facebook page and thought how handsome he looked – I have always loved golden ponies! The pictures of him under saddle showed very good paces for his age and a natural soft head carriage. The seller, Charlotte Maria Lewis, was only about 20 miles away down in the Welsh valleys which meant I could easily go and see him.
Charlotte explained that she produced show horses, mainly under saddle, especially the Welsh breeds, but due to other commitments had to reduce numbers. As Merlin was just 14hh he was not an ideal size for showing alongside full up registered sections Ds in in-hand or ridden classes – which would explain why he hadn’t been snapped up as soon as he was advertised. To me his height was not an issue – in fact the reverse – as long as he was under 14.2hh, I felt his build and power would be perfect for my driving ambitions.
When I went to see him I wanted to assess his manoeuvrability and impulsion without a rider so we took him into the arena to free school and show his paces. He was awesome! I could see in him all the qualities I had hoped for – he could turn on a sixpence, was well balanced and confident and could keep up his speed. What’s more he charged up the sloping banks of their arena very sure-footedly… though this was a skill he decided to add to his repertoire!
Done deal! Merlin would join us to learn to be a driving pony. Since bringing him home he has had plenty of time to settle down and build up a bond with me. I bought a Zilco classic cob harness which is strong, very adjustable and comfortable. He was happy having it fitted and over the sessions of gradually introducing the complete harness was soon walking and trotting. Introducing the blinkers was also straightforward – he wasn’t fazed at all. I was getting well into the process of developing his independence to go forward from the long lines into new places and situations when I had my unfortunate tip up at Keysoe and injured my leg.
For the past few months while I have been unable to walk on my leg properly he has had a relaxing time being a pony – enjoying turnout and the company of others, although with a fence between – to the great disappointment of our little retired driving mare, who thinks he’s an absolute stud!
Next week he will start to come back into work with some schooling on long lines. A friend who is an experienced rider has been exercising Merlin for me under saddle to keep him fit while I am on crutches and together we will work out ridden activities to help him further his progress for driving as well as riding. In anticipation of when we are ready to put him in the carriage, I have sourced a suitable vehicle for him.
I have chosen a two-wheeler as I like to get my ponies confident without the worry of jack-knifing and in a two-wheeler in the early stages instead of the accompanying person being required to balance the backstep of the carriage they can walk alongside with the lunge line.
I put safety as my main concern – safety for the driver and for the horse. So I want a carriage that is well put together with strong materials, fit for purpose and good secure fixings.
Then a close second is comfort. Comfort for the horse means a carriage that is easy to pull and designed to avoid rubbing or knocks. Comfort for the driver is fairly far down the list as long as the driver is secure and can brace their feet and has easy access – although comfy seat cushioning is appreciated as you start to put miles on the clock!
Everyone has their own preferences but I was lucky to find a second hand cob sized Hillam carriage. I really like these vehicles and feel they are exceptionally good value. They are very well engineered – made in Yorkshire with quality steel and fittings and strong second hand motorbike wheels. The shafts on the Hillam are very adjustable in width and in length. Adjusting the width allows the vehicle to be safely and comfortably used for different builds of pony whether stocky or elegant in frame and adjusting length ensures the pony is at the optimum distance from the carriage and can’t bang his hocks.
The carriages are very easy to access making it ideal for breaking horses to drive when you might want to step in quickly and get out easily to work from the ground. Easy access is very important to me with my injured leg and will be a lot safer than anything that requires agility to mount.
The pneumatic tyres make it a good choice across soft ground such as fields and sand arenas. Being motorbike wheels the tyres are not prone to punctures like carriages with bicycle tyres. These carriages are designed for all terrain use and do not have the low weight restriction and need for level smooth surfaces that many imported carriages of similar price stipulate.
I am confident that this carriage will be fit for purpose with two heavy adults on board behind my powerful Section D when he’s ready. In the meantime I am looking forwards to furthering his education with plenty of groundwork and ridden activities.